Even though he is a Republican, Vermont's charming, cheerful and politically savvy chief executive, Gov. Jim Douglas, "is a very weak leader."
At least that's what no less a shining star than Bill O'Reilly, the "all-American" Republican champion and Fox News motor-mouth, told America Monday night on "The O'Reilly Factor."
The segment is titled "The Truth About Vermont," so it must be true, eh? Everything on Fox "News" is.
Actually, O'Reilly's target wasn't Vermont's "very weak" governor, but rather the "openly gay" chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. Rep. Bill Lippert (D-Hinesburg), who was having some oatmeal in the Statehouse cafeteria around 9 a.m. when the Fox "News" crew hit him. In O'Reilly's opinion, "The state of Vermont is quite soft on child predators."
If you missed it Monday night, do check it out online at http://www.foxnews.com/oreilly.
"The problem in Vermont," according to Bill-O, "is the state has been hijacked by secular progressives."
Makes you want to move all your financial trading investments over to Scottrade, the O'Reilly sponsor, eh?
Anyway, the funniest thing was that about 20 minutes later, over on MSNBC, Keith Obermann fired back. Just caught it by sheer luck - Obermann's "World's Worst Person" of the day contest.
O'Reilly won, beating out Ann Coulter! And won it for his hatchet job on Bill Lippert and the State of Vermont.
Obermann accused O'Reilly of "again taking the term 'stakeout' way too literally," telling his audience that the folks on the other channel had witnessed O'Reilly:
"...sending one of his minion producers into the Vermont Statehouse in Montpelier to, with cameras rolling, pull off their third ambush of the year. This time a state legislator who Bill [O'Reilly] blamed, falsely, of course, for keeping Vermont's laws on sex offenders 'loose,' while the lawmaker was eating his breakfast - oatmeal.
"The lawmaker and his colleagues had voted to make those laws even tighter the day before.
"So, Bill-O gets the story wrong, calls the lawmaker corrupt, and his people do something so improper and disturbing that if it were done to O'Reilly, he would be calling for them to be arrested on terrorism charges!!"
Good point, Keith-O.
Statehouse Finale - Not a whole lot on the accomplishment side at the 2007 Vermont Legislature shut-down Saturday night. On the upside is the broadband bill, which whisked through at the last minute. Even the Progs are praising it because it will bring high-speed Internet to Vermonters on 56k phone lines.
What's left spinning in the air is H.520. To Democratic Sen. Peter Shumlin and House Speaker Gaye Symington, the Global Warming/Climate Change bill was their top priority.
To GOP Gov. Jim Douglas, it's an unfair tax bill on a particular business - Entergy Vermont Yankee.
The Guv never refers to it as "global-warming legislation," and the Dems never refer to it as a "tax bill."
Everyone anticipates a gubernatorial veto, right?
It's only about the urgency of addressing climate change. What's the rush?
Welch Meets the Challenge - Vermont's lone member of the U.S. House of Representatives faced the "Impeach Bush & Cheney" crowd head-on Saturday on the gymnasium floor at Hartford High School in White River Junction.
Like Vermont's two U.S. Senators - Patrick Leahy (Democrat) and Bernie Sanders (Independent) - Rep. Peter Welch (Democrat) has also publicly opposed moving down the impeachment trail. Despite that, he wisely moved back the time of the Town Meeting on Impeachment, from 9 a.m. until 11 a.m., after impeachment organizers threatened to boycott the meeting. These are, after all, his constituents.
Rep. Welch also flexed his "time" muscle in advance, agreeing to extend the meeting to an hour and a half.
Clearly, Welchie would like to put this impeachment bubble behind him. But these are folks he represents. Most of them voted for him. And they're passionate about the issue. The Bush-Cheney administration is certainly more than worthy of investigation "for high crimes and misdemeanors." Without justice, they argue, how can there ever be peace?
Peter Welch gets an A-plus for his performance Saturday. He took all the incoming head-on. At one point, organizer Liza Earle attempted to publicly lock him into a summertime impeachment meeting in Vermont with Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio (who already has an impeachment resolution entered). Welch sprung from his chair and took the mike to let everyone know in no uncertain terms he was there to hear them out fully on impeachment - their true cause - but not to get publicly cornered into future impeachment meetings.
It was as good as we've ever seen Welchie improvise!
The public microphones on either side of the basketball court were well used and open to all comers - dozens. And the vast majority was passionate and polite. Former Windsor County State Sens. Edgar May and Will Hunter were present and spoke, but no sign of current party-official types.
Still, even on just a few days' notice, a public meeting like that was able to attract a few of the fringe types. For example, Peter Diamondstone and Denny Morrisseau were there.
Those two were allies in the old Liberty Union Days of the late 1960s, then had a falling out that appears to have endured. Diamondstone stuck with Liberty Union and the political fringe, while Morrisseau founded Leunig's in 1980 on the corner of College and Church Streets in Burlington (since sold in the mid-1990s).
Now that Denny's restaurateur days are behind him, he's back in the old, familiar political fringe. Nice long, white ponytail, too.
