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Inside Track

Don't know about you, but the most frequent question this political columnist has been getting in the last week is: "Who have the Democrats got to run for governor in 2008?"

Good question.

The unuttered qualifier is, what Democrat thinks he or she even has a chance of beating three-term Republican incumbent Jim Douglas?

At the moment the answer remains unknown. No Democrat we're aware of thinks Gov. Scissorhands, the master of the Vermont middle, can be defeated. And unlike in most election cycles, the November 2008 waters are going to be tested early.

That test is already underway, and will culminate under the golden dome on July 11. That's when our 150 representatives and 30 senators will take a crack at overriding Douglas' promised veto of H.520 - the big Global Warming/Climate Change bill that was the declared jewel of the 2007 legislature.

The landmark climate-change legislation expands Vermont's widely acclaimed energy-efficiency utility to include all heating fuels. It will be paid for with a tax on power production by wind-power generators and by Entergy Vermont Yankee, the state's only nuclear power plant in Vernon. Yankee's doing great, has boosted production since its sale to Entergy, and is enjoying record profits.

Sound fair?

Not to the major players in the business community, and not to H.520's strongest and most outspoken opponent, Gov. Jim Douglas.

Oh, sure, Gov. Scissorhands champions the environment and gives great "bite" on the need to combat global warming. It's only when matters get down to who will pay for it all that things get sticky for our guv.

To Douglas, you see, H.520 isn't a Climate Change Bill, it's an "unfair tax bill" that primarily targets one company - Entergy.

"This is not the time to raise taxes," says the governor repeatedly. It's the "wrong message" to send to the business community, says Jimbo, with lines of concern on his kisser.

Of course, with 35 years of success on the Vermont political stage, if Jim Douglas knows anything, it's what the people want to hear!

Last week, House Speaker Gaye Symington and Senate President pro tem Peter Shumlin took their pitch on the road, hitting editorial boards and holding press conferences. If the governor vetoes H.520 as he says he will, they intend to muster the votes needed to override. Showdown time!

And what a battle it will be. This, folks, will be a different kind of June.

Let's face it. If the Dems can't win on global warming - their top priority issue - they might as well concede the next governor's race to Vermont's Republican political master. It's now or never, and early indications are that the Ds intend to make it a war.

"You already see other states looking to Vermont to learn from our energy-efficiency utility," boasted Speaker Gaye with the new short haircut. "You see Canada looking to learn from what we've done.

"I find it interesting," said da Speaker, "to hear some of the comments from the business community about their discomfort with this bill. I bet if you go through who Energy Efficiency Vermont has actually provided service for, you'd find a fair number of those businesses having taken advantage of it, realizing some real savings in the last five or six years as a result."

"The governor can be a real national leader here and an international leader," added Shummy, "and that's what we need to communicate to him."

The Democrats are urging Vermonters to call the Governor's office and tell him to sign H.520. Or at least, they said, allow it to become law without his signature.

"Why this governor would go to China to promote efficiency to the Chinese when he doesn't have the courage to support it at home is puzzling to me," said Shumlin.

Stay tuned.


Bernie in the Post - The socialist from Vermont finally got a little attention in The Washington Post the other day.

Of course, it wasn't in the print edition, but print is becoming old-fashioned, isn't it?

Instead, Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Vermont Independent, was the subject for "The Sleuth" column that Mary Ann Akers writes about "Behind the Scenes in Washington."

Writes Akers: "Sanders, not surprisingly, railed against the mainstream media, lamented the Iraq war, condemned the Bush presidency and daydreamed about a 'reality' not dominated by news of Paris Hilton's battle with the law, Britney Spears' razor-and-rehab episodes or the Anna Nicole Smith saga. He also praised 'The Sleuth' for recognizing a prized portrait on his office wall - of Eugene Debs, the icon of the American Socialist movement."

Akers described the Vermont political legend of the left as "a wild-eyed, permanently windblown curmudgeon." She said he told her "one of his biggest adjustments since moving from the House to the Senate is the need to be so cordial all the time."

For a video of her interview with the mellowing-with-age Sen. Sanders, go to


O'Reilly vs. VT Update - Said Fox "News" icon Bill O'Reilly to his legions of true believers the other night. "Today the Rutland Herald newspaper, a corrupt enterprise," said O'Reilly, "ran a column that said, quote, 'So why would FOX News ambush Bill Lippert, one of the most respected members of the legislature? The answer is as simple as it is unsettling. Lippert is gay. Bigots like Bill O'Reilly have the right to free speech, but Vermonters also have the right and responsibility to stand up to intolerance. Go home, indeed, Mr. O'Reilly. Hate has no place in Vermont.'"

The op-ed O'Reilly was referring to was penned by Paul Wellstone biographer Bill Lofy. Now based in Vermont, Lofy is the talented political strategist that House Speaker Gaye Symington and Senate President pro tem Peter Shumlin formed a political action committee to hire.

"Well, if hate has no place in Vermont, then the Rutland Herald has to shut down right now," said O'Reilly. "'The Factor' never mentioned Bill Lippert's private life in any way. It was never an issue."

O'Reilly told his faithful that the Rutland Herald had to be held accountable. "It's a culture war issue," he said.

