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The End is Near 

Inside Track

As you read this column, you hopefully know who won the presidential election, and all the rest, too.

You know by now, you lucky SOB, if the the corrupt regime that took over the U.S. government four years ago has fooled enough people enough of the time since.

The bad news is, the publishers of this distinguished weekly insist Seven Days has to run on time. That means the newspaper you are clutching was catching ink on a printing press Tuesday evening as the votes were being counted. And it means that yours truly is writing in a state of suspended animation, fearing the worst and hoping for the best.

This column is the “before.” The “after” will be posted on our website — www.Seven — after 4 p.m. on Wednesday. Check it out for Inside Track’s first take on our brave new world.

Meanwhile, let the games begin!

Say It Ain’t So — It’s Tuesday morning and the tired-looking face of former governor and current national political star Howard Dean just appeared on CNN. Ho-Ho says he doesn’t expect we’ll know who won the presidency for days or even weeks. He says enough states are so close that appeals and recounts are guaranteed.


I don’t know about you, but I don’t think I can stand another 24 hours of this volcanic tension.

Incidentally, Dr. Dean, now a recognized leader of the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party, went to bat for Chainsaw Liz last week.

Everybody knows State Auditor Elizabeth Ready is fighting for her political life in the wake of Resumegate.

For Vermont political veterans, the sight of Howard Dean touting the experience and integrity of Liz Ready, his longtime legislative pain-in-the-butt, was proof that miracles do happen.

For years, we regularly made Ho-Ho’s blood pressure rise by prefacing a question with the phrase, “Governor, Sen. Ready says…”

Monday night, Bernie Sanders also championed Chainsaw, inviting Ready onstage during his final campaign rally at Memorial Auditorium.

Elizabeth addressed her difficulty by recalling her high school days when she annually put on costumes for the “Stunt Night” performance upstairs at Memorial.

Ready joked that “Ch. 5 even called Rice High School to make sure I graduated.”

Funny lady, eh?

Sore Hands — The Roman Catholic Bishop has ordered Vermont Catholics to cease practicing the “kiss of peace” handshake at Holy Mass. Most Rev. Kenneth Angell has also ordered Roman Catholics to cease drinking the consecrated wine from the same chalice. The reason is the impending flu season and the shortage of flu vaccine in the the richest nation on Earth.

But politicians aren’t priests, and shaking hands is de rigueur for political candidates. In addition to spreading germs, handshaking also can take a personal toll.

Tuesday we caught Gov. Jim Douglas at Burlington’s Ward 5 polling place on the south side of the city. After he told us how much people appreciate his “mainstream bipartisan leadership,” we asked Gov. Scissorhands how his right hand was holding up.

Douglas gingerly held his up for inspection. It looked like a cross between a lobster claw and a 1950s catcher’s mitt.

“It’s not really sore,” said the Guv, “but it’s kind of getting a little raw.”

With his left hand, Douglas pointed to the area where the thumb connects to the palm. “See,” said Gov. Scissorhands, “the skin’s wearing through there.”

He was right. Not a pretty sight. Hopefully he’ll be back in ribbon-cutting mode by New Year’s.

Election 2006 — The boys and girls are back from Washington, D.C., this week. The loyal and faithful Vermont hands who work on Capitol Hill love the chance to return to the state they fight for every day in that faraway place.

And all the chatter this year is about what happens at midnight on Tuesday. You see, Election 2006 begins at the stroke of 12.

Vermont’s Independent U.S. Sen. Jim Jeffords is up for reelection in 2006. Since becoming a national folk hero in 2001 for bolting the GOP, he’s amassed a giant campaign war chest. His staff insisted again this week that Ol’ Jeezum Jim is poised for the reelection campaign.

But Jeffords is 70, and there have been concerns about his health for several years. Attendees at the recent swearing-in of Judge Peter Hall tell us they were somewhat startled to see how age appears to be taking a toll on Jeezum. They asked us if we knew anything.

A source close to the secretary of state’s office tells Seven Days that Sen. Jeffords’ office contacted that office early in 2004 to inquire about the process for replacing a U.S. senator who resigned from office. Jeffords, we’re told, was experiencing health problems at the time.

Under Vermont law, the governor would have to call a special election to fill the vacancy within three months. The governor could also name a temporary replacement. He could even appoint himself to the vacant seat, allowing the lieutenant governor to move up to governor.

However, if the resignation occurred within six months of a general election, the election to fill the vacant U.S. Senate seat could be put off until then.

As we all know, Jim Jeffords has officially given no indication he intends to retire soon. However, Vermont’s senior political insiders just aren’t buying it.

