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Arena Brawl 

Inside Track

Gov. Jim Douglas' blue-ribbon commission that is studying the feasibility of a new multipurpose sports arena to house UVM hockey, basketball and much more concluded its work Monday on a very sour note. No punches were thrown, but the bad blood in the room was palpable.

The Guv's arena commission approved a consultant's study showing that one such facility could work in the Burlington area; it appears we've finally reached the population level to make it a go. That's very good news to UVM, whose Gutterson Field House and Patrick Gym are bursting at the seams.

But everything went south four days before the final commission session when the members from the Champlain Valley Exposition in Essex Junction went public with their own plans to build a multipurpose sports arena at the fairgrounds.

UVM officials quickly let it be known they have no intention of bussing their jocks to Essex Junction for home games.

Commission member and State Sen. Jim Condos of South Burlington accused the CVE members of "sandbagging."

"We had a collaborative process that we started with," said Condos, "and CVE chose to ignore that process. ... We've always said from the beginning that this is going to to be a regional facility. We knew there wasn't room for more than one. Now we have the proof that there's not room for more than one."

But the Champlain Valley Expo crew sees it differently. CVE's Tom Oddy insisted, "There's room for a good athletic facility and a good multipurpose arena."

As for keeping it's plans quiet until the 11th hour, Oddy said the Guv's commission was focused on a "specific site near UVM" and not interested in hearing about other locations.

The UVM multipurpose arena is estimated to cost $60 million. CVE says they can build theirs for $27 million.

Sounds like war, eh?

According to Commerce Secretary Kevin Dorn, who chaired the commission, expenses came to about $80,000, most of which went to the consultant. The Agency of Commerce and Community Development, along with UVM and "a number of private-sector contributors" put up the cash, said Dorn.

Now the ball's in the Guv's lap.


Censorship Update -- As everyone knows, censorship is enjoying a comeback in America. And the Bush administration's new Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings continues to get media attention this week for her decision to "educate" PBS about broadcasting a Vermont episode of "Postcards from Buster" that included two families headed by lesbian couples.

America's education leader complained to PBS that the Vermont episode "would feature throughout the show families headed by gay couples."

Sec. Spellings made it clear the Bush administration would prefer that PBS' children's programming keep gay couples closeted from view.

"Many parents," wrote Spellings, "would not want young children exposed to the lifestyles portrayed in this episode."

Newspaper editorials across the country (though not in The Burlington Free Press) have taken Bush's education chief to task for her bigotry and profound ignorance. Another outside-Vermont perspective arrived in Tuesday's Denver Post. Columnist Diane Carman hit the nail on the head for Rocky Mountain readers.

"The episode is called 'Sugartime!' and despite what the perverts in the federal government would have you believe, the title actually refers to making maple syrup.

"This week, Denver viewers will be among the few in the country who will have an opportunity to view the children's show in which a talking rabbit visits a Vermont family with two moms and interviews a little girl who says, 'They mean a lot to me.'

"This is what our government leaders consider immoral.

"The whole controversy is a colossal farce, clearly designed more to intimidate public broadcasting into toeing the line than to protect children from, well, anything.

"I mean, 'Sugartime!' is hardly on the cultural cutting edge. The raciest part may well be when they visit a dairy farm complete with lactating cows."

The Denver Post columnist reflects the voices of many who have spoken up coast to coast in the last two weeks. And this week, leaders of the Vermont legislature have done what our governor has declined to do -- stand up for Vermont!

You'll recall that when asked about it, Gov. Douglas blew it off. He said it was a matter between the secretary of education and PBS.

You sure about that, James?

This week, more than 60 legislators -- Republicans, Democrats and Progressives -- signed a letter to Spellings. House Speaker Gaye Symington and Senate President Pro Tempore Peter Welch topped the signatories.

"As members of the Vermont General Assembly, we were extremely disappointed to learn of your objection," they wrote. "Under Vermont's antidiscrimination laws, sexual orientation is treated in the same way as are race, gender, disability and national origin... We hope that similar attempts at censorship will not be forthcoming from your office."

