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The Guv's Immigrant Stew 

Inside Track

Vermont's Republican Gov. Jim Douglas was on C-SPAN's call-in show "Washington Journal" Tuesday morning, a pig in you-know-what, bragging about everything from his "affordability agenda" and determined opposition to any and all tax increases, to "the tough law-enforcement component" of the Douglas Administration's drug policy, "and several recent well-publicized roundups of drug dealers in Barre and St. Albans."

Douglas even stuck an elbow in the ribs of his current chief rival - Democratic Vermont Senate leader Peter Shumlin - by telling the national audience about his positive relationship with last year's Democratic leader, Peter Welch, now in Congress, "who worked very well with me to fashion our health-care reform plan that's viewed as a landmark piece of legislation."

And, yes, he did get in a plug for the recent big snow and all the great skiing in Vermont in the new Age of Global Warming!

Born to govern, is he?

But the call that stood out was from California, where it was just after 5 a.m. in the San Joaquin Valley. The woman was Mexican and her husband had been up at 4:30 to go to work - happy to have a job in America. She flipped on the TV and caught the governor of Vermont. Her husband wasn't here to take away an American's job, she insisted. He just wanted to earn a decent living for his family.

"We have workers in Vermont who are in the same situation who work very, very hard on our farms and in other businesses," replied Douglas. "We want to provide an opportunity for them to become law-abiding workers in our country. So I think immigration reform is key." He plugged Democratic U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy's hearings on the immigration issue that start this week in Chairman Leahy's Senate Judiciary Committee.

Plugged them at least three times!

But Jim Douglas did not utter a single peep about the little Vermont immigration stew he's currently in himself. The Burlington Free Press has reported that Douglas' in-laws, who operate a Middlebury dairy farm, employ illegal Mexican immigrants.

At his weekly presser last Thursday, Gentle Jim told those assembled in his ceremonial office, "The Fosters believe they were not accurately represented."

Well, if that is true (and who would doubt the veracity of the governor of Vermont?), then where is the correction in The Burlington Free Press?

Asked directly if he thought there were illegal immigrants from south of the border working at his in-laws' dairy farm, Douglas replied, "I don't know the answer to that."

And it sure didn't sound like he wanted to know, either.

But the feeling of make-believe dissipated when Vermont's governor changed his tune and confessed to the assembled, "I'm not naive. I think it's not an unreasonable assumption [that] in the agricultural industry of Vermont, there are people who don't have documentation that they can support."

Whew! Reality - what a concept!

But are there illegal aliens working for the governor of Vermont's in-laws or not?

Governor? That was for you.


McKibben on VY? - "What's a Citizen to Do?" is something that has a special Vermont feel to it. Yours truly's been getting it in the inbox for years.

How long?

Well, the publisher of "What's a Citizen to Do," Debra Stoleroff of Plainfield, Vermont, told "Inside Track" Tuesday morning she has been putting out the weekly email guide to activist happenings in the Green Mountains "since the U.S. invaded Afghanistan." It's a calendar for Vermont's activist community listing everything from marches in Washington, to the weekly peace vigils held at 18 locations around Vermont, to the pro-renewable/ anti-nuke energy happenings around the state and much, much more.

Stoleroff described "What's a Citizen to Do?" as "a peace-and-justice, environmentalist, activist e-newsletter." She told us she does not do political-party stuff or candidate stuff.

"I won't advertise any political party or candidate event," she said.

If you would like to be added to her list of recipients, send her an email at debra@

The latest edition had an item in it that jumped off the screen:

"DOES BILL MCKIBBEN SUPPORT RE-LICENSING OF VT YANKEE?: Bill McKibben is an awesome spokesperson and educator regarding global-warming issues. But rumor has it that he supports the re-licensing of Vermont Yankee.

"ACTION: If you go to hear Bill on Wed., March 7, 4p.m., Dartmouth College: Filene Auditorium, Hanover, N.H. Ask McKibben what his stand is on VT Yankee?? Tell him why you want to shut VT Yankee down!! Tell him why we want 25% renewables by 2012 and 40% by 2018!!"

Bill McKibben, author of The End of Nature and organizer of the big national anti-global warming protest on April 14 - That Bill McKibben? Supporting the extension of the license of Vermont's aging and only nuclear power station on the banks of the Connecticut River?

The rumor, according to Stoleroff, came out of a Vermont Yankee Decommissioning Alliance meeting.

"I edited and 'couched' the action," she wrote us, "with the good work Bill is doing towards slowing global warming and stated that folks should ask questions to see where Bill is at."

So we did, sending McKibben a copy of the current "What's a Citizen to Do?" report of his allegedly pro-nuclear power leanings. McKibben got right back to us.

"Well, that's a weird rumor," replied the current scholar-in-residence in Environ- mental Studies at Middlebury College. "As far as I know, I've never written anything about Vermont Yankee."

According to the organizer of the National Day of Climate Action, "Nuclear power plants scare me with the risks they pose, but coal-fired plants scare me with the absolute certainty that, operating as they're supposed to without any accident at all, they're wrecking the world."

"New nuclear plants," McKibben writes, "don't make sense as a solution to global warming . . . but let's make sure as we close them down that we've actually done the work to both conserve energy and to build those renewables, because otherwise the fallback energy of choice for electric generation in this country is coal - which means global warming."

McKibben writes, "The spreader of this anonymous rumor is absolutely correct to call for the widespread adoption of renewables as a way to obviate the need for nuclear power. In fact, I think their targets are somewhat low. At, we're talking about 80 percent reductions in carbon emissions by mid-century, not through nuclear power but through aggressive conservation and aggressive development of renewables."

