Big Blue's Monday announcement of layoffs at its Essex Junction plant was hardly a surprise. More surprising was where Gov. Jim Douglas placed the blame.
You might recall that when IBM laid off 1000 workers in June 2002, gubernatorial candidate Douglas blamed the bad news on the Democrats, the burdensome permit process they championed, and the lack of progress in building the Circumferential Highway, a.k.a. the IBM Driveway.
Gov. Howard Dean called that "silly political talk." Ho-Ho said the IBM layoffs were due to a downturn in the global microchip market and had nothing to do with Vermont policy or the Circ Highway.
As everyone knows, Candidate Douglas kept hammering away on the job losses in Vermont and blaming them exclusively on Vermont's Democratic antibusiness regime. It worked for him as he defeated Democrat Doug Racine in November.
But unlike Candidate Douglas a year ago, Gov. Douglas on Monday issued a statement blaming the job losses on something he refused to acknowledge during the 2002 campaign.
"The developments at IBM," said Gov. Douglas, "reflect the weakness of the worldwide demand for its microelectronics products."
What a difference a year makes, eh?
Meanwhile, Burlington Mayor Peter Clavelle, who's the Democratic/Progressive frontrunner to challenge Jimmy D in 2004, was even clearer on where the blame lies.
Both this year and last, said Mayor Moonie, the job cuts at Big Blue "had nothing to do with the permit process and everything to do with an economy that's gone south under the leadership of George Bush."
Clavelle also found it "ironic" that the IBM job losses come on the heels of the Douglas administration laying off state workers at the Department of Employment and Training, "the office that has the mission of providing services to dislocated workers."
DeanWatch2004 -- So much going on in Dean Land it's tough to choose where to begin this week.
The Energizer Bunny presidential candidate has been flat out. In the last week Howard Dean and omnipresent Gal Friday Kate O'Connor have mastered the art of being everywhere at once.
Kate's the darling daughter of former House Speaker Tim O'Connor from Brattleboro. She has been with Ho-Ho since he was the unknown lieutenant governor of a tiny New England State. Kate plays Tinkerbell to Dean's Peter Pan, and she plays it well. What else but pixie dust explains how Dean appears to be in several places at once?
In the last couple days, Howard and Kate have been flying from Buffalo, New York, to Ypsilanti, Michigan, to Tucson, Arizona, with stops in Cleveland and South Bend, all the while appearing to have never left Iowa. That's where Peter Pan himself performed on guitar and harp last week at a little blues club in Des Moines.
The dude can blow a mean harp -- so mean the Des Moines Register posted a sound file on his Web site. And the Chicago Tribune sent its theater critic, Michael Phillips, to cover it!
Phillips had a few great lines as he described the not short but "compactly built" Dean from an artistic perspective. "There's a certain shyness to Howard Dean," he wrote, "but it's constantly at war with his impatience."
In Buffalo, Howard Dean was the only Democratic candidate to show up in person at the Young Democrats bash. They went gaga over him.
In Michigan he met the interested, curious and adoring at a picnic where one of his biggest congressional fans, Rep. John Conyers, stood by his side.
Sources say Conyers has pitched Ho-Ho on Capitol Hill as the only Democratic with a real plan to beat George W. Bush, and that he's working to get the Congres-sional Black Caucus behind Howard.
Meanwhile, the money keeps rolling in. The third quarter, a year out, is traditionally the slowest quarter for presidential campaign fundraising. And certainly it will be for most campaigns. Not Ho-Ho's.
Look for "Dean for America" to more than double the $7.6 million that poured in last quarter. Maybe even $20 million. When you're hot, you're hot.
Dean's Internet fundraising has been a revelation. It's a 21st-century technique of grassroots organizing via mouse-clicking. This week George W. Bush's reelection campaign launched its own copy of Dean's online money operation.
