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Seven Days Sues Dean 

As expected, last fall’s battle over Gov. Howard Dean’s daily schedule is going to court. Last week a lawyer representing the Rutland Herald/Times Argus filed a complaint in Washington County Superior Court challenging the governor’s refusal to release copies of what the papers argue is a public document.

This week, Seven Days has joined the suit as a plaintiff. Our November 15 request for the daily schedule was the first one the Guv declined.

In a Christmas Eve letter to Seven Days, Ho-Ho’s legal counsel, David Rocchio, denied our appeal of his first Dec. 4 denial. Mr. Pinocchio, er, sorry, Rocchio claims there are “legal exceptions” in the state’s public records law that exempt the governor’s schedule from disclosure.

“For example,” he wrote, “they may protect the security of the governor, or the ability of the governor to obtain frank advice on policy matters.”

Baloney. We say there aren’t any “legal exceptions” in state statute allowing Vermont’s chief executive to operate in such secrecy. It’s against the law.

Now Superior Court Judge John Meaker can weigh in on it. That’s what courts are for.

Stay tuned.

Dean Balloon Gets Loft! White House-wise, Ho-Ho’s having a damn good week, thank you, Eleanor Clift. Eleanor’s the Newsweek columnist and brave, lonely liberal on the “McLaughlin Group” panel on PBS. She just attended her fifth “Renaissance Weekend” in Charleston, South Carolina, she told Seven Days, and guess who was there?

It definitely wasn’t on his Weekly Public Appearance Schedule, but Gov. Howard Dean eagerly attended the annual off-the-record gathering of the rich and famous once fancied by Bill and Hillary Clinton. And it appears Ho-Ho made a hell of a good impression on columnist Clift.

“Howard Who?” was posted on Newsweek’s Web site Monday morning. Word traveled fast.

A little-known governor from an obscure state wants to run for president. The movers and shakers don’t think he has a chance, but against all odds he persists. The script worked for Jimmy Carter, a peanut farmer who promised he would never lie to us, and for Bill Clinton, whose promise to “end welfare as we know it” persuaded swing voters that the Democratic Party wasn’t just for liberals. Can history repeat itself again? Vermont Governor Howard Dean thinks it can.

It gets better. Check it out.


Minefield Dead Ahead? — As Presidential candidate Dean heads off into the Wild Blue Yonder, he’d certainly like to have the little controversy over the flag amendment cauterized.

Vermont is the only state not to back a constitutional amendment banning flag-burning. It passed the Republican-controlled House, but lost out in the Democrat-controlled Senate.

Supporters define it as an issue of patriotism.

Opponents define it differently. One of the leading opponents is State Sen. Dick McCormack (D-Windsor). McCormack told Seven Days, “The so-called flag amendment really isn’t about the flag, it’s about monkeying with the First Amendment.”

As for patriotism, McCormack noted he is currently co-sponsoring a Pledge of Allegiance resolution offered by Sen. Julius Canns.

“If people find that confusing,” said Dick, “they should take a harder look at the so-called flag amendment.”

Nonetheless, expect fireworks soon on the flag issue.

“It’s getting demagogued so mercilessly,” said McCormack, “it could create a problem for Dean.”


Hollywood, Vermont?Can you say Gov. Peter Welch?

Peter returns to the Statehouse this month, a Windsor County state senator once again. Actually, he arrived early. Last Friday, Sen. Welch played Vermont’s governor in a cafeteria scene shot for Nora Jacobson’s hot new movie, Out of Her Mind.

Welch, a Democrat, lost the 1990 governor’s race to Richard Snelling by just three points. Peter quietly went back to practicing law full-time.

Good to have him back. He’s a pro.

Unless Democrat Lt. Gov. Doug Racine wins in November and moves up, Ol’ Peter may in the not too distant future turn his recent acting job into a real job. Welchie’s definitely one to watch.

The other Hollywood connection is Burlington actor Rene Kirby and his recent mind-blowing performance in Shallow Hal, still playing at the “cheap seats” on North Avenue. It’s the Farrelly brothers’ best film to date, and Rene of Lakeside stole the show from Gwyneth Paltrow and Jason Alexander. No kidding. You’ve gotta see it to believe it!

Hollywood isn’t stupid, folks. The critics noticed. You bet Mr. Kirby is in the running for an Oscar nomination as “best supporting actor.” The dude’s a natural!


Freed’s FollyAs we enter the second half of the legislative biennium, early indications are that Rookie Republican Speaker Walter Freed is not growing in the job as we hoped. In a Statehouse preview in Monday’s Burlington Free Press, the Freedmeister continues to cling to the outrageous falsehood that he exercised bipartisan statesmanship in making committee assignments last January.

Pure, shameless hogwash.

Wally from Dorset gave just three of 28 leadership positions to Democrat members. He stacked Judiciary with anti-civil-unions troops and Ways and Means with gold-towners. And he parked half the Burling-ton’s Progs on Fish & Wildlife.

Mr. Freed may well be a successful multi-millionaire “petroleum marketer,” as he calls himself. Bravo! And he may own his own plane and a fleet of fancy cars (including two Corvettes). But time’s running out on his test of political leadership.

And many TV viewers noticed Tuesday during Dean’s State of the State address that Speaker Wally awkwardly sat on his hands as the chamber applauded the governor’s remarks about equal rights.

Apparently Freed took exception to Dean’s “controversial” remark that “We are a state which guaranteed equal rights to all Vermonters regardless of race, religion, ethnic background or sexual orientation.”

To Dean’s right, Speaker Freed look perturbed by the line. He appeared to swallow hard, clench his teeth and grimace. He stared at the floor as he sat through the 30-second standing ovation.

