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Douglas' Pot Problem 

Inside Track

A just-released Zogby International Poll sponsored by the Washington, D.C.-based Marijuana Policy Project -- www.mpp.org -- shows incredibly strong support among Vermonters for passage of medical marijuana legislation this year.

According to the statewide poll, 71 percent support allowing the sick and dying to legally benefit from the medicinal properties of cannabis.

The telephone poll of 502 randomly selected Vermonters was conducted March 19-22 by Zogby, one of the nation's most respected polling outfits.

Last year, a medical marijuana bill easily swept through the Vermont Senate on a 22-7 bipartisan vote. Five Republicans, including the Senate GOP leader, Sen. John Bloomer, and Sens. Phil Scott, Bill Doyle, Dick Greenwood and Rob Ide supported it.

As far as we know, none of them has since gone to Hell.

Since 99 out of every 100 marijuana arrests in America are made under state laws, the Senate believed changing Vermont's pot law will "have the practical effect of protecting from arrest the vast majority of seriously ill people who have a medical need to use marijuana."

But with the blessing of House Speaker Walter Freed, S.76 has been bottled up in the House Health and Welfare Committee ever since. Given the fact that our straight-arrow Republican governor Jim Douglas strongly opposes the legislation, the House leadership appears intent on never letting it reach the Guv's desk.

Douglas' Democratic opponent, Burlington Mayor Peter Clavelle, told Seven Days that as governor he'd "sign a medical marijuana bill in a heartbeat." According to Mayor Moonie, "Vermonters with a life-threatening illness should not face arrest because of an irrational state policy."

Clavelle's hardly alone. On Town Meeting Day, 82 percent of Queen City voters supported a medical pot advisory question.

Rarely, if ever, do 82 percent of the voters support anything. The landslide "yes" vote for the medical marijuana question was enough to change the position of Burlington State Rep. Bill Keogh. However, the moderate Democrat from Burlington's South End told Seven Days this week, "The bill is not moving at this time."

Rep. Keogh said Tuesday that even with his switch, the vote in the House Health and Welfare Committee "is 6-5 against bringing up the medical marijuana bill."

Statewide, the new Zogby Poll found that 71 percent of Vermonters support legalizing medical marijuana. Broken down by party, the pot bill has the support of 85 percent of Democrats, 78 percent of Independents and 50.3 percent of Republicans. That's right, a majority of folks who call themselves Republican support medical marijuana!

One of the more interesting poll questions: "If Gov. Douglas signs the bill... would you be more or less likely to vote for him, or would this make no difference in your vote?"

About two-thirds of those polled said it won't change their vote for governor. However, 22.5 percent of Democrats said they would be more likely to vote for Jim Douglas if he signed the bill. In a 2004 gubernatorial election that promises to be a squeaker, attracting Democrat defectors has to be a top priority for Jimmy D. That's because even if every Republican in Vermont votes for him, he'll still be well short of the 50 percent threshold.

Far be it from this writer to give advice to our beloved governor, but, hey, Jimbo, wake up, will ya? It's the 21st century!

If the medical pot bill dies because you oppose it, Clavelle the Democrat will have just one more flaming arrow in his political campaign quiver. Mayor Moonie will paint you as a right-wing, John Ashcroft-style conservative extremist who lacks compassion for the sick and dying. And he'll have the poll data to prove you're out of touch with the people of your state. Hello?

Signing legislation supported by a majority of Republicans, Democrats and Independents simply does not have a downside. It would show Vermont voters you're not really a Bush puppet. And it just might get you enough Democrat and Independent votes to experience a second term on the Fifth Floor.

P.S. The most interesting question in the Vermont Zogby Poll was the one dealing with public perception. Despite landslide support for legalizing medicinal marijuana, most respondents greatly underestimated the strong support the legislation has among their neighbors.

Only 39.5 percent believe the majority of Vermonters support it. And 38.2 percent wrongly think the majority of Vermonters oppose it.

As Marijuana Policy Project Communi-cations Director Bruce Mirken put it, "Clearly there's a divide between perception and reality."

