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Interesting Conflicts 

A resolution to name the Burlington Boathouse after Sanders fails to gain city council support. Instead it gets kicked to a committee for further study.

No word from House Speaker Walter Freed on the free advertising provided here last week for his tiny Apollo cigarette shack in Pawlet, Vermont, located just a Tiger Woods’ pitching wedge from the New York State line. Not even a little thank-you note.

The good news is that, last week, New York State’s new cigarette tax increase of 39 cents per pack went into effect. That means New Yorkers are now hit with a $1.50 per pack state tax while Vermont makes do with just 44 cents. Business must be booming in Pawlet!

Keeping Vermont’s cigarette tax as low as possible clearly is an economic incentive for Speaker Freed’s state-line smoke shop. Some may question Walter’s motives in using the power of his office to block debate on the cigarette tax, but, hey, he’s only supporting Vermont business, right? Isn’t that what Republicans are supposed to do?

The bad news is, it’s not the first time the Duke of Dorset has flirted with the “conflict of interest” line in the course of his legislative duties.

Back in his early days under the Golden Dome, Rep. Freed, an enthusiastic pro-business Republican with a future, stood out as a staunch opponent of bipartisan weatherization legislation. In the mid-1990s Freed was a leading House opponent of using a half-cent gross receipts tax on energy bills to fuel the state’s Weatherization Fund.

In fact, Walter Freed even rose on the floor to speak in opposition to it. Mr. Freed eloquently condemned it as “a hidden tax on fuel customers and fuel dealers.”

Coincidentally, at the time Mr. Freed owned one of the largest home-heating oil dealerships in southern Vermont.


But 1998 saw a Walt of a different color. Freed, the minority leader, was suddenly silent when the weatherization bill came to the House floor. Change of heart, Mr. Scrooge, you ask?

Surely, it couldn’t have been due to the fact that Walter had just sold the family heating oil business to Ultramar, could it?

Under House Rule 75, “Members shall not be permitted to vote upon any question in which they are immediately or directly interested.”

Great rule. Looks good on paper.

But who will enforce it?

DeanWatch 2004 — Big week on Democrat Howard Dean’s road to the White House. Sunday he marched with Michael Dukakis in the Greek Independence Day Parade in Beantown. Then our favorite presidential hopeful hopped a flight to San Francisco to address a Monday luncheon of the California League of Conservation Voters.

Wednesday. Ho-Ho’s off to Washington, D.C., to testify before the Senate Finance Committee. He’ll be saying that the nation’s governors — Republican and Democrat — consider President George W. Bush’s welfare reform proposals are absolute garbage.

On Thursday, Dr. Dean will sing the same tune to the House Ways and Means Committee on Capitol Hill. He’ll also sandwich in two campaign events with talks at something called the Campaign for America’s Future. Dean rivals Rep. Dick Gephardt and Sen. John Edwards are also speaking. So are James Carville and Ben Cohen. Later, Dr. Dean will address the National Jewish Democratic Council.

That one should be a test of Ho-Ho’s surprisingly well-developed foreign policy acumen.

Friday is blank in both Dean’s gubernatorial “public appearance schedule” and his official Road to the White House schedule. (By the way, the legal battle between the governor and two Vermont newspapers, including this one, over his actual daily work schedule gets a first day in court later this month in Montpeculiar. Stay tuned.)

Saturday, Vermont’s soon-to-be-famous political star is off to Minnesota to address the Humphrey Day Dinner at the Hilton in Minneapolis. Former vice-president Hubert Humphrey is a saint in Minnesota, a state that has very long, very cold winters and a professional wrestler as its governor. The dinner is in honor of U.S. Sen. Paul Wellstone. Bon appetit!

On its Web page, the Minnesota “DFL” Party — that’s for Democratic-Farm-Labor — announces Ho-Ho’s visit this way:”

“Our guest speaker will be Vermont Governor Howard Dean, who is exploring a Presidential bid. (Remember, few people had heard of Bill Clinton or Jimmy Carter at this point, either!)”