Asked the other day if he might have a change of heart and either sign on or send a letter of his own, Gov. Douglas quickly dismissed the idea.

"I don't think it's useful to sign letters to the Secretary," said Gov. Scissorhands. "I certainly respect and support all the laws of our state and want to respect the rights of the people who live here. It's unfortunate it's become so controversial, but I'm not sure we need to prolong it."

Unfortunately, by dodging and ducking the real issue, Douglas is only prolonging the acceptance of bigotry. In this case, Governor, silence is not golden.

P.S. Gov. Douglas obviously has his priorities. He started off this week doing what he does best -- cutting ribbons!

Gov. Scissorhands did the honors at the Monday opening of Needleman's new Bridal and Formal Wear Shop in South Burlington.

What a guy!

This Just In -- Conservative Republican Greg Parke is running for the Republican U.S. Senate nomination in 2006. Parke has let his intentions be known via his website, where he now calls himself "Republican for Senate."

The senate seat Parke's after now is currently held by Jim Jeffords, the Republican turned Independent.

If Jeezum Jim runs again -- and he's telling anyone who asks that he will -- nobody can beat him.

If Jeezum doesn't run again, there's no shortage of established politicos who are ready to jump in, starting with Ol' Bernardo.

Teflon Jim -- Let's face it, Jim Douglas has been one of the most successful politicians Vermont has ever known. To use an agricultural expression, Jim's been living off the state teat since the 1970s.

Until the 21st century, Douglas served in second-tier offices such as treasurer and secretary of state. But now that he's in his second two-year term as governor, we're slowly getting a picture of what makes the man tick.

For one thing, Gov. Scissor-hands is the master of the rounded edge.

Take the current Social Security brouhaha. President Bush is running around screaming there's a "crisis," and he wants to dramatically revamp the system.

Sane minds, however, including Vermont's entire congressional delegation, insist there is no crisis.

Last week, Gov. Douglas told reporters he agrees. Sort of.

"Eventually," said Douglas, "there's going to be pressure on that system and I think that reform ought to be on the table. So it's not a matter of a crisis, but it's a matter of looking beyond 30 years, as statesmen ought to do, and decide what the long-term solution should be."

As Douglas was making that statement, however, his top political hitman, Jim Barnett, was starting up a Vermont GOP-sponsored petition drive to stick up for George W. Bush while sticking it to our Washington delegation!

As regular "Inside Track" readers know, Mr. Barnett, the twentysomething Boy Wonder from Barre, and fellow Nasty Boy Neale Lunderville are the Vermont political campaign geniuses most responsible for Gov. Douglas' election victories in 2002 and 2004.

Mr. Lunderville survives between election cycles as a gubernatorial advisor. Meanwhile, Mad Dog Barnett covers the governor's tail as the paid chairman of the Vermont Republican Party.

Last November, the Vermont Republicans got clobbered in legislative races. The Statehouse is back in solid Democratic control. But Republican Jim Douglas won reelection in a landslide!

The fact that our beloved homegrown Nasty Boys have twice gotten a Republican elected governor in liberal Vermont speaks volumes about their political talent.

And one of their great tricks, first implemented in the 2002 race, is the Good Cop-Bad Cop routine Douglas and Barnett play.

Everybody knows Jim Douglas is boy-next-door sweet and pure, right?

Mr. Barnett, however, plays the evil twin. Mad Dog is an opposition researcher by trade, and two years ago his research was the foundation of a successful effort to paint Doug Racine as a spineless "flip-flopper."

Last year, Barnett applied his skills to Democrat Peter Clavelle. Clavelle's campaign ended up worse than Racine's.

Now Mad Dog's set his sights on Vermont's Three Musketeers. His petition reads:

"Tell Sens. James Jeffords and Patrick Leahy and Rep. Bernie Sanders You Won't Support Their Efforts to Obstruct Plans for Strengthening Social Security!

"President Bush is looking to work with Congress to confront the challenges facing our nation, but some liberals in Congress are looking to obstruct the President's bold second-term agenda in an effort to score partisan political points even at the cost of accomplishing the business of the American people.