Mirken was hard-pressed to explain why so many people who support medical marijuana think so many of their neighbors do not.

"I can only theorize," Mirken told Seven Days. "I think to some degree it may be a holdover from President Ronald Reagan's 'Just Say No' drug policy in the 1980s."

Interesting, eh?

Smearing Clavelle? -- That's what it sounds like in the latest fundraising letter put out by Gov. Douglas. Actually, it's kind of funny.

Take this line: "There is no time to waste. The leadership of the Democrat Party has already ceded control to the longtime leader of the far left Progressive Party, and they've managed to keep all party regulars out of the race."

A conspiracy, eh?

"That means," continues Jim's letter, "Peter Clavelle can already begin attacking me without having to worry about a true Democrat beating him for the nomination."

Obviously, Mr. Douglas wants moderate Vermont Democrats to think their party has been hijacked by communists. Given Clavelle's business-friendly record in Burlington, it's going to be hard to make that stick.

Clavelle isn't the Democratic gubernatorial nominee because he hijacked the nomination. Actually, it's more likely the leaders of the Democratic Party hijacked him away from the Progs.

After all, the Vermont Progressive Party is a minor-league party. But Peter Clavelle, the seven-term mayor of Vermont's largest city, is a major-league politician.

The Ho-Ho Bridge -- He may end up as the political pet rock of the 2004 presidential election, but Howard Dean has left a lasting legacy in Vermont.

Finally.

In Sunday's spring-like sunshine, we got the two-wheeler out and headed north on the Burlington Bikepath. The path used to end at the mouth of the Winooski River. But on Sunday, hundreds of people were climbing on the beautiful new bikepath bridge that spans what was once a great divide between Burlington and Colchester.

The bridge isn't completely finished yet, but it's suitable for crossing. People of all ages were crawling on it Sunday afternoon like ants on a dropped ice cream cone.

And on the Colchester side, a half-mile-long, raised-concrete right-of-way guides bikers, walkers and runners across the wetlands. For photos of the new bridge, check out http://www.localmotion.org.

The bike bridge had no greater champion than former Gov. Howard Dean. Despite Republican scorn and opposition, the Legislature found the money, and the results speak for themselves.

If anything in Vermont should be named after Ho-Ho, this spectacular new bridge, which will benefit generations to come, tops the list. It wouldn't be there without him.

If George Washington can have a bridge he did not build named after him, why can't Howard Dean get his name on one that's already got his fingerprints all over it?

The Enron of Cable TV -- Despite the popularity of pot and other illegal substances, we'd argue that TV is the number-one drug of modern times. Practically everyone's hooked.

In Vermont, 112,000 households get their TV connection from Adelphia Cable. The dirty dealings of Adelphia's founder and former owner John Rigas are legendary. He looted the company and the public for hundreds of millions of dollars and currently stands, along with his sons, before a federal court judge.

The company is in bankruptcy and a new management team has been brought in. This week, Adelphia's chief operating officer Ron Cooper visited Vermont. Apparently it was supposed to be part of Adelphia's attempt to improve its rather despicable image with consumers. Cooper was chaperoned by Montpelier Lobbyist Kevin Ellis of Kimbell, Sherman and Ellis (www.kse50.com).

Unfortunately, our request for a brief interview-- even a telephone interview -- with Mr. Cooper was denied. Ellis said the Adelphia exec's schedule was real tight. He only had time for The Burlington Free Press, WCAX, Vermont Public Radio and The Mark Johnson Show on WDEV. No time for Seven Days.

On VPR, Steve Delaney got in a good lick by getting Cooper to admit Adelphia has commissioned a study to determine if it should stop calling itself "Adelphia."

Had we had the chance, yours truly would have asked Mr. Cooper about the spate of recent outages affecting Vermont customers who use Adelphia's high-speed Powerlink Internet service.

According to Lisa Birmingham, Adelphia governmental affairs person in Vermont, the company has 33,000 Internet customers in the Green Mountains including yours truly.