Informed sources tell us that Independent Congressman Bernie Sanders would announce his candidacy for the U.S. Senate within one hour of a possible Jeffords resignation. We joked with our sources that a press release announcing Ol’ Bernardo’s senate candidacy is already written, awaiting only a date at the top.

They did not dissuade us.

A Jeezum Jim resignation or retirement is also expected to attract other stallions, Gov. Douglas and former Gov. Dean among them. IDX millionaire Richie Tarrant has also been sniffing around a possible U.S. Senate bid under the Republican label.

It sounds like it’d be a race of Kentucky Derby quality, eh?

In addition to heavy chatter about Jeffords, there’s also talk starting up about Sen. Leahy’s seat opening up soon. I’m not making this up.

The thinking is that a John Kerry victory would give Democrats the upper hand at filling upcoming Supreme Court vacancies. News this week that Chief Justice William Rehnquist is battling thyroid cancer has put court appointments back on the front burner.

By the way, Washington insiders suspect Rehnquist held off on going public with his cancer in hopes his malady would not impact the presidential election. Unfortunately, his cancer has rapidly progressed to a critical stage.

Though Leahy staffers have downplayed the possibility of Sen. Leahy becoming Justice Leahy, we broached the subject with St. Pat himself Tuesday afternoon.

When asked if he was interested in a black robe, Leahy told Seven Days “I’m not going to be nominated” for the Supreme Court. “I’ve got a lot of good years left in the senate,” he said.

Vermont’s senior senator suggested a President Kerry would be better advised to select younger nominees. Leahy is 64. The ideal, he said, would be someone in their early fifties.

But Leahy disputed suggestions that his role in leading the successful opposition to several of George W. Bush’s right-wing judicial nominees would make him a bull’s-eye target in winning senate confirmation.

“I could be confirmed,” insisted St. Patrick. “There’s no question about it. It’s not even an issue.”


But asked directly if he had any interest in a Supreme Court nomination, Leahy answered, “No.”

We’ll check back with him in a few weeks, eh?

Family Affair — The brightest new face on the statewide political scene this fall hasn’t belonged to a candidate, but rather to a candidate’s wife.

Betsy Ferries, wife of Burlington Mayor and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Peter Clavelle, has been crisscrossing the state for months with her hubbie. Betsy’s been a teacher and alcohol/drug counselor in the Essex schools for almost 20 years. She’s street-smart, articulate and vivacious and has made a few people wonder whether Mrs. Moonie would have made a better candidate than Mr. Moonie.


We bumped into Betsy Tuesday morning at the Ward 5 polls. She’d been making the rounds, having started the morning in Essex, where she said the response had been great. Mrs. Moonie looked and felt “energized.”

“We’re really sure we’re going to do this,” said Betsy.

“This” being win the governor’s race.

Hey, you’ve got to be optimistic.

Since we unfortunately disagree with Betsy’s prediction, we asked her if she fancied another statewide race down the line.

“Oh, this is a tough time to ask me,” replied Mrs. Moonie with a chuckle. “With a year on the road, seven days a week, we are just looking for victory tonight. We’ll have to look at tomorrow, tomorrow.”

And if one or even two of Vermont U.S. Senate seats open in the coming year, the effect will resemble that of a laxative. There’ll be a gaggle of political wannabes moving up the food chain as the next generation claims power.

Bad Boy Billy — A lot of folks from all political points of view were giving Democratic Attorney General Bill Sorrell failing grades last week for his handling of the illegal TV ads run by the Republican Governors Association.

You’ll recall the ads portrayed Gov. Douglas as the greatest thing since sliced bread and the greatest leader the world has ever known. In fact, they were much better than the ads produced and paid for by the Douglas campaign.

Unfortunately, the RGA ads were also illegal. But that didn’t stop local TV stations from airing them for almost a week.

Attorney General Bill Sorrell made the mistake of treating the RGA Affair as a legal battle when actually it was a political one.

As soon as the spots started running, Democrats cried foul because the RGA had not registered as a political action committee in Vermont. And even if it had, it violated Vermont rules, since it raised money in big, $50,000 chunks from Corporate America.

The RGA said it had anonymously phoned the secretary of state’s office and received advice that its ad campaign was legal.

Sorrell, who would be chief justice of the Vermont Supreme Court today if Howard Dean had gotten everything he wanted as governor, declared the RGA ads illegal but refused to shut them down. He cited the legal principle of estoppel, which he said meant the RGA’s claim of getting a green light from the secretary of state’s office by phone would hold up in court.

It was as if the referee threw a flag for a personal foul then refused to step off the 15-yard penalty.

Sorrell may have been correct on legal grounds, but he looked like a total wimp. He was so cautious, you’d think he had a close reelection fight rather than an assured landslide victory.