"While President Bush is displaying leadership and following up on his campaign pledge to preserve Social Security for future generations, Sens. Jeffords and Leahy and Rep. Sanders are offering pessimism and negativity while presenting no plan or vision for preserving Social Security."

Barnett the Bad Cop does his work well, eh?

But when we asked Gov. Douglas about his party's petition, you'd think he belonged to a different party.

"I think it's very important that people of all political stripes in the Congress work together to address the important items on our national agenda. And, as I suggested, Social Security is not facing an immediate crisis, but the long-term trend is very troubling."

The "good cop" governor wouldn't even acknowledge the existence of the "bad cop" chairman's petition. What a team, eh?

Like Douglas, the Three Musketeers are very aware of the GOP petition. Only, unlike Douglas, they're a little more direct in acknowledging it.

Sen. Patrick J. Leahy's chief of staff Luke Albee told Seven Days, "The Vermont Republican Party used to represent fiscal responsibility. It has now morphed into a pom-pom-waving arm of the RNC. President Bush's plan would add $2 trillion to the national debt and not do anything to strengthen the Social Security system."

Cool Hand Luke assured us Vermont's congressional delegation will "stand up to this foolishness."

Press Secretary Diane Derby sent us Sen. Jeffords' Top 10 list of questions for Chairman Barnett. Don't have space for all of them, but you'll catch the drift:

#9 -- Since [Barnett] seems to have a copy of Bush's plan, could he share it? Or is it a secret plan? If the Bush plan doesn't exist, can you still obstruct it?

#4 -- Does adding trillions of dollars to the national debt, forcing our children to pay hundreds of billions of dollars in additional interest costs, constitute "confront[ing] the challenges facing our nation"?

#1 -- Is [Barnett] aware that the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office concluded that future retirees would be better off if Congress did nothing than if the President's proposal were adopted?

Dittos from Ol' Bernardo.

"I intend," said Sanders, "to be working with all of the major senior citizen organizations in Vermont... in opposition to Bush's efforts to privatize Social Security. Like me, they understand that Social Security is not going bankrupt, and that with modest changes will be strong and solvent for the next 75 years!"

Wonder if Gov. Scissorhands will sign the GOP petition?

A Crazy World -- The editorial page of The Burlington Free Press, long bound in a conservative straightjacket provided by Publisher Jim Carey, surprised readers the other day with a hard-hitting editorial demanding the resignation of a prominent official.

The big crisis last week in Vermont, as you recall, was the Vermont State Hospital's loss of accreditation -- a major black mark against the Douglas administration. Despite all the heralded efforts of Human Services Secretary Charlie Smith, the ex-banker, to turn the mess around at the state's mental hospital, things have gone from bad to worse. Inmates keep escaping from custody. Now the joint's going to be shut down.

But the Freeps editorial wasn't calling for Sec. Smith's resignation. Far from it. Instead, the local Gannett-chain paper was angrily demanding the resignation of Vermont Teddy Bear Company president Elizabeth Robert from the Fletcher Allen Health Care board.

Her crime?

Marketing a Valentine's Day "Crazy For You" Vermont Teddy Bear that comes attired in a straightjacket with commitment papers. Thanks to the media publicity generated by mental-health advocates, sales of the teddy bear took off!

Yes, indeed, it's a mighty crazy world.

Media Notes -- WCAX-TV business reporter Caroline Allen has landed a big one!

After five years at Ch. 3, Caroline's leaving this week to become media relations manager at NSTAR, the largest electric and gas utility in Massachusetts. And get this, she'll be trained by current manager Christina McKenna, a former Ch. 3 reporter from the early 1990s.

Over in Montpeculiar, Louis Porter is the new reporter at the Vermont Press Bureau, which is the capital bureau for the Rutland Herald and Barre-Montpelier Times Argus. Porter spent the last three years at the Stamford Advocate.

Louis grew up in Calais. His dad, Bill Porter, was once the editor of the Times Argus.

In the blood, eh?

Got something to say? Send a letter to the editor and we'll publish your feedback in print!

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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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