Then he proceeded to ask everyone to call Rutland Herald Editor Randall Smathers, and gave Smathers' phone number and email address.

"Now, the reason I'm asking you for help in this situation is that the Rutland Herald is a corrupt, dishonest enterprise," said Ol' Bill. "It's enabling bad politicians like Bill Lippert to do what they do."

It's a crazy world, eh?

Editor Smathers responded with a brilliant editorial. Yes, he got a ton of calls, most of them civil, he wrote.

"Still, there were at least three bomb threats and any number of anonymous calls, many from clearly inebriated callers, most of which began with 'You suck. . .'" wrote Randall. "I did not get one call from Vermont, nor from a regular reader, print or online, until one the next morning. To say I've had more enjoyable evenings is an understatement, but I am a firm believer in standing behind what we print."

Smathers told O'Reilly callers - most of whom had not read the Lofy piece - that it was published on the "op-ed" page and clearly labeled "community commentary." He made it perfectly clear the Rutland Herald is proud to have published it.

He also noted O'Reilly's unfamiliarity with the laws of Vermont, including two new ones just passed, that improve the protection of children - including one that allows indefinite confinement for some predators. And he noted the Fox TV tough guy "hasn't answered the central question Bill Lofy posed in the op-ed piece: Why single out Bill Lippert?"

Editor Smathers closed by writing how much he actually likes hearing from readers, and published his email address and phone number for anyone who wanted to get in touch. His phone number is 747-6121, ext. 2279. He left off the area code, though, on purpose.

"I'm sorry, but if you have to look it up, I really don't have the time to spend with you. Readers come first."

P.S. We called Editor Smathers Tuesday for an update. His voice message informed us that he's out of the office and won't be able to return calls until after Memorial Day.


Old Timers' Day - That's what Saturday's Statehouse gathering of the State Committee of the Vermont Progressive Party felt like - a bunch of aging hippies, Woodstock attendees and/or protesters from the 1968 Democratic Party Convention in Chicago. Ponytails came with bald spots. Anthony Pollina, a.k.a. Tony the Prog, was not in attendance. That was a bit of a surprise. And, of course, Bernie Sanders never goes to these Prog Party things.

Even though his mayoral success in Burlap in 1981 established Sanders as a leader of the leftist, third-party political wave that eventually became the Vermont Progressive Party, Ol' Bernardo always runs as an Independent.

Vermont Democrats realized almost 20 years ago - 1988, to be exact - that they did not have a candidate who roused their own party faithful the way Ol' Bernardo did. The Vermont Democratic Party accepted reality and gave up.

The results in the 1988 Vermont congressional race were:

Peter Smith, R 98,93741.2%

Bernie Sanders, I 90,026 37.5%

Paul Poirier, D45,33018.9%

Bernie perpetually champions the underdog and spits in the face of "the big-monied interests." Running a Democrat candidate with party support sets up a three-way that only a Republican could love. That U.S. Senate seat will be Ol' Bernardo's for as long as he wants it.

Vermont Progs adopted the Impeachment Resolution that won support in 37 Vermont towns and was also adopted by the Democratic State Committee and the Vermont State Senate.

In other news, veteran Progressive Ellen David Friedman announced she will be moving to China with her husband this summer. There will be a potluck going-away dinner at the Barre Labor Hall on June 17. Ellen, a Vermont NEA organizer, told us she'll be teaching Saul Alinsky-style organizing skills to the Chinese at Zhonghshan University in Guangzhou!

First time yours truly saw Ellen was in the early 1980s. She was in pigtails and a paisley granny dress, getting arrested with dozens of others for a sit-down protest outside of the General Electric weapons plant in Burlington. It provided Gatling guns for Ronald Reagan's war in Central America. Back then, China was the communist empire we were supposed to fear the most!

How times change.


Media Notes - We've confirmed it. The tiny Burlington-Plattsburgh TV news market is about to grow back to its old familiar size, with three competing news shops. Haven't experienced that since WVNY-ABC 22 gave up its local news operation back in 2003.

Fox 44's goal, says General Manager Bill Sally this week, is to launch their new local news operation "sometime this year." The station has begun advertising for news personnel, and Sally tells "Inside Track" they're looking for "the full sweep of positions," including anchors, reporters, and sports and weather people.

They've just got a news director on board, so it looks like things are really going to happen. Kathleen Harrington, says Sally, came to Fox 44 from WVEC in Norfolk, Virginia. Harrington was not available for comment on Tuesday.

The Vermont press has been in shrinking mode for quite some time. In fact, Veteran AP reporter Ross Sneyd told Progressives under the golden dome Saturday that there are half as many reporters covering the Vermont Legislature today as there were 15 years ago when he started.

And yours truly remembers those Mayor Sanders city-hall pressers in the 1980s that drew three TV stations, three radio stations, two daily newspapers and one alternative weekly.


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About The Author

Peter Freyne

Peter Freyne

Peter Freyne, 1949-2009, wrote the weekly political column "Inside Track," which originated in the Vanguard Press in the mid 1980s; he brought it to Seven Days in 1995. He retired it shortly before his death in January, 2009. We all miss him.


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