So, with our attorney general firmly sitting on his hands, the Democratic Party and the Clavelle Campaign went to court. Superior Court Judge Richard “Hooky” Norton ruled that they had no standing to bring such action because Vermont’s landmark campaign-finance law required law enforcement officials rather than political parties or candidates to enforce the bloody law.

The Democrats were not pleased, and they tried their best to blame Gov. Douglas for not condemning the ads. Democrat Party Chairman Scudder Parker accused Republican Gov. Douglas of showing absolutely no respect for the law.

An awkward moment, later dubbed the “Scudder Stutter,” came on the follow-up question. Ch. 3 reporter Tim Lewis asked Parker if the Democratic attorney general should also be held responsible for not enforcing Vermont’s campaign-finance law.

After a very pregnant pause, Scudder replied, “I can’t make a judgment on that.”


Following the hearing, Mr. Sorrell appeared to finally get religion. Based on evidence given by the RGA’s attorney, Sorrell finally made his move. The RGA attorney testified the RGA could make adjustments to its $304,000 TV ad buy. Sorrell said the playing field had therefore changed.

Wild Bill went to court the next day to request, and within hours win, a preliminary injunction from Hooky Norton, halting the Douglas spots, provided the RGA suffered no financial harm as a result.

Another day passed before the Douglas ads were pulled.

Let’s face it, the RGA saturation ad campaign, even though illegal, provided a splendid icing-on-the-cake boost to Gov. Douglas.

Had Sorrell realized the fight was really a political one, he would have been out front condemning the RGA’s illegal ad campaign the moment it started. Rather than caving into the estoppel defense from the get-go, Wild Bill, many say, would have looked a whole lot better had he immediately gone into court and forced a judge to make the call.

Live and learn, eh?

Bottoms Up — Jeezum Jim isn’t the only one getting older. Yours truly hits 55 this month and that means, says the doctor, it’s time for a colonoscopy!

A what?

Yep, the old tube up through the back door that explores the inner lining of the large intestine with a tiny camera on the tip.

Yucky, right?


Next to lung cancer, colon cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths. A colonoscopy has been proven to be a remarkably effective early detection technique. It can even remove potential tumors from the intestinal lining.

In 1997, there were 475 colonoscopies done at the Mary Fanny. In 1998, the procedure became recommended for all men over 50.

Last year, 7500 were performed on Hospital Hill. I’ll be in experienced hands.

But that didn’t stop a certain Statehouse lobbyist we know from suggesting that if for any reason the doctor couldn’t make it on Thursday, he could easily find at least 100 people who would volunteer for the job.

Ha, ha!

The downside is, I have to begin fasting on Election Night. Clear liquids only and, I’m told, Irish Whiskey is not considered a “clear liquid.”

Yes, indeed, 2004 will be an election to remember.

Vermont — The Day After (Web Extra)

The word came off the TV at 11:10 Wednesday morning. Democrat challenger John Kerry has called President George W. Bush to concede.

It’s over.

God help us.

Vermont, of course, went the other way, supporting John Kerry big time. In fact, on the TV networks Vermont’s presidential vote was the very first reported and the first electoral votes on the board.

If only more of the country had a Vermont-style perspective, eh?

Now we can look forward to four more years of the Bush-Cheney team, the team that deliberately lied to the American people about WMDs in Iraq and “evidence” Saddam Hussein was a threat to America. The team that deceitfully led America into a needless war of choice.

No doubt Mr. Bush will take this win as a strong endorsement of his corrupt and wayward leadership, as well as his neglect of the environment, tax breaks for the rich, and consolidation of corporate dominance.

Big Brother, unfortunately, also had a very good election.

“These are going to be dark days in the nation’s capitol,” said Jeff Weaver, chief of staff for Congressman Bernie Sanders. “You’ve got Bush back with enhanced Republican majorities in Congress. We’ve got a lot of work to do down here in Washington.”

Weaver, a Franklin County native and former Marine, suggested the press better be prepared for a Bush-Cheney assault on the First Amendment. The Patriot Act is up for renewal next year, he noted, and three to four Supreme Court seats are expected to open up during Bush’s second term.

Chief Justice William Rehnquist, seriously ill with thyroid cancer, will likely provide the first vacancy.

Can you say “woman’s right to choose?”

Instead of U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy being considered for a Supreme Court appointment under a Kerry administration, St. Patrick will need a wee miracle to block the conservative judicial  darlings of the evangelical Religious Right —  America’s homegrown Taliban.

Closer to home, Election 2004 produced mixed results.

Gov. Jim Douglas skated to an expected easy win, but Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie’s big victory was the election-night surprise in the Green Mountains.

As it turned out, Progressives did do a little math. Prog Lite-Gov candidate Steve Hingtgen did poorly, winning just 7 percent of the vote despite a $100,000 publicly-financed campaign.

