About three hours after last week’s edition of Seven Days hit the street, yours truly got a call from a certain mysterious international political figure “reportedly” considering a run for governor of Vermont.
We had noted in last week’s “Inside Track” that Peter Galbraith, 57, the distinguished author and former diplomat, had not put in an appearance at either of the two weekend Burlington labor events that were politician-heavy, nor had he returned our phone message seeking comment.
Galbraith (pictured here on Burlington’s Church Street after a November coffee-shop rendezvous with Progressive Anthony Pollina, who’s since declared his own gubernatorial candidacy) said he wanted to be perfectly clear: He is “seriously considering” seeking the Democratic nomination for governor of Vermont.
Nobody else is, apparently because none of the usual suspects believes he has a snowball’s chance in hell of knocking off Republican incumbent and moderate, likable-guy Jim Douglas. We suggested to Galbraith — U.S. Ambassador to Croatia when Howard Dean was governor — that skepticism about his candidacy is not lacking.
“That’s your assessment of it,” he replied. “I don’t think I’m a total unknown. And I think I have been in public service for 24 years and I have a good record.”
The baby-boomer-generation politico, a resident of Townshend, active in the Vermont Democratic Party in the 1970s, noted he has “always been a Vermont resident.” He was a delegate to the state party convention and even served as party chairman, he informed us.
But that’s 30-some years ago, isn’t it?
“Yes, of course,” he replied. “Obviously, when I went into the service of our country, I gave up my active involvement in politics. I don’t think that’s a disqualification from seeking public office.”
Good answer, eh?
But what about the Pollina factor? No one sees the possibility of a Jim Douglas upset if Galbraith throws his hat in the ring, too. Peter and Tony the Prog would split the Vermont left and allow Douglas an easy victory — or that’s the conventional wisdom.
“Well, first,” Galbraith said firmly and clearly, “my decision doesn’t depend on Anthony Pollina, who is a fine person and perfectly within his rights to run.” He agreed that it would be easier for a “small-p” progressive to prevail in circumstances where there’s one candidate. “And I consider myself a progressive,” said Galbraith.
He said the best way for a progressive to prevail would be if there were only one.
“I would be in favor of any fair system to select that one candidate,” said Galbraith.
What does that mean?
The “obvious” meaning, answered the former international diplomat, “is to have a Democratic Primary.”
But, we noted, Mr. Pollina has already made it clear, he’s not going there. He’s a Progressive Party candidate.
“But fewer than 500 people voted” in the last Progressive Party Primary, said Galbraith, while 100,000 people voted in the Democratic one.
The Democratic Party “is the largest party in the state,” said the man who is not a Democratic candidate at this time, “so it’s a perfectly good forum to settle the issue.”
But it’s not going to happen, Pedro. Though he ran for Congress in 1984 as a Democrat, today Tony is a Prog!
“I’m open to any other idea,” said the non-candidate.
To test his “progressive” metal, we asked Galbraith’s view on the hot-button health-care-reform debate under Montpeculiar’s Golden Dome — H.304. The controversial legislation would establish one statewide global budget to cover, and rein in, all Vermonters’ hospitalization costs.
“If I were designing a health-care system from scratch,” said the man who says he’s “seriously considering” running for governor, “I would be in favor of a state-run, single-payer system. That clearly provides the best service and the most comprehensive coverage at the lowest cost. And the experience of other countries in the world demonstrates that that’s the case.”
Whoa! A flaming lefty after all!
Then Ol’ Peter added, rather diplomatically, “We, of course, are not starting from scratch, and that is the dilemma.”
Before taking a definitive position, this maybe-candidate told us he has many questions he would want to answer before taking a definitive stand on H.304.
OK. What does the guy who negotiated the peace treaty in Croatia think about Vermont’s marijuana laws?
Unlike Gov. Scissorhands, who is only open to hearing the debate, Galbraith is clear. “I’m not in favor of criminal prosecution of small amounts of marijuana,” said the Considerer of Candidacy. “That clogs up the system.”
He would have more specifics on how you’d go about changing the laws “if and when I become a candidate.” Right now, he said, he’s “still in the mode of exploring.”
But is Gentleman Jim Douglas beatable? C’mon, seriously?
“I wouldn’t be contemplating it if I didn’t think it was a winnable proposition,” answered Galbraith. “I believe this will be an extremely Democratic year,” he noted, and “a Democrat with a progressive set of positions and a solid record of public service could win.”
Health Care Beat — Rep. Topper McFaun’s health-care-reform bill — the one that at the session’s start was not expected to come off the wall — got two days of hearings last week before the House and Senate health committees.
Hospital heads and insurance-company types had nothing good to say about H.304, which would require one global budget to handle all Vermonters’ hospitalization costs.
Reformers like McFaun, the fiery Barre Republican, and Dr. Deb Richter, the Cambridge family practitioner, argue a global budget would save Vermonters millions by cutting the bureaucracy, executive salaries and insurance-company profits while relieving everyone’s worries about paying their hospital bills. Their premise is that health care works best and costs least when we accept that we’re all in this together. They point to the rest of the civilized world as their evidence: better results at much lower cost.
The CEOs and insurance types say that even if some of what the reformers said made sense, the one-budget plan will not work unless the entire country adopts the same “single-payer” plan. One little state by itself just won’t work.
