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The Lusty Month of May! 

Senator Jim Jeffords announces he will not run for reelection. As expected, Sanders immediately enters into race.

Tra la! It's here. That shocking time of year. When tons of wicked little thoughts merrily appear!"

Yes, indeed. It's "The Lusty Month of May," as the song from Camelot goes, and May in Vermont this year means a shower of wicked thoughts regarding the state's suddenly wide-open races for Congress in the upcoming 2006 election.

With Independent U.S. Sen. Jim Jeffords retiring, and Republican Gov. Jim Douglas happy to stay right where he is holding down the GOP's Green Mountain beachhead, lusty political thoughts are breaking out all over Vermont.

For Independent Congressman Bernie Sanders, Jeezum Jim's April 20 announcement was something he's been patiently waiting to hear for years. Ol' Bernardo's 2006 "Vermont Independent for the U.S. Senate" website is already up and running at http://www.bernie.org.

And some say Gov. Douglas' announcement on Saturday, taking himself out of the 2006 U.S. Senate race, was the icing on Ol' Bernardo's Senate cake. One would think that it only helps to clear the road for an assured Sanders victory celebration 18 months down the track, right?

Ah, but it's the lusty month of May, "when everyone throws self-control away." And at the moment, leaders of the Vermont Republican and Democratic Parties are far from conceding Jeezum Jim Jeffords' U.S. Senate seat to Bernie Sanders.

And Progressives are almost certain to run a candidate for Bernie's vacated U.S. House seat, potentially setting up a very dicey, three-way race.

Meanwhile, WCAX-TV appears to have jumped the gun over the weekend with a report attributed by newsman Andy Potter to information UVM political science prof Garrison Nelson got from Massachusetts Rep. Barney Frank. Ch. 3 reported a deal has already been cut greasing Mr. Sanders' Senate skids. The alleged deal, according to WGOP-TV, is that the Vermont Democratic Party will not run a candidate in Sanders' U.S. Senate race in return for the Progressive Party not running a candidate in the U.S. House race.

It sounds logical but, it's simply not true. Not yet, anyway.

Roll Call, the Capitol Hill daily, reported on Monday there was no such Vermont political deal. And the chairs of both the Democratic and Progressive Parties told Seven Days the exact same thing this week.

According to Roll Call: A Vermont television station reported over the weekend that Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) said that just such a deal had been struck. But Frank said in an interview Monday that while he agrees with that strategy, he does not know of any formal deal between the parties.

"That's my inference," Frank said. "There is no actual 'deal' that I know of."

Frank said that if a Democrat wants to challenge Sanders, no one can stop him, but that it would not be helpful to Sanders and would not be smart strategically if both Democrats and Progressives ultimately want to deny Republicans the Senate seat.

Sanders' Chief of Staff Jeff Weaver also confirmed there is "no deal" between Vermont's Democrats and Progressives. Weaver did tell us that "ongoing talks" are underway, and that there has been communication between Sanders' office and leaders of the Vermont Progressive Party.

Rep. Sanders, as you know, is not a member of the Vermont Progressive Party, though he is a Prog Party hero.

Progressive Party Chairman Martha Abbott told Seven Days, "I assume that most Progressives will be supporting Bernie." After all, noted Martha, "This party really grew out of the progressive movement I would credit Bernie with starting."

As for behind-the-scenes negotiations, Abbott said, "People are talking about different scenarios and what might happen and what people want to do. It's really too early to predict what we're going to do," she added, "but we are a major party, very on the move, and we're excited about these opportunities and we will definitely be in the game."

Great.

Everybody knows that the emergence of a Prog candidate in the 2006 House race would be sweet music for Republican ears. In fact, few doubt Brian Dubie would be in the enviable position of choosing between a race for the U.S. Senate and a race for the U.S. House had Prog Party Lite-Gov candidate Anthony Pollina not run in the 2002 race. Pollina and Democrat Peter Shumlin split the left and handed Dubie the victory with just 41 percent of the popular vote. Shumlin finished second with 32 percent. Pollina got 25 percent.