Which reminds me of Welch, whose ponytail days are far behind him.
Rep. Welch not only handled the incoming with firmness and grace, he also gave the impeachment mouths as much time as they wanted, sitting there in the front row listening and taking notes for two hours and 40 minutes.
Should they press him for another town meeting on the subject, Welch certainly can say he's already spent almost three hours patiently hearing everyone out.
Afterwards, Welch told the two reporters who stuck around that he understood the Vermonters there had "a principled commitment to our democratic tradition, and they're outraged the president has played fast and loose with the Constitution, played fast and loose with the truth, on the reasons he brought the nation to war."
The rookie congressman said he understands "people desperately want America to end this war. So, I find it very moving. I think that Vermonters share the passion."
But is Welch "changeable" when it comes to his opposition right now to impeaching the crook in the Oval Office?
"Impeachment, I believe, is the wrong tactic," he replied. "I think it would actually harden positions on the Republican side."
And that wouldn't be good, according to Welchie, because there are clear signs Republicans are softening their positions.
It was significant that "you had 11 moderate Republicans telling the president the ship was sinking," said Vermont's representative, referring to last week's White House visit by some leading House Republicans.
"The problem we have is that George Bush is willing to go down with the ship and bring everybody with him," said Pedro. "And the Republicans have to decide if they want to save themselves and save America."
Sounds like melting ice, doesn't it?
It's a sound that was echoed on Monday by U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders. Ol' Bernardo called a Burlington presser to tout the latest veterans' reform legislation he's introducing. But, as you know, there's an endless war going on in Iraq.
From way up here in the Green Mountains, one might wonder why Congress - now under Democrat Party control - doesn't simply cut off funding for this trillion-dollar disaster.
"The difficulty is, you have a president who would veto the legislation, that's the reality!" said Vermont's junior senator. "I could bring up the best bill in the world tomorrow, and yet you need 60 votes to end debate and get a vote on that bill, and you can't do it. That's the problem."
Damn arithmetic. Numbers don't lie.
But both Welch and Sanders gave the impression they are seeing movement amidst their GOP colleagues on Capitol Hill.
Sanders also mentioned the White House visit last week by 11 GOP congressmen regarding our disastrous Iraq war. And he noted the fact that the Repub- licans leaked the story to all the Washington media. They wanted it out there.
"And," said Ol' Bernardo, "apparently it was a very contentious debate. Karl Rove was not happy with that discussion."
Look, the former mayor of Burlington, Vermont, has been a regular on Capitol Hill since the current president's father slept in the Lincoln Bedroom.
Ah, the good old days!
"Yes," said Sen. Sanders, "the Republicans are very, very nervous. They lost in 2006. I believe they are understanding that if they continue to support this war they're going to lose badly in 2008. And, yes, a number of them are rethinking their position."
Vermont's junior senator couldn't say whether the GOP support for President Bush II will burst tomorrow or in two weeks, but he certainly sounded confident that's not far off.
"I think you're going to see significant change on the part of Republicans who are saying, 'Hey, this war is not working. What the president told us was not true. And his rosy interpretation of what's happening in Iraq does not correlate with reality.'"
The fact is, said the senator, "More and more Republicans are expressing grave doubts about the president's leadership on this one."
Both Sanders and Welch agree that, because of Capitol Hill arithmetic, it's going to take Republican defections to cut off the presidential you-know-what.
Media Notes - Word leaked out early Tuesday afternoon that the weekly Vermont Guardian is shutting down. Editor/Publisher Shay Totten put out an announcement to friends that the Guardian - since February only available online - will be closing down after its two-and-a-half-year run. This week's issue, says Totten in the press release, will be the paper's last and will largely be composed of a "best of" retrospective.
Also, this winter we've watched the changing face of the Statehouse press corps.
The 2007 legislative coverage took a hit with the departure of a veritable cog in the WCAX-TV Montpeculiar news machine: Anson Tebbetts.
Also bidding farewell to the reporter's notebooks two months later was Vermont Press Bureau Chief Darren Allen. Darren's stuff appeared in the Rutland Herald /Times Argus newspapers.
Guess what they both have in common?
They both left the press corps for higher-paying state jobs.
Tebbetts, the Cabot farmer and bird-watcher, started in January as a deputy secretary for development over at the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets.
Mr. Allen has become the new top PR person over at the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources.
To tell you the truth, haven't heard much out of either one. Probably too busy making money, eh?
Then, as the session ended, word got out that Ross Sneyd, the Associated Press' Statehouse reporter for the past 15 years, is also departing the world of the golden dome. Ol' "Fair & Balanced" has become a reliable Montpelier fixture.
Unlike Anson and Darren, Ross is not switching over to a higher-paying state government "flak" job. Instead, Ross will be taking a new position as a news producer at Vermont Public Radio in Colchester. He'll start there in July.
Best wishes, all.
Read more at Freyne Land, Peter's blog, sponsored by Coldwell Banker Hickok & Boardman Realty.
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