Pubdate: Thu, 24 Jun 2010
Source: Rutland Herald (VT)
Copyright: 2010 Rutland Herald
Author: Eli Sherman


BURLINGTON -- Most of those vying to become the next  governor have
been in many candidate forums around the  state. But in an election
dominated by talk of the  economy, jobs and the state budget,
Wednesday morning's  version stood out for its subject matter.

The forum at the Turning Point Center of Chittenden  County was about
substance abuse in Vermont, and  candidates fielded questions on
alcohol use, drug  addiction and the problem of illegal substances in
prisons during the event, co-hosted by Friends of  Recovery Vermont.

The five Democrats -- state Sens. Doug Racine and Susan  Bartlett,
Senate President Pro Tem Peter Shumlin,  Secretary of State Deborah
Markowitz and former state  Sen. Matt Dunne -- all participated in the
forum, as  did two independent candidates, Dennis Steele of Kirby  and
Em Peyton of Putney.

Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie, the sole Republican in the race,  has declined
to participate in nearly all of the forums  so far, saying the point
of them is to allow the  Democrats to select a candidate. He said he
would  participate in several debates after the primary.

Not surprisingly, given Shumlin's recent support of  decriminalizing
possession of marijuana, the issue was  brought up at the event. But
other Democrats did not  agree with Shumlin's position, worrying about
the  consequences.

For Dunne, being in support of medical marijuana did  not extend to
supporting the legalization of marijuana.

"We have not demonstrated as a society and a state to  be able to
handle addiction better connected with legal  drugs," he said. "And
before opening up a whole new  universe to a new drug that does cause
a problem, we  should make sure that we are addressing the drugs that
are legal now."

Markowitz said she was open to looking at the  possibility of
decriminalizing possession of small  amounts of marijuana.

The state should "treat drug problems as drug  problems," Markowitz
added, saying the state needs to  reevaluate its current approach.

Young people who get in drug trouble show up first in  the court and
police system, Shumlin said.

But Bartlett disagreed when the question came around to

"That's not correct," said Bartlett. "Where they first  show up is the
principal's office," she said, asserting  that help with those
problems needs to start in the  school system.

"The thing that scares me about the discussion of  marijuana isn't the
recreational use by adults," Racine  said. "What scares me is I hear
stories of 14- and  15-year-olds who are getting access to highly
potent  marijuana and are smoking it on their way to school."

Peyton was unreserved in her support of legalization.

"Each of us have a responsibility to our own bodies,"  Peyton

Candidates were also asked by moderator Peter Mallary  whether the
state should consider lowering the drinking  age.

"I don't drink," Markowitz said, but she added that she  had
conflicting feelings about whether the drinking age  should be lowered.

Shumlin said no governor would lower the drinking age  because no
governor could afford to.

"I'm not that nuts," he said, pointing out substantial  federal
funding cuts to state transportation if the  drinking age were to be

Steele disagreed.

"I support lowering the drinking age," he said, arguing  that sending
young men and women to war before they are  legally allowed to have a
drink is not right.

As the forum was winding down, Dubie's absence became a  topic of
conversation itself.

"One person who is not here today is my good friend,  Brian," Shumlin
said in what has become one of his  stock bits.

Asking the audience to join his "Free Brian" campaign,  Shumlin
alleged that the Republican National Committee  wasn't allowing Dubie
to come to any of the forums.

"How can you run the state if you don't show up,"  Shumlin

Steele, an Army veteran, picked up on the theme.

"I'm the only one here who can take on the Dubie  brothers," Steele
said, looking and pointing at the  camera. "The only candidate who's
going to take on  Brian Dubie," Steele added. "If you want to win this
  war, I'm your candidate."

Dubie campaign manager Corry Bliss said the camera may  have been
operated by the Vermont Republican Party, but  was not part of his

"That has nothing to do with our campaign. He is an  employee of the
state party and is in no way  affiliated, paid for or connected to the
Dubie for  governor campaign," he said. 
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