Also, check out the “Gov. Howard Dean: A Satire” Web site at gov.htm. Funny and informative. A dangerous combination, eh?

Boathouse Bernie? — Burlington Progressives recently failed in their attempt to get the Community Boathouse on the shore of Lake Champlain named after former mayor Bernie Sanders.

The three-page resolution was sponsored by Prog Councilors Bill Stahl and Phil Fiermonte. Phil used to work on the congressman’s staff.

God knows, Ol’ Bernardo deserves it. Burlington’s beautiful waterfront is truly his legacy. If it wasn’t for the fact that U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy already has dibs on the great lake’s name — should folks ever get tired of “Champlain” — Sanders would be in the running for that, too. Lake Bernard?

But the Bernard Sanders Community Boathouse resolution did not sail through as anticipated. Independent Councilor Barbara Perry and Democrat Jean O’Sullivan questioned the process for naming public facilities after people. Instead of adoption, the boathouse resolution was shipped off to the Community Development Committee for further study.

Since Mr. Fiermonte chairs that three-member committee, composed of two Progs and one Democrat, we expect to see it back before the council in the not-too-distant future.

Wonder what they’ll name after the current mayor, Peter Clavelle? The Southern Connector? City Market?

Progressive Party Pooper — Vermont’s newest major political party is off to a shaky start this year. At the moment, the Progs haven’t come up with a way to get rid of Michael Badamo. He’s the gentleman who has stepped forward to seek the new party’s nomination for governor. With Anthony Pollina targeting the second-banana Lite-Gov post, the Progs left their top spot open, and Badamo has filled the vacuum.

Only problem is, the Progressives are a very insular bunch. They detest outsiders and Badamo is just that. Just like the other major parties, the Vermont Progressive Party is pretty much run by a small backroom bunch of veteran activists.

Needless to say, Mr. Badamo is about as popular in Progressive Party circles these days as anthrax. While there’s no shortage of information on the party’s Web site — — about Tony the Prog, there’s not a peep about the only candidate for the party’s gubernatorial nomination.

The Progressives have achieved major party status. The rules of the game that apply to Democrats and Republicans now apply to them.

“I don’t know what the party will do,” said Chris Pearson, executive director. “It’s the first time we’ve had to face these questions.”

It’ll sure be interesting to see how they handle it.

Vermont Taliban Update — Rev. David Stertzbach, one of the great twisters of the gospel of Jesus Christ, was back in the news last week. Stertzbach publicly attacked conservative Republican State Sen. Julius Canns of Caledonia County for not delivering a floor vote on repealing civil unions to Williston’s high priest of hate and intimidation.

Rep. Patricia O’Donnell (R-Vernon) called Stertzbach “dangerous” and “fanatical.”

State Sen. Gerry Morrissey (R-Bennington) called him an “extremist.”

They’re both Republicans and they’re both right.

Republican National Committeeman Skip Vallee, you’ll recall was successfully targeted by Stertzbach’s Taliban in the last election. In the wake of the local Pat Robertson-wannabe’s latest shots, Gasoline Vallee told Seven Days, “I wish he’d crawl up in his hole and go back to Virginia.”

On the Campaign Trail — Starting Monday, Bernie Sanders’ new campaign manager reports for duty. Peter Sterling of Worcester, has been a VPIRG organizer for five years. Sterling told Seven Days that, unlike last time when he “just went through the motions,” Bernie wants to run a “serious” campaign this time, regardless of who the opponent is.

Last time Ol’ Bernardo scored his biggest landslide ever, defeating Republican Karen Kerin 69 percent — 18 percent.

This time Kerin is being challenged in the Republican Primary by Bill Meub of Rutland.

