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Is He, or Isn't He? 

Inside Track

click to enlarge Anthony Pollina
  • Anthony Pollina

Only his hairdresser knows for sure, eh?

That was the feeling one got reading and listening to the reports in the daily press this week as the news shops tried to figure out whether Anthony Pollina, 55, did or did not toss his hat into the 2008 gubernatorial ring at Saturday’s Progressive Party convention in South Royalton.

Hey, yours truly was there, and our best call is: Tony the Prog is running if at least two key shoes drop.

First and foremost, there will have to be a solid demonstration of support for Pollina over the coming holiday season. We’re talking financial support.

As State Rep. Chris Pearson of Burlington put it, “Money is king in this game. You can wish it’s not true, but it is. In the major leagues,” said Pearson, who ran Tony the Prog’s gubernatorial race in 2000 and his Lite-Gov campaign in 2002, “it’s perhaps the biggest indicator of running a serious race. In 2000, we were delighted to have $300,000 to spend. This one is going to require $1 million.”

Just telling like it is.

“If we’re going to do this,” said Pearson to the 80 mostly baby-boomer-generation faithful, “we have to demonstrate, and demonstrate quickly, that we’re not goofing around. To me, that means raising $100,000 by January 15. If we do that, the media will notice.”

Hey, the media’s already noticing. Noticing the undeniable fact that the Vermont Democratic Party is having an embarrassingly hard time coming up with a challenger to take on Republican Gov. Jim Douglas next year. Liberal/Progressive Vermont, land of Sens. Patrick Leahy and Bernie Sanders, is scraping for a Democrat horse. The savvy ones, such as Vermont Senate President Peter Shumlin, appear to sense that Douglas can’t be beat. Has his bases covered.

Word this week is that former Ambassador Peter Galbraith, who had been mentioned as a possibility, now has ruled it out. And every time yours truly mentions the name of Democratic State Sen. John Campbell of Windsor County — said to be eager to take a shot — all we get is a blank look and the question, “Who?”

This would be Pollina’s best shot, but it has to be a clear one. The Democrats and Progressives have to unite on this to have a snowball’s chance in you-know-where.

“Our candidate,” said thirtysomething Pearson to the aging Prog faithful, “leads the pack with name recognition, credibility and campaign know-how.” But the clock is ticking. “We have to move quickly,” repeated Pearson, “to demonstrate fundraising power.”

Sounds like “put-up-or-shut-up” time in Prog Land.

“If we’re serious about winning,” said Pearson, “we have to consider options like adding an additional party label. Some of you may find that despicable,” he said, “and I’m sorry. We’re not going to have that debate. We don’t have the time.”

Indeed, private talks have been underway between Progressives and Democrats.

“Friends in the Democratic Party have written me, encouraged me, voiced their support,” said Pollina, “but we need to find a way to work with them to build the unity that’s needed to make a successful campaign.”

The olive branches are certainly being extended in public.

“We have to work very seriously with our friends in the Democratic Party to especially make sure they understand that to build a successful campaign,” said Anthony, “this particular race is going to take one candidate people can get behind, who can make sure that we replace Jim Douglas with a governor that brings us in a different direction.”

Sounds like Pollina’s got to flex a little muscle soon, fundraising-wise. To the tune of six figures by January 15.

And what about a little haircut?


Last Minute No-Show — The Progressive Party had four morning breakout sessions on its convention agenda. One on “Agriculture.” One on “Economic Development & Tax Reform.” Another on “Health Care,” and a fourth on “Drug Policy & Correcting Corrections.” According to the printed agenda, the drug-policy session was to have been moderated by Windsor County State’s Attorney Robert Sand — someone in the news last week.

But State Chair Martha Abbott informed the delegates that State’s Attorney Sand had called her the night before and informed her he would not be able to make it as planned.

“His life became a little complicated,” said Abbott, “and he called and said, ‘I’m not gonna make it.’”

She was referring to the fact that Gov. Jim Douglas told the Vermont State Police to send first-time marijuana-possession cases in Windsor County to the attorney general rather than to Sand’s office.

That was the gubernatorial reaction to Prosecutor Sand’s recent decision to reduce pot charges against Martha Davis, a 61-year-old part-time family court judge. Damn Woodstock generation, eh?

Sand has bravely advocated we reexamine our current drug laws and cast a cold eye on whether they’re helping or hurting individuals and society itself. A case can certainly be made that our drug policy inflicts more damage and more cost than the drugs themselves.

Unfortunately, in this particular case, Davis had more than a few joints or a couple ounces of the leafy green stuff, which, let’s face it, is a staple of modern American society. According to police, she had 2 1/2 pounds and 32 small plants. As law-enforcement types sympathetic to Sand’s view tell us, “Those are felony amounts. Dropping that to diversion’s a stretch.”

Perhaps, but it does get the public debate going, doesn’t it?

Thank you, Gov. Scissorhands, for stepping in. And State Sen. Jeanette White (D-Windham) jumped in as well. Sen. White says she’ll introduce a bill in January that would reduce possession of marijuana to a civil, rather than a criminal, offense.

Hmm. Didn’t a young twentysomething Republican State Rep from Middlebury named Jim Douglas once vote in favor of just such a measure back in the good old 1970s?

Yes, indeed. On March 17, 1978, Rep. Douglas voted for H.669, a bill that would have decriminalized pot possession of less than an ounce. It passed the Vermont House but died in the Vermont Senate without reaching the floor.

Ah! The good old days.