Democrat Cheryl Rivers, however, was clearly unable to make inroads with moderate Democrats and independents. Ma Rivers fell off her horse and was held to just 36 percent.

Brian Dubie’s affable, regular-guy style won the day. Despite his conservative political philosophy, voters simply couldn’t find a good reason to give him a pink slip. He’s trustworthy in the voters’ minds.  And it looks like he’s got a future, too.

Doobie-Doo was certainly helped by his excellent relationship with Gov. Scissorhands. Jim took Brian under his wing on Day One. After all, in the “most liberal state in America,” a Republican governor needs all the friends he can find.

Thirty-thousand dollars of negative radio ads trashing Rivers, ads paid for by the right-wing Americans Taxpayers Alliance, certainly didn’t hurt, either.

As for Burlington Mayor Peter Clavelle, the Prog who became a Democrat, the good news is he still has a job. Mayor Moonie isn’t up for reelection in Burlington until March 2006.

Unfortuately, Clavelle stuck to a flawed strategy of highlighting Douglas’  ties to George W. Bush. He showed a little campaign greenness. In Clavelle’s view, a vote for Douglas was a vote for Bush.

It was one of those “brilliant” strategies that looked good on paper. Vermont voters, however, weren’t buying it. Clavelle underestimated the intelligence of the Vermont electorate and he paid the price. His 38 percent finish is embarrassing, especially when fellow travelers like Pat Leahy and Bernie Sanders drew almost twice much support.

Most telling of all — Clavelle even drew fewer Vermont votes than arch-enemy George W. Bush!

The other big blow for Vermont Democrats was the defeat of Auditor Elizabeth Ready. Chainsaw Liz cut off one leg two years ago with her little cellphone-bill scandal. The other leg came off when her false claims about academic degrees went public.

Once considered a rising star in the Democratic Party, Ready may well have reached the peak of her political career. Live by the sword, die by the sword, eh, Chainsaw?

But, make no mistake, there was plenty of good news for Vermont Democrats Tuesday.

Four years ago, the voter backlash against civil unions suddenly put the long-anemic Republicans in control of the Vermont House. Under Speaker Walter Freed, the GOP held on in 2002. But the fear that civil unions would destroy life as we know it has dissipated.  Reality has set in and the expected political correction occurred on Tuesday.

Democrats won a solid House majority. Progressives picked up a couple of seats, too. Conservative Republican stalwarts like Frank Mazur of South Burlington, Ruth Towne of Berlin and Gene Sweetser of Essex went down to defeat.

And Nancy Sheltra, the longtime Statehouse angel of the religious right and a bitter opponent of civil unions, was narrowly defeated by Progressive Winston Dowland. A recount is expected.

In Colchester, Democrat Jim Condon won a House seat on his first try. Jim runs the Radio Deli in Burlington with his old radio sidekick Louie Manno. Congratulations, Manno & Condon!

Over in the state senate the Democrats increased their majority to 21 seats. It takes a two-thirds vote to override a gubernatorial veto.

Longtime Democratic State Rep. Bobby Starr of Troy will now be performing in the smaller, upper chamber. And Democrat Jane Kitchel, former Human Services Secretary under Howard Dean, broke the Republican hold on Caledonia County.

Keep an eye on Kitchel. Lady Jane’s going to be a player.

In Chittenden County, the big news is that Ed Flanagan is back. Fast Eddie finally won a senate seat, though it’s not the one he has long sought. Flanagan lowered his sights and ran for a senate seat in Montpeculiar, not Foggy Bottom. This time, it worked.

The real Statehouse story is that Gov. Jim Douglas begins his second term with the enemy controlling the legislature!

Expect significant behind-the-scenes deal-making between Douglas and the Democrats on issues like health care, energy and the environment. The Dems have the numbers to back Gov. Jim into a corner. The days of Douglas “initiatives” may be over.  Instead, Jim will be playing defense for the next two years.

It certainly promises to be a lively legislative session ahead. Progressive legislation that couldn’t get the time of day under Speaker Freed will now be front and center. Democrats, not Republicans, will chair committees once again.

A real field day for lobbyists lies ahead, too, especially for the hired-gun business lobbyists whose corporate clients will be under siege in a Statehouse run by pro-worker Democrats.

It’s enough to make one forget about four more years of Bush-Cheney running America.

But only for a few seconds.

In his final campaign speech Monday night, Congressman Bernie Sanders told the faithful how he felt that night 14 years ago when he won his first race for Congress.

“My dream was this small state could lead the nation in a new direction,” said Bernie. “That was my dream then and that is my dream today. Thank God for the state of Vermont, the conscience of America!”

Don’t ever give up the dream, eh?

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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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