When we read Bill's response back to Debra of Plainfield, she noted Mr. McKibben "did not state clearly he opposed a renewal of Vermont Yankee's license."

Ah . . . not quite.

Stay tuned.


Incredible Steps - Are we just showing our age, or is the inside-the-beltway Capitol Steps comedy group living in a bubble?

The troupe sent a six-member crew from its stable of 29 wannabe stars to Burlington's Flynn MainStage Saturday night to delight the Vermont audience with their political wit, satire and humor.

And where could one find a sharper political audience when it came to political wit, satire and humor?

The Capitol Steps are also celebrating their 25th anniversary and have produced 26 albums, and they let everyone know it. The comedy group, started by former Capitol Hill staffers, has been performing since 1981.


Funny, that's when former Hollywood actor and Republican Governor of California Ronald Reagan started performing successfully as the President of the United States.

Anniversary-wise, one might also point out the fact that Bernie Sanders, excuse me, freshman U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, is also marking a 25th anniversary of sorts. You see, it was 25 years ago, on Town Meeting Day 1981, that the Independent champion of "poor people, working people and the elderly" first won elective office as mayor of Burlington, Vermont!

In fact, Burlington City Hall is just across the street from the Flynn. And, yes, yours truly was there covering it on Election Night 1981. Never forget it. The town hasn't been the same since.

Like Reagan as president of the nation for eight big ones, Sanders went on to serve eight years as the mayor of Vermont's Queen City. Very different styles.

Reagan secretly sold weapons to Iran and used the money to fund a right-wing guerrilla army to overthrow a leftist government in Nicaragua.

Sanders took back the city of Burlington's neglected and rotting Lake Champlain waterfront from the corporations that had abandoned it. He created a "People's Waterfront." Ol' Bernardo then went on to serve 16 consecutive years - eight terms - as the Green Mountain State's only member of the U.S. House of Representatives. Last November he trounced the richest capitalist in the state by a two-to-one margin, a Republican who paid more per vote than anyone in Vermont, or American, history.

Which is why some in the Vermont Flynn audience might have been looking forward to a witty, satirical, humorous Capitol Steps' schtick on Vermont's newest U.S. Senator - Sanders the Socialist! Bernie from Brooklyn & Burlington! - during their sold-out performance on Vermont's big stage in the middle of winter?


Not only did the Capitol Steps not have a routine involving Vermont's new, one-of-a-kind U.S. senator, they never even mentioned his name.

Here they are, all the way from Washington to perform political humor in Bernie's town, and they completely ignore his existence?

In fact, these middle-of-the-road political humorists steered away from edgy realities, such as the big, bloody war George W. Bush lied us into and can't get us out of. The impeachment talk that will not go away. The rising temperatures, melting glaciers and the gas-guzzlers that keep on coming!

Instead, the Capitol Steps preferred to dabble in drinking jokes about Sen. Ted Kennedy and his son, Dick Cheney hunting jokes and "Springtime for Liberals and Hillary!"

Dare we say the Capitol Steps have gotten establishment-boring?


Welch Shines - Several House and Senate Committees begin hearings this week in hopes of determining how Walter Reed Army Medical Center allowed soldiers wounded in George "WMD" Bush's war in Iraq to be treated so poorly and allowed to live in squalor. A Washington Post series blew the lid off this one, and the Bush Administration has been doing some serious backpedaling.

Vermont Democrat Peter Welch is just a rookie in the U.S. House, but the former leader of the Vermont Senate has hit the ground running in Washington. Mr. Welch received prominent play in the Tuesday edition of The Hill regarding Walter Reed:

"This reflects a culture of disregard, almost contempt, for the men and women in the military. My view is that the same lack of planning in the run-up to the war is being repeated," said Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.), who called for hearings shortly after the news reports appeared.

"Congress is going to jump all over this . . . Whoever is responsible for this debacle at Building 18 - their heads should roll," Welch said, referring to a deteriorating Army-owned residence that housed wounded soldiers.



Media Notes - The lamentations over the shrunken, and still shrinking, Vermont press corps continue. These days one goes to the Statehouse in Montpeculiar and most of the old press-corps faces belong to folks getting larger government paychecks. The old bylines from the daily newspapers, and mugs from the evening news, are now attached to state government press releases.

At least The Burlington Free Press has two reporters in the capital: Nancy Remsen and Teri Hallenbeck.

The Vermont Press Bureau covers Montpelier politics for the Times Argus and Rutland Herald. Always used to be three reporters parked there. Lately it's been down to one, as Bureau Chief Darren Allen departed to become the new Meister of the Message for the Douglas Administration over at the state environmental agency.

Yes, it's been odd being in the building when there's only one reporter answering the bell for "Vermont Press Bureau."

But that's about to change. The Mitchell "chain" has moved Brattleboro scribe Dan Barlow to the Bureau as its newest political writer.

Dan is 28 and a 2001 graduate of Keene State, where he majored in journalism. He's been assigned to the Rutland Herald's Southern Vermont Bureau in Springfield for the last 4-and-a-half years, but he got to work out of his Brattleboro apartment.

Now that the Vermont Press Bureau has doubled in size, somebody has to be the boss. The nod goes to Louis Porter, 31. Louis - not Lou or Louie - has been there for two years and certainly has learned the ropes. Chief Porter is a Calais, Vermont, kid who went to Arizona State and graduated the University of Washington. Started out in the wonderful world of daily journalism at the Stamford Advocate seven years ago.

Nice to see the next generation stepping up, 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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