Maybe they could do a repeat in the 2006 House race and send one very lucky Vermont Republican to Washington to take Bernie's seat?

Chair Abbott, however, doesn't buy it. "Dubie got where he is," she insisted, "because more Vermonters voted for him than anyone else. The Democrats," she noted, "have the majority in the Vermont Senate and the House. I would hope they'd solve their problem by doing something about Instant Run-Off Voting."

Ouch.

Obviously, the Progs are behind Bernie. But will the Progressive Party run a U.S. House candidate next year if it means the Democratic Party runs a candidate for U.S. Senate?

"We're not ruling anything out," replied Abbott. She mentioned Pollina, along with Steve Hingtgen and Rep. David Zuckerman, as the party's "bright young lights."

"I ran for office once, too," said Martha.

That would have been the 1974 governor's race. Abbott got 5.4 percent as the Liberty Union candidate.

"You never know. I might do it again."

Great.

So at the moment, folks, both the 2006 race for the U.S. House and the 2006 race for the U.S. Senate could well be three-way affairs.

As GOP State Chairman Jim Barnett put it this week, "Both seats are eminently winnable for Republicans."

Obviously, it's in Independent Rep. Bernie Sanders' best interests to get the Democrats and the Progs to smoke some sort of peace pipe. At the moment, however, nobody can find the matches.

In fact, Vermont Democratic Party Chairman Peter Mallary made it perfectly clear to Seven Days that kind words from both Howard Dean and Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid about a "Sanders for Senate" run were just that -- kind words and not endorsements.

"I think you need to be careful," said Mallary. "I don't recall any official statements from the DNC or from Howard saying that he supported Sanders. I think he, like all people, knows that Bernie is a very strong candidate. At this point there isn't a politician in the state of Vermont who wouldn't like to be in the race for the U.S. Senate. At the moment, with Jim Douglas out of the race, the largest dog in that particular fight is Bernie Sanders," conceded Chairman Peter, "but at this point the conversations are flying fast and furious in every direction."

Yes, they certainly are.

So far, at least two Democrats, Attorney General Bill Sorrell and former Lite-Gov Doug Racine, are considering a shot at Ver-mont's open U.S. Senate seat.

We mentioned Sorrell's interest last week. This week we contacted Racine, the man who made Jim Douglas governor in 2002 by running such an excitement-free, wishy-washy campaign.

"I'd love to be in the U.S. Senate," Racine told Seven Days. "With Jim Douglas out of the picture," he said, "you've got to at least think about it."

Until Jeffords' blockbuster retirement announcement last month, Racine told us he'd been thinking in terms of getting back in the game as a candidate for Chittenden County state senator. Speculating on the possibility of Dubie jumping in the Senate race to take on Bernie, Racine wondered aloud, "Isn't there a vast middle out there? And where would pro-choice Republicans go?"

Interesting.

Across the aisle, the snapshot of the moment shows at least two credible Republicans eyeing the U.S. Senate race. IDX gazillionaire Ritchie Tarrant had earlier said he would step aside only if Jim Douglas wanted a shot. With Douglas taking a pass, Tarrant is all but officially in.

And Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie inserted himself into the 2006 U.S. Senate frame by crashing Gov. Douglas' announcement in UVM's Dewey Lounge on Saturday. Douglas aides say Dubie's presence at the event had not been sought.

Doobie-Doo sat in the back with a few of his kids as Gov. Scissorhands officially removed himself from U.S. Senate consideration. Immediately afterwards, Dubie was conveniently available for reporters' questions. It was a masterful act of political show-stealing. The front-page stories the following day were all about Dubie's interest in the U.S. Senate.

Brian the Jet Pilot was only too happy to tell reporters that "folks in the White House" had expressed an interest in a possible Dubie for Senate candidacy. The Doobster has made it pretty clear he's had enough of being Lite-Gov -- you recall he was interviewing with the Bush administration for an ambassador-level appointment within weeks of his November reelection. So the U.S. Senate is a logical target for a politician who just got 57 percent of the vote. And Doobie-Doo got 57