They say actions speak louder than words.


Lobbyist News — At the governor’s recent weekly press conference, we asked his lordship if he was aware the same Statehouse business lobbyist who just beat him on the electric car issue beat him last session on the beer tax.

Dean wasn’t.

Credit where credit is due. Gerry Morris of Charlotte, who represents both Anheuser-Busch and the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, gets the bouquet.

Long ago and far away, Morris started out in a triple-decker in South Boston and made it to Beacon Hill as Gov. Ed King’s press secretary. He worked next for John Glenn in the 1984 presidential primary and later moved north to Vermont. Quietly, Morris the Cat has built an impressive list of powerful business clients. He’s also expanded. It’s now called Morris & Associates.

And Mr. Morris apparently believes in good breeding. His two Statehouse associates both have excellent political genes.

Allison Crowley Demag is the daughter of Tom Crowley, a former legendary Democrat state senator and current assistant judge. Growing up, she told us, her Burlington home was “Ward 1 Democratic headquarters.”

Complementing Allison is Brendan Cosgrove. His dad, Brian Cosgrove, was executive director of the Vermont GOP and a legendary political organizer/strategist. Legend has it he once punched out a certain Democrat House Speaker in a certain Montpelier watering hole.

Ah, the good old days!


Snelling Replacement We’re going to miss State Sen. Barbara Snelling very, very much at the Statehouse this winter. Such a class act! The hallowed “Granny caucus” of the upper chamber has been reduced to two.

Choosing her replacement will be one of Gov. Dean’s most ballyhooed acts of the season. Our sources indicate the seat is Rep. Tom Little’s to refuse. The Shelburne Republican is one of the most respected members of the Legislature, and he’d only be following in his father George Little’s large footsteps if he moves down to the first floor.

But a monkey wrench has appeared in the form of Babs’ darling daughter, Diane Bryant Snelling, 49, of Hinesburg. Princess Di has decided she’d like to follow her mom to Montpeculiar.

“I’m very excited about it,” she told Seven Days.

Hmmn. Tough decision, eh?


The Power of Love — Now for some sad news. Former two-term State Rep. Bill Suchmann (R-Chester) was killed in a car accident over the Christmas holidays. He was 78.

Bill and his dear wife Katherine Suchmann had just left church on the Sunday before Christmas when their car was broadsided. He was killed instantly. Katherine is recovering. Her pelvis was broken and she needs a walker to get around these days.

Bill Suchmann was far from a household word in Vermont politics. Even at the Statehouse, he tended to avoid the limelight. But you’d be surprised by how many people were deeply touched by the passing of the polite little bow-tied, retired gent.

Bill was already past 70 when he arrived at the Statehouse in Montpeculiar as a freshman lawmaker. For him, being a “citizen legislator” was a matter of pride. He took it seriously, and he wore his respect for our beloved democracy like a badge of honor.

A couple years ago, yours truly moderated a televised Statehouse “Point-Counterpoint” debate on same-sex marriage. It occurred shortly after the Supreme Court’s historic and very controversial decision, decreeing equal marriage rights for same-sex couples. The high court’s December 1999 decision landed on the doorstep of the January 2000 Legislative session like a bombshell.

Finding lawmakers in opposition to the legalization of gay marriage wasn’t a problem. Rounding up two who would stick their necks out in defense of it was a challenge.

State Sen. Jeb Spaulding (D-Washington) was the only member of his chamber to step forward. Even those “liberals” who had consistently supported gay rights were reluctant to “come out of the closet,” so to speak, until the dust started to settle. Remember, at the time the phrase “civil unions” was yet to be coined.

After more than a dozen rejections, we learned that there was one House Republican backbencher who had surprisingly strong views on the matter. A Republican?

Sure enough, we tracked down Rep. Suchmann — had never met the man before — and he quickly accepted our invitation to debate.

On that early February evening in the senate chamber, Spaulding and Suchmann faced off against State Sen. Julius Canns (R-Caledonia) and the up-and-coming Rep. Peg Flory (R-Pittsford).

The old fella from Chester turned out to be an extraordinary surprise. His eloquence was unrivaled as he exposed the fear and ignorance of his opposing debaters. Rep. Suchmann’s closing remarks from that evening’s debate still ring loudly in our ears.

“What are we afraid of?” was his ringing refrain.

“Afraid to tamper with tradition and order?” he asked. With “God’s plan” that marriage be for “one man and one woman?”

“It’s so neat and orderly,” declared Suchmann. “Just as it was orderly for black people to be slaves, women not to vote and illegitimate birth [to be] a stigma carried by an innocent child. Why has our primary preoccupation always been with order rather than with justice? What are we afraid of?

“Some say gay marriage will make a mockery of traditional marriage. How can that be? I believe in traditional marriage. I think it’s terrific, and I ought to know!

“My wife Katherine and I have been married more than 52 years,” he continued. “We’ve been friends, companions, lovers. She’s my toughest critic and my most trusted advisor. We have three grown children, five grandchildren. It’s been a wonderful life. God has been good to us. But how can I enjoy the blessings of this traditional marriage so much and then selfishly forbid it to others?

“Rather than destroy the fabric of traditional marriage, same-gender unions can only add diversity and strength to it. And, Lord knows, these days marriage needs all the help it can get.”

Two years have passed and the dust has settled. Civil unions are today’s status quo. Love and justice won the day. Those who forecast gloom and doom for Vermont and the destruction of “traditional” marriage have been proven false prophets and merchants of fear.

Bill Suchmann has been proven an enlightened hero in the cause of freedom.

There was a man!

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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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