But Dr. Dean is not relying on the Internet alone. Howard and Kate have been hitting many a private fundraiser where folks write checks with three zeroes in them. Last weekend, Dean brought his star quality to well-attended fundraisers in Cleveland, Chicago, well-heeled Oak Brook, Illinois, and Michigan City, Indiana.
A few weeks back we warned you not to be surprised if the Dean campaign declined public financing and the spending limits that go with it. This week, leading political wags are gnashing their teeth over the possibility that Dr. Dean will do just that.
Liberal purists are howling that Dr. Dean would be a "hypocrite" if he changed his mind, and the Dean camp has tried to dampen the hot coals. Campaign guru Joe Trippi told the Washington Post the topic has only come up in "casual conversation among campaign staff."
It's easy to imagine the Trippster asking Kasey the Campaign Canine, "What would you rather have, Kasey, a spending cap that requires us to get outspent by $80 million, or be dead?"
Kasey would surely flop over and play dead in a heartbeat.
Of course, John Kerry, the richest man in the U.S. Senate, isn't on the public financing train and neither is George W. Bush. Dubya will have about $200 million to spend. If Dean goes the public financing route, he'll be locked in a financial straightjacket while the incumbent spends like a drunken sailor.
Nobody has yet suggested Howard Dean is stupid, right?
Nonetheless, progressive/liberal purists like Arne Arnesen are screeching. On her Concord, New Hampshire-based radio talk show Monday, Arne was positively outraged her darling Dean would even consider switching his position on public financing. You'd think someone had just told her there is no Santa Claus!
Fact is, Ho-Ho damn well better consider it. Bush will collect mostly $2000 checks. But one million-plus Deaniacs, each contributing $100, would define public financing in its purest form to date. The alternative is a guarantee of four more years of John Ashcroft shredding the Bill of Rights.
By the way, Dean's posted an Ashcroft petition on his Web site: http://www.deanforamerica.com/stopashcroft.
It reads in part: "Stop compromising our freedoms. Stop eroding our basic civil rights. Stop trying to teach our neighbors to spy on each other, and American communities to mistrust each other."
Oh, yeah. The snoops are in town!
The other day a young woman stopped by Channel 17 on North Winooski Avenue. That's our local government/public-access station on Burlington-area cable TV. Monica Lesmerises went through the station's computerized logs trolling for tapes that included someone named "Howard Dean." According to Channel Director Jess Wilson, there were 230 matches. Monica carefully selected 33 she wanted copied and shipped to her home in Washington, D.C.
Monday afternoon, every screen on every desk at Ch. 17 had Ho-Ho's face on it as the copies were being run off. One pair of screens showed the boyish grin of the young governor debating Republican John McClaughry in 1992. McClaughry was as stern and stonefaced as a drugstore Indian. Howard just grinned. He simply couldn't take McClaughry seriously. And neither did the voters. Dean cruised to a landslide win with 75 percent to GOP Johnny Think-Tanker's 23 percent.
Ah! The good old days.
Naturally, Ms. Wilson was curious about the blonde scouring the Dean files. The obvious question was, who did Ms. Lesmerises work for?
Monica refused to say.
In our brave new Internet world, folks, secrets are but illusions.
As soon as Blonde Monica left, Director Jess typed her name into Google, the knower of all things knowable. In seconds she learned that Ms. Monica is a senior member of Rep. Dick Gephardt's presidential campaign staff.
Small world, isn't it?
Blonde Monica is Gephardt's "Research Director," and we're not talking about finding a cure for cancer or Alzheimer's. Monica, we've since learned, has a very good reputation as an "opposition researcher," a digger of the dirt in an enemy's past. And at the moment, Howard Dean is her number-one enemy.
It's a position Dean secured two Sundays ago when the Des Moines Register's Iowa Poll showed Little Howard in first place in what once was Gephardt country. Hey, you gotta do what you gotta do, right?
Blonde Monica previously worked on the derailed 2002 campaign of ethically challenged Sen. Robert Toricelli of New Jersey.
