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The Bitter End? 

Inside Track

Web Extra! Lots of Surprises in Vermont

At 11 a.m. Wednesday morning, with Republican Jim Douglas at his side, Democrat Doug Racine stepped before the microphones at the Statehouse and announced, "Jim's won the campaign and he will be Vermont's next governor."

Effectively tagged by the Douglas team as a flip-flopper for changing his stand on issues like the Circ Highway, Racine, in the end, was not a flipper. He was a straight arrow and he showed a lot of class.

"As I said many times in this campaign," said the Quiet Man, "the candidate who wins the most votes should be the winner of the race. And I will urge the legislature, even with its new numbers, which I find interesting, to do the right thing, respect the will of the voters and elect Jim Douglas governor of the State of Vermont on January 9."

Racine turned and shook hands with a glowing Slim Jim. With a lump in his throat and a tear in his eye, the Quiet Man lead the crowd in a round of applause for the winner.

Just three days earlier, in its Sunday edition, The Burlington Free Press poll showed Racine surging to a 10-point lead. In the end he lost by three points. Nice poll, eh?

Douglas garnered 45 percent of the vote to Racine's 42 percent. Independent Con Hogan pulled 10 percent. The conventional wisdom says Hogan drew equally from Republicans and Democrats. Even if King Con had disappeared, Jim Douglas still would have won.

No doubt, a few Democrats waking up Wednesday morning wished Mr. Racine would flip-flop just one more time. They dreamed of the Quiet Man standing before the cameras and declaring, "For the last nine months Mr. Douglas has accused me of being a flip-flopper. Well, he's right. I am. That's why I've changed my mind about promising to honor the will of the people and support the top vote-getter winning.

"As expected, neither Jim nor I got 50 percent. On January 9 the newly elected legislature will vote by secret ballot, both on this race and in the lieutenant governor's race. Peter Shumlin, as you know finished second to Brian Dubie.

"Mr. Douglas and Mr. Dubie refused to join Peter and I in our pledge to support the top vote-getter. They hoped a Republican-controlled legislature would allow them to steal the election. Well, guess what, folks?

"The new legislature will not be controlled by the Republicans. Who'd a-thunk it? We owe it to the voters to steal this one for the Racine-Shumlin team. What's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. I say, let's show a little respect for the Vermont Constitution and let the legislature do its duty!"

But the Quiet Man did not utter those words. Instead, with a quiver in his voice he thanked his campaign staff and said he was "proud of the campaign I waged."

You've got to be kidding, right?

Vermont Democrats just pulled off one of their greatest legislative victories in memory. They increased their hold on the Senate (as we predicted), and will hold a 19-11 advantage. Lt. Gov.-to-be Brian Doobie-Doo is in for a real "educational experience" presiding over that chamber.

Meanwhile, the House of Freed crumbled like a deck of cards. The latest totals show Speaker Walter Freed's 82-seat majority shrunk to 73. The Duke of Dorset's reign on the podium is in jeopardy.

The House Democratic leader, Rep. John Tracy, is poised to take Freed on in a race for Speaker of the House. He'll need 76 votes to succeed, and John-John can almost taste it. It looks like there will be 70 Democrats, four Progressives and three Independents sworn in in January. Two of the Independents, Rep. Jack Anderson of Woodstock and Rep. Darryl Pillsbury of Brattleboro, lean left.

The question is, how could the Democrats do so well in legislative races all over the state while Doug Racine drew just 42 percent of the vote?

Racine pulled it off by running a campaign that lacked a message. At least Jim Douglas had "It's time for a change." Racine basically said, "Vote for me, I'm a nice guy. I care."

The Richmond auto dealer sat back and chose to ride the demographic wave, relying on left-leaning Vermont to carry him to victory. But he never articulated to voters a clear reason why he should be the new leader of Vermont.

Now it appears likely he's done politically. Come 2004 others in his party will be ready to move up. State Sen. Peter Welch will likely be the new chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. He narrowly lost to Republican Gov. Dick Snelling in 1990. Peter's poised for a second chance.

And what about Peter Shumlin? He was snakebit by Progressive Anthony Pollina. As predicted, Shummy and Tony the Prog split the left, leaving the coast clear for Dubie, who won with just 41 percent. Shumlin got 32 percent and Pollina 25 percent.

Pollina has now accomplished what he failed to do in 2000 -- he took down a Democrat, allowing a right-wing Republican to win. He's right up there with Ralph Nader, so pure, so morally perfect, so progressive!