And the Sanders campaign Web site is up and running at

Candon Erupts! — Lovely letter to the editor in Tuesday’s Rutland Herald from Mark Candon, the Republican stockbroker who got crushed by Bernie Sanders in the 1998 Vermont congressional race (63 percent - 32 percent).

Candon, apparently, still hasn’t successfully treated his “Why Won’t the Masses Follow Me?” problem. In his letter, Mark wildly throws his punches at Bill Clinton, the Rutland Herald, The Burlington Free Press and yours truly. He describes this writer as “pusillanimous,” and claims yours truly “sides with the left.”

Obviously, Mr. Free Enterprise missed our recent “Tony the Phony” series.

Candon, a Moors & Cabot broker, also blasts the Rutland Herald for not writing a story about the recent book, Coloring the News. (We mentioned it here a couple months ago, actually.) It devotes a few pages to the story of ex-reporter Paul Teetor’s infamous lawsuit against The Burlington Free Press a few years ago.

“At the least, maybe you should read the book,” writes Candon.

But, apparently, Mr. Candon didn’t bother to read it himself. That’s because if he had, he’d know yours truly is the columnist for the alternative weekly cited for our use of court documents obtained during the trial’s discovery process. And those internal Burlington Free Press documents blew the lid off Gannett’s internal policies mandating racial quotas in the newsroom and on the news pages.

In a landmark assault on the First Amendment by an American newspaper, Gannett and its Freeps went to Chittenden Superior Court seeking a gag order to block yours truly’s coverage of the Teetor v. Burlington Free Press case.

Needless to say, they didn’t get one. This isn’t North Korea.

The Columbia Journalism Review accurately labeled Gannett’s stunning legal move an “act of professional treason.” In the annals of American press freedom, nothing compares to it.

Recently, the St. Albans Messenger, Barton Chronicle and Rutland Herald have all weighed in editorially on the current VPT “censorship” story. The Burlington Free Press, however, has remained silent, just as it did on civil unions.

Who’s surprised? The paper’s First Amendment track record speaks for itself

VPT Update — Yours truly has been invited to a Wednesday afternoon meeting at Vermont Public Television by station manager and vice-president Dan Harvey. Also attending, we’re told, will be Executive Producer Joe Merone and Christopher Graff, the host and “producer” of “Vermont This Week.”

At the end of last Friday’s program, Mr. Graff addressed the current dispute head on. Earlier, VPT President John King announced that “guidelines” would be drawn up and put in place to make sure no one ever again dares call the politically active, fanatical religious right in this state the “Vermont Taliban.” That January 18 “offensive” expression, according to King, was what cost yours truly a seat on the panel.

But Mr. Graff announced on-air that there will be no guidelines drawn up or put in place to regulate, restrict or censor the voices of the Vermont journalists who participate.

Christopher, a Middlebury grad and veteran Vermont journalist, runs the Associated Press bureau in Montpeculiar, He announced he would assume a new title on the program, that of “managing editor.” From now on, Mr. Graff will be the one responsible for booking the panel, rather than VPT management. That should eliminate the possibility their editorial judgment might be swayed by outside political forces.

Good move.

Yours truly is but a small player in this recent drama. It’s really about something much bigger — the First Amendment.

Last year, you’ll recall, we took Gov. Dean to the Inside Track woodshed when he stomped on the First Amendment toes of conservative Republican columnist James Dwinell. Ho-Ho quickly saw the light and has since taken Jimmy the Joker’s press conference interrogatories just like everyone else’s.

Never forget, the First Amendment exists not to protect popular viewpoints, but unpopular ones.

Thomas Jefferson put it best in a January 28, 1786, letter to James Currie. “Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press,” wrote Jefferson, “and that cannot be limited without being lost.”

VPT President John King publicly admitted last week he “mishandled” this matter. Good for him. Takes a big man to admit a mistake. Let’s hope it sugars out as a “free speech” lesson for all of us — a lesson that censorship is a price “TV worth watching” can never afford to pay.

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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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