As for targeting Dean, Blonde Monica may have a special insight. Like Dean, she's a Yale graduate ('98). And online, we found a hilarious piece she wrote for the Yale Daily Herald in her senior year: "The Naturally Intelligent Blonde."
"What do an intelligent blonde and a UFO have in common?" wrote Monica.
"You often hear about them, but you never see one."
It's a must-read at www.yaleherald.com/archive/xxiv/10.17.97/opinion/blonde.html.
Unfortunately, Blonde Monica was not in the mood for chat Monday evening when we called her in Foggy Bottom.
We identified ourselves and complimented her on her writing.
"Is this a media request?" asked Monica.
No, we explained, we just wanted to let her know that Seven Days would be reporting this week on her recent visit to Vermont. We also added that we loved her blonde jokes.
Monica sounded a little nervous. A little taken aback. Bet she's never been called by a Vermont political columnist before. Caught her at a bad time?
"I'm not going to be able to speak to you," she said.
"But you just did," we replied.
Then she was silent for a few seconds before hanging up.
I swear, after Gephardt fizzles out, Monica should go to work for Dave Letterman.
How about this one from her brilliant Yale Herald piece:
"What do you call a blonde at an institute of higher learning?"
Thanks for visiting Vermont, Monica! Hope you were able to pick up a little maple syrup to take back to Washington.
We weren't able to ask Blonde Monica if she also made a stop at the Vermont Department of Health on Cherry Street. We do know however, that several people have stopped by lately to request certain public documents. Specifically, there's a startling new interest in the medical licenses of Howard Dean and his lovely bride Judy Dean. Of course, on her biennial license-renewal applications she uses her "professional" name, Judith E. Steinberg.
Doesn't look like much there. Boy, Howard sure has lousy penmanship. What the hell do they teach in those private schools, anyway?
An "oppo" researcher, however, might find something interesting on Dr. Judy's application.
One section asks, "Do you participate in the Medicaid program?"
Judy checked the "Yes" box.
The next question is, "Are you currently accepting new Medicaid patients?"
Judy checked the "No" box.
Hmmm. That begs the question: Why does the wife of Howard Dean refuse to accept sick Vermonters covered by the Medicaid expansion her hubbie brags about?
We called Dr. Judy's medical office in Shelburne Tuesday. We told Kathy the receptionist what we were up to and asked to speak to Dr. Judy. She put us on hold for about a minute. Then a different voice picked up.
"Hello," said the voice.
"Hello," we replied, excited that Dr. Judy had decided to actually speak with us!
"Hello... Howard?" asked Judy.
"No, Peter Freyne at Seven Days," we answered.
"Oh. I need to talk to Howard," she replied. "He's on the other line."
Hell of a coincidence, eh? Dr. Judy had hit the wrong button. Instead of the next President of the United States, she'd gotten Seven Days.
"First things first," we told her. "Say hello for me."
She never did get back to us. The line was disconnected. Our first lady-in-waiting remains media shy.
When we called back five minutes later, Kathy the receptionist informed us Dr. Judy had left for lunch. She told us that the medical practice at the Creamery is so busy, around 1000 patients, that Judy hasn't taken on any new patients in years. And, said Kathy, if one of her current patients goes on Medicaid, Dr. Judy sticks with them.
Oh, yeah. Sam Hemingway. The Burlington Free Press announced last week that Sam the Sham is going to stop writing his exciting column and start covering the Dean Campaign full-time.
Jesus! How the hell did our local Gannett rag find out Ho-Ho was running for president?
About time, eh?
And a little birdie tells us that the Freeps wants to sign up Sam the Sham for the press plane on Dean's "Sleepless Summer Tour" that starts Saturday in Falls Church, Virginia. Ho-Ho's going to be criss-crossing the country by jet for four days. Stops include Chicago, Milwaukee, Seattle, San Antonio and the Big Apple. A seat on the press plane goes for $1499.
Personally, yours truly hates to fly.