When Powerlink is working, it's great. When it goes down, customers are overwhelmed by a feeling of helplessness. Calling the new toll-free number gets a recorded voice saying Adelphia is aware of the outage.

Unfortunately, there's no indication how long it will last.

Birmingham told Seven Days that last week's outage, as well as the one in February, "are unacceptable."

No kidding.

"We're in the process of upgrading our whole system, both hardware and software," said Ms. Birmingham. She said it should be completed this fall.

Great. But what about now?

An hour later, Birmingham called back to say all Vermont Powerlink customers will see a $2 credit on their next bill to compensate for last week's outage.

Asked about previous outages, Lisa said individual customers would have to call Adelphia and make a specific request for a refund.

Doesn't Adelphia already know exactly which customers are affected by their outages?

No question, Adelphia will change its corporate name. The one it has is a synonym for greed, corruption and price-gouging. But a lot more than a name-change is required.

Stay tuned, eh?

Media Notes -- Congratula-tions to former Burlington Free Press political reporter Adam Lisberg. Adam covered the civil-unions story in 2000 then headed for the Bergen Record in New Jersey. Last week he moved to the New York Daily News.

Closer to home, WCAX-TV reporter Joan Goodchild is leaving this month for Greensboro, North Carolina. She arrived at Ch. 3 back in 1998 as Joan Ritchie, the station's new education reporter. But Joan, a Massachusetts native, got a lot more than TV news experience at Ch. 3. She also got a husband.

News photographer Bryan Goodchild is a Rutland native and graduate of St. Michael's College. In fact, says Joan, they're going to Greensboro because a TV station there (WFMY) made Bryan an offer he couldn't refuse.

Joan says she's got interviews scheduled and hopes to land a TV news job there herself.

The Goodchilds make quite the dynamic duo. Joan and Bryan just picked up an Edwin R. Murrow regional award for their November series on school security.

Best wishes!

Also, the Rutland Herald/Barre Times Argus has finally filled the third seat at its Vermont Press Bureau in Montpeculiar. The new guy is John Zicconi. Unlike the two other fellas who are recent transplants to Vermont, John brings the institutional memory gathered during a 12-year career with the Stowe Reporter.

Incidentally, the current lineup means the Vermont Press Bureau is all male. Can't recall that happening before. And we'd hate to imagine what a former Press Bureau star like Diane Derby would have to say about that?

Asked about the all-boy news team, Bureau Chief Darren Allen told Seven Days, "All I can say is that hiring is made through a competitive process. I make decisions without regard to anything but talent."

Meanwhile, a few blocks away at The Burlington Free Press Capital Bureau, it's all girls: Candace Page and Nancy Remsen.

Apparently, Freeps management thinks two girl reporters can do the work of three boys.

P.S. Before feminist readers start sending Mr. Allen emails blasting his "sexist" hiring practices, be aware that Maria Archangelo, managing editor of the Times Argus, is his spouse.

King of the Cats -- One of the greatest sports stories of the year has been the flowering of former UVM hockey player Martin St. Louis. Marty and lifelong friend Eric Perrin of Laval, Quebec, dominated the ECAC back in 1993-1997. Despite their college achievements, the hockey experts dubbed them "too small" for the NHL.

But they never gave up.

They plugged away in Europe and in the minors. A couple seasons ago, the Tampa Bay Light-ning gave St. Louis a shot.

Today Marty is the leading scorer in the NHL and, in the opinion of former Boston Bruins great Phil Esposito, he's the top candidate for the league's most valuable player award -- the Hart Trophy. Esposito, a Lightning radio analyst, told the St. Petersburg Times, "I really believe Marty is going to win the MVP. If he doesn't, there should be an investigation."

The icing on the cake arrived Saturday when Tampa Bay called up Perrin from the minors for his NHL debut. Eric had been the second leading scorer in the AHL with the Hershey Bears.

The Lightning used Perrin as a fourth-line center Saturday and Monday. The UVM duo hasn't played on the same line yet, but you can almost taste it.

We trust former UVM Coach Mike Gilligan is blushing with pride. He should be.

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

Bio:
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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