On election night Tony the Phony even stopped into Dubie's celebration to congratulate the winner. Dubie introduced him to the happy crowd and they all cheered. After all, without Pollina, they would not have been celebrating. The Republicans love Anthony Pollina.

Then there's Burlington Mayor Peter Clavelle. Mayor Moonie endorsed Racine and Pollina. He even successfully pressured Pollina to run for Lite-Gov instead of governor in order to smooth the path for Racine. Clavelle had a bad night Tuesday.

And don't leave Congressman Bernie Sanders out of the gubernatorial picture. There's only one Bernie.

So what have we got?

We've got a new Republican governor that most people did not vote for. Jim Douglas faces a new legislature where the Democrats will ultimately call the shots. His only weapon will be his veto pen.

Winners & Losers -- Except for the top of the ticket, the Democrats are on a roll at the Statehouse. They finally found a candidate to knock off Addison County Republican Tom Bahre, whom they consider one the the best minds of the 12th century.

Democrat Clair Ayer will be the new junior senator from Addison. A very sharp lady is she.

In Orange County, Democrat Mark MacDonald won. Two years ago, Mark courageously fell on his sword for the cause of equal rights for all Vermonters. He supported civil unions. Republican backlasher Bill Corrow knocked him off. On Tuesday, MacDonald handily won the rematch.

In Lamoille County, Sen. Susan Bartlett surprised the Republicans once again by knocking off Rep. Kathy Voyer. Never underestimate Susan Bartlett. She's now in line to be the new Senate president pro tem and get to know Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie.

In Chittenden County, Republican Diane Snelling finished third in her first election in the six-seat district. The other five are Democrats. Jim Leddy topped the ticket. And we now have a Sen. Jog Bra. Hinda Miller won in her first run for office.

The National Picture -- Not looking good, folks. President George W. Bush took back the U.S. Senate. Patrick Leahy and Jim Jeffords will lose their chairmanships. The checks and balances have been removed. War is just around the corner. And can you say Chief Justice Rush Limbaugh?

The 2002 Vermont election campaign went down to the bitter end Tuesday. Nothing like an election to get decent folks to say and do dumb things.

For example, if "normal" people dared to line up on the side of the road or on a highway median strip during rush hour and wave frantically at passing cars, they'd either be arrested by police or taken to the emergency room.

But if you're a candidate for public office these days, you're expected to play the Honk & Wave Game. It's become de rigueur in Vermont politics. But what about safety, you ask?

Democrat Doug Racine told us that one recent morning a female driver returned his wave with a honk and wave and then proceeded to plow into the back of the vehicle in front of her, which had stopped suddenly.

As it is, most drivers are already distracted. Progressive Anthony Pollina told yours truly his unscientific survey found about half of them are talking on their cell phones.

Hey, could we clean this up before 2004, or do we have to get somebody killed?

Anyway, the good news is that Tuesday's turnout looked high for a mid-term election.

The bad news is that Seven Days went to the printer before the votes were tallied. But thanks to the Internet, Inside Track will post a special election report on the Seven Days Web site by 4 p.m. Wednesday afternoon, November 6. You'll find it at

For now, let's look back a little before we forget some of the special moments of Election 2002 -- which, after all, won't be completely over until January 2003.

Worst Commercial? -- Democrat Peter Shumlin was out doing the old Honk & Wave the other day on Williston Road when the traffic snarled and came to a stop. One gentleman motorist rolled down his window.

"Hi, I'm Peter Shumlin. I'm running for lieutenant governor," said the candidate.

"I know who you are," said the driver. "I've seen your commercial. You're the guy who can't read."

"No," replied Shumlin. "I'm the guy who can't spell. Hey, did you like my commercial?"

"No," came the reply. "I thought it was stupid. I'm voting for Brian Dubie."

More than a few people have remarked to us about Shumlin's allegedly "stupid" ad. Just last evening at a local licensed establishment, two gents came by to tell yours truly how "stupid" they thought Shumlin's TV spot was. Despite the senator's decade in the legislature, neither had ever heard of him before.

No question, Shummy's a one-of-a-kind guy. And he's the only candidate using a campaign ad to tell voters he was born with a disability. He's dyslexic. Stupid, right?


First of all, Shumlin's TV spot made an impression. Smart or stupid, people remembered his name. And that's exactly what the Lite-Gov candidate hoped for. The Banana Belter from way down south in Putney used to have a name recognition problem.