Certainly, acknowledges Richter, “It remains very much an uphill fight, but the fact that H.304 still draws breath is something of a medical miracle.”
Asked her diagnosis of H.304’s condition this week, Dr. Deb told “Inside Track,” “It’s alive. I don’t know if it’s well. The opposition, the hospital CEOs and the insurance companies,” she said, “are desperately trying to kill this bill.”
On Thursday, the day after this week’s Seven Days hits the street and web, Richter and her growing band of grassroots health-care-reform activists are due to hit the Golden Dome in Montpeculiar for their second Statehouse lobby day.
On January 9, 160 Vermont-ers from 47 towns signed their reform petition. The good doctor said she’s expecting even more folks to make Montpelier their destination this week.
We shall see.
P.S. Name change complete. Dr. Richter said they have changed the name of their organization’s website from Take Back Vermont Health Care to Save Vermont Health Care. Why?
“Because we didn’t want to offend anybody with the previous name,” said she.
“Take Back Vermont” was a rallying cry and favorite lawn sign of antigay rights, anti-civil-union folks back in 2000. For some, though not too many, the phrase still had a sting, Dr. Deb learned.
Richter said her group, which includes gay members, did not realize some folks had been offended. Their new web url is: http://www.savevermonthealthcare.org.
Statehouse Notes — Gov. Jim Douglas’ proposal to plug a big hole in the state budget with $50 million raised by selling off the Vermont Lottery looks like a dead skunk in the middle of the road.
But a bill backed by Rural Vermont that would license farmers to grow hemp sailed through the House Agriculture Commit-tee on an 11-0 vote. The Progressive Chairman David Zuckerman, as well as Democrats, Republicans and one Independent, were all on board in the end. This despite the admonition from Vermont State Police that hemp has been an illegal crop since 1958 under federal law. To Uncle Sam, it’s the same as marijuana, the “evil weed.”
Zuckerman notes there will be a new federal government come January, and having a Vermont law in place will put us at the front of the line to begin a healthy, profitable industry, as hemp production is in other civilized countries such as Canada.
Incidentally, Vermont has some pretty deep hemp roots. According to papers on file at the Vermont Historical Society, http://www.vermonthistory.org/arccat/findaid/fairbank.htm, two Vermonters, Thaddeus and Erastus Fairbanks, patented the “hemp dresser” in 1830. And Thaddeus was “for a time manager of the St. Johnsbury Hemp Company.”
As for Gov. Scissorhands’ suggestion we sell the Vermont Lottery to the highest bidder, House Speaker Gaye Symington says “the bottom line” comes down to the fact that “the approach of selling a state asset to meet structural needs is not appropriate. This year it’s the lottery; what are we going to sell off next year?”
Symington, appearing on Ch. 3’s “You Can Quote Me” Sunday morning, also pointed out that for the new owner of the Vermont Lottery to make more money, “Vermonters will have to lose more.”
The legislature, she assured Marselis Parsons and Kristin Carlson, “is just not interested in that.”
The lottery currently rakes in $23 million annually. Promoters say it’s voluntary spending and, unlike taxes, people don’t have to pay up.
“My answer to that,” said the Democratic Speaker, “is, OK, let’s turn off the spigot in the ads. If you think it’s voluntary, then let’s stop advertising it and see how many people buy lottery tickets.”
She’s a toughie, eh?
Media Notes — It happens very slowly, usually too slowly to notice, but change is constant. Just look at The Burlington Free Press these days. The dry, colorless, humorless Gannett-chain outpost in Vermont ain’t the boring, editorially conservative rag it was all those years under Publisher Jim Carey.
Though Freeps staff no longer gets free parking, the state’s largest daily is showing color and zip the likes of which we’ve never seen before.
And the rigidly anti-Bernie Sanders right-wing editorial page, which remained muzzled under Carey during the contentious civil-unions battle in 2000, is finally demonstrating a desire to connect to Vermont.
Tuesday’s Freeps editorial came to the defense of Brattleboro, a little Vermont city that is under assault from the right-wing bloggers, blabbers and talk-show stars of America.
On Town Meeting Day, Brattleboro voters will have a ballot question asking if they think President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney should be arrested for their Iraq war crimes, perjury and/or obstruction of justice if they ever set foot in Vermont.
Mr. “WMD” Bush has never set foot in Vermont while occupying the White House. It’s the only state of the 50 he has not visited.
While the Freeps editorial board under new Publisher/ President Bradley Robertson does not take sides on whether Dubya’s lies and war crimes are, indeed, “perjury” and “war crimes,” it does stand up for the right of Brattleboro citizens to vote on it.
“ . . . the rights guaranteed by our Constitution are not museum pieces to be displayed behind protective glass. The rights have and give value only when they are exercised on a regular basis. Vigorous and open debate is one of the hallmarks of our democracy.
“The right to question the legitimacy of government authority dates back to the founding of this country and is written into the Declaration of Independence. The ballot item in Brattleboro is nothing more than people exercising that right in a civil manner.
“Sometimes we agree, sometimes we don’t. That’s not the point. Others might talk about democracy, but in Vermont, we are not afraid to practice democracy.”
Yes, indeed, as the kid from Hibbing, Minnesota, with the guitar would say, “The times, they are a-changing.”