“My view,” said Democratic Senate boss Peter Shumlin to the Brattleboro Reformer, “is that Vermont is spending extraordinary resources prosecuting and defending cases for small amounts of marijuana, and that is a waste of resources.”

Sand may have canceled his Progressive convention appearance, but there were Bobby Sand handouts. He is a thoughtful guy, a respected prosecutor and a very brave man.

“The war on drugs is a war on people,” writes Sand. “The time has come to discuss a better approach to this vexing problem. I look forward to the discussion.”

Unfortunately, he didn’t show up Saturday to have it.


Welch’s Finest Hour — Actually, the Sunday meeting in the basement of the Barre library between Democratic U.S. Rep. Peter Welch and about 100 Iraq war critics lasted two hours and 20 minutes, according to our watch. Some of the folks had protested in his office before. Some had been arrested.

They say the honeymoon is over for this Democratically controlled Congress. They want Welch to vote against any and all funding for the Iraq war.

Under the original agenda, Welch was to be allowed to answer only “yes” or “no” to 15 questions they had prepared (but he had not seen). He would then be given 10 minutes to speak.

The freshman congressman changed their plans. First time we’ve even seen a congressman have to fight for his First Amendment right of free speech, but Ol’ Welchie did. There was a whole lot of ’70s-style screaming and yelling from the audience, but the congressman admirably kept his cool and made his points.

“It’s my job,” he told yours truly afterward. “These are good Vermont folks who care passionately about the constitution and the war in Iraq. And I feel it was important that I listen to them. I was glad to participate and listen to the conviction, the passion, the sense of urgency that they have.”

His goal, he said, was to convey he’s “doing everything that I can to bring this war to an end.” He noted Wisconsin Sen. Russ Feingold, a strong war opponent, had publicly cited his antiwar efforts.

“I think it’s a good turnout,” said Rep. Welch. “I think Vermonters are very passionate about the war. I’d love it,” he added, “if they’d also focus on a couple senators over in New Hampshire who supported the war to begin with and are continuing to sustain it with votes for blank-check funding.”


Bernie on Iraq — U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders held a press conference in Burlington, Monday, as usual, and he stuck to the Veterans Day theme. His office had gone to bat to help get World War II veteran Stanley Sabens, 84, of Barre the medals he’d earned fighting for freedom as a member of the Black Devils, the First Special Service Force, a precursor of the Green Berets.

Not many Black Devils left.

And Vermonters continue to answer the call to military service. Many Vermonters still trust their president, who says the cause in Iraq is just. But the American people, and most Vermonters, know that’s simply not the case. They know the cause in Iraq is simply incomparable to that for which Stanley Sabens and his comrades fought and died in Italy and France. That the massive mission George W. Bush has launched in Iraq is not a war but a crime, and it’s a crime on an enormous scale.

In a one-on-one with “Inside Track” after his presser, Ol’ Bernardo indicated the coming days and weeks in Washington will be heated.

“You have a president,” said Sanders, “who pretty clearly seems determined not to bring the troops home during his watch. He’s going to leave that responsibility to the next president.”


But it will not happen without a fight.

Sen. Sanders told us there will be “some very strong action” coming in the weeks ahead, which he will be “very supportive of.” It will tie the budgetary process (all the big spending bills are still in limbo) to “bringing our troops home as soon as we possibly can — certainly within the next year,” he said.

“We’ll be standing up to Bush as strongly as we possibly can,” Vermont’s 66-year-old junior senator assured us.

Wouldn’t expect anything less, would you?

The problem in this particular “democracy” is a mathematical one: Sixty votes are needed in the 100-member U.S. Senate to end debate and have an up-or-down vote. It can be maddening, but it’s the rule.

How far can we possibly be from the “tipping point?” we asked. The point where enough Republican senators, such as John Sununu in New Hampshire and others up for reelection next November, wake up and smell the coffee? Wake up and realize their personal political careers are in serious danger?

“That’s exactly right!” replied Sanders, his eyes widening. The “key issue here,” he said, is that the elections are coming “and the Republicans are not dumb.”

A backhanded compliment, eh?

“Already,” said Ol’ Bernardo, “we’re seeing our Republican friends — who just coincidentally happen to be up for reelection — separating themselves from the president. It’s almost amusing,” he added with a grin. “You can tell by the votes whether somebody’s coming up for election or not.”

Stay tuned.


CLF Warms Up? — The Conservation Law Foundation has a well-earned reputation as one of those environmental tree-hugger outfits that doesn’t care a whole lot about being liked.

CLF’s mission is to win in the courtroom and at the Statehouse, and they’ve been very, very good at that throughout New England.

As Chris Killian, CLF’s Vermont boss, put it the other night, “The Conservation Law Foundation isn’t afraid to file lawsuits and we’re proud of that. That’s what we do. And sometimes that’s looked at like a radical gesture. But from our perspective, it’s turning to the place where we can get justice on the causes that we fight for.”

But now CLF has embarked on a new, warmer and fuzzier direction. Last week, they invited a select group to Burlington’s Waterfront Theatre for hors d’oeuvres and a pitch on what needs to be done to reverse the degradation of Lake Champlain.

Director Killian told yours truly they had put the word out, hoping to get 30 to 35 folks to show. They ended up with 80.

“We’re very pleased,” said Killian. “We have a very mixed group, from philanthropists and donors to our organization, to local activists and people who do local water-quality monitoring.”

Killian acknowledged, “This is a new direction for us in terms of holding events in various areas of the state. We’re hoping to do three this year. Our organization recently hired a special-events coordinator, so we now have some staff capacity to do these kinds of things.”

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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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