Second, there's actually a whole lot of folks born into this world with some sort of disability. Dyslexia is a neurological disorder that inhibits recognition and processing of graphic symbols. It causes inability or great difficulty in learning to read or spell, despite normal intelligence. Some pretty smart folks have battled dyslexia, folks like Thomas Edison, Winston Churchill and Leonardo da Vinci.Putney Pete's "coming out" as a person who bears the cross of dyslexia was a public validation and celebration of potatoe-luvvers akross Virmont!

Speaking of Potatoes -- You may have noticed the recent letter in the Seven Days mailbag from veteran Rutland Herald reporter Kevin O'Connor. Kevin gallantly jumped to the defense of the paper's prize-winning editorial page editor David Moats. In the wake of the Russian Herald's endorsement of Independent Con Hogan for governor, we suggested Moat's 2000 Pulitzer for his pro-civil-unions editorials had gone to his head.

Nothing of the sort, declared O'Connor. Moat's editing continues to help the little folk like O'Connor, and the prize-winner's palate remains unchanged. According to Kevin (sister of Kate O'Connor, of Howard Dean fame, by the way), the mighty Moats still dines regularly on an unpretentious $2.18 Wendy's baked potato.

OK. We take Mr. O'Connor at his word and hereby revise our comments: David Moats does not have a big head. Got that, Kevin?

He has a big potato head!

Beyond the Fringe? -- What would an election be without "fringe" candidates? They're rarely seen or heard, and voters are often surprised when they pop up at the last minute, particularly on Vermont Public Television's Super Sunday debates two days before the election. Wow -- a Make Marijuana Legal Party and a Grassroots Party?


The VPT gubernatorial debate resembled the barroom scene from Star Wars. All 10 candidates showed up. It's a tough choice to pick the oddest of the odd ducks, but if nastiness is a criterion, Brian Pearl of Grand Isle wins hands down.

Mr. Pearl's been hanging around the Statehouse like furniture since the Supreme Court decision on gay marriage. He's a single-issue, perpetually pissed-off candidate. Vermont's love-legalizing civil-unions law is his target. Mr. Pearl has fixated the enormity of his wisdom on the specific part of the human anatomy where the light of the moon does not shine.

Pearl has angrily accused Gov. Howard Dean of promoting sex with 14-year-old boys. He once held a solo protest in front of the Statehouse, carrying a big hand- lettered sign saying so. And in response to our controversial "Vermont Taliban" column last January, Pearl leafleted legislators with a flyer describing yours truly as a "hatemonger." (Apparently Vermont Public Television agreed with him, bowing to pressure from like-minded conservatives to remove yours truly from the "Vermont This Week" program for a couple months.)

Pearl accused yours truly of "Secular Extremism," and "hatred of the Yankee Judaic Christian Culture."

He also pointed out that it was, by definition, incorrect for yours truly to refer to Rep. Nancy Sheltra as a member of the Vermont Taliban. The Pearlster wrote: "The definition of 'Taliband' [sic] to the best of my knowledge is 'Students of Islam,' referring to Representative Nancy Sheltra a professing Christian as a Student of Islam is a blatelent [sic] contradiction."

Metaphor obviously escapes him. And his spelling skills indicate he and Shumlin may have at least one thing in common.

Let's face it. Being called a "hatemonger" by Brian Pearl is like being called a "racist" by the Grand Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. After all, if Brian had a party, it might be called the Delusional Party.

On an almost weekly basis this election season, Pearl has reserved a room at the State-house. Recently we had the good fortune to be under the golden dome when Brian had booked Room 10. Curiosity got the best of us.

Inside Room 10, we saw that Mr. Pearl was all dolled up in his best suit giving a speech to the rows of empty chairs.

The "Twilight Zone" theme started ringing in our ears and we quietly closed the door and quickly departed.

And we're not alone. Marselis Parsons at WCAX-TV is also on Mr. Pearl's hit list.

"I am the skeleton in Marselis Parsons' closet," Pearl declared to the statewide VPT audience Sunday evening.

Always wondered who was rattling around in there, eh?

Pearl's comment was apparently a reference to a WCAX-TV report in August 11, 2000. Pearl, who was challenging Gov. Howard Dean in the Democrat Primary, was a guest on "You Can Quote Me." Mr. Parsons and Brian Joyce confronted Candidate Pearl with his criminal past.

In 1989, according to the WCAX report, Pearl had been charged in California in connection with a double-fatal motor vehicle accident. Ch. 3 first reported alcohol had been involved, but Pearl vehemently denied it and later produced court records to back it up. The Pearlster told Marsillyiss and the Joycer that he had pled guilty to the misdemeanor traffic offense of "unlawfully killing a human being." He received a three-year suspended sentence and served 30 days.

He also told Ch. 3 that he'd been arrested for hitchhiking in New Jersey and brawling in Alaska. And he said his jail time gave him an "advantage" over the other candidates.

You betcha!

If Mr. Pearl should crawl back into his oyster, will anyone miss him?

Media Notes -- No shortage of new faces on the local TV news scene. WGOP, er, sorry, WCAX is going Irish with two new Micks on the mikes. Kate Duffy moved over to Ch. 3 from WNNE in White River Junction. That's the sister station of Ch. 3's arch rival, WPTZ. Both are owned by the Hearst-Argyle chain. Ms. Duffy picked up her sheepskin at Boston College, then got a masters at Northwest-ern's Medill School of Journalism in Chicago.

According to Ch. 3 News Director Marselis Parsons, Kate will shortly be staffing a brand-new Upper Valley bureau opening on the New Hampshire side of the Connecticut River.

Meanwhile, the other side of Lake Champlain is seeing a lot more of Andrew Sullivan. Mr. Sullivan is moving up from tape editor to reporter, says Marsillyiss. He'll be backing up WCAX's legendary New York reporter Jack LaDuke. Learning from the master, eh?

Over at WVNY-TV, our ABC affiliate, Eszter Vajda and Carl Leimer are the new kids on the block. Eszter is a Massachusetts native. She comes to Ch. 22 from a news anchor job on the upper peninsula of Michigan.

Carl is a thirtysomething Charlotte, North Carolina, native who decided to bag sales and marketing and become a TV journalist. He interned at WCNC in Charlotte to get his TV legs.

Leaving Ch. 22 is health reporter Ana Kelly. Ms. Kelly told Seven Days she misses the West Coast. She'll be returning to beautiful Seattle in a few weeks and plans on getting back to her first love -- radio. Best wishes, Ana!

What a Town! -- Playing radio reporter last Thursday (WDEV AM-FM/WVAA-AM), yours truly ran like a Thompson's gazelle for two hours. From Jim Douglas' 11 a.m. "George Bush and I Have Saved the Circ" press conference in Williston to Doug Racine's 11:30 a.m. "I'll Fight For Women" press conference at an Old North End day-care center, to a noontime "Don't Vote for Brian Dubie" rally outside City Hall that waterfront developer Melinda Moulton organized.

Late in the game, the Vermont left woke up to the fact that Brian Dubie, a very conservative Republican, was on the verge of winning the race over the two dashing lefties. Ms. Moulton's focus was Dubie's opposition to women's reproductive freedom. That was the issue highlighted in the passionate speeches by Gov. Madeleine Kunin, Rep. Mark Larson, attorney Sandy Baird and others.

But the most interesting attendee was the chap in the Elvis Halloween mask holding a little cardboard sign in front of him. It read: ''Smoke Dubie."

Seriously. Next time out Mr. Dubie ought to consider seeking the nomination of the Make Marijuana Legal and Vermont Grassroots parties, too. Can't hurt Doobie-Doo, eh?

After a quick stop for lunch at the Oasis Diner, we arrived home and prepared to edit our tape for radio. The discovery that the tape recorder was missing sent us towards the outer realms of hysteria.

As the rational side of the brain kicked in, we remembered the last time we'd handled the recorder. It was while sitting on the wall in front of Burlap's City Hall.

No problem. Picked up the phone and rang Ms. Moulton. "You didn't possibly find a tape recorder lying around after the rally, did you?"

"Yes," said she, to our instant relief. "My husband noticed it."

Thank God for traditional marriage, eh?

"I'll be right over," said I.

Don't bother, said she. "We don't have it. We left it there on the wall."

Jesus, Mary and Joseph!

"You left it on the wall?" said I incredulously.

Left it there? In the heart of the big, bad city of Burlington, where heroin addicts and furloughed inmates prowl the streets?

With the fire of hope reduced to a flicker, we hopped on the two-wheeler and pedaled ferociously towards downtown. The odds were certainly not in our favor.

Sliding to a stop in front of City Hall, yours truly looked through the passersby, hoping to see a miracle. There in the blazing sunshine, all by its lonesome atop the granite wall, sat the silver Radio Shack tape recorder, just where we'd left it an hour and a half earlier.

What a wonderful town!

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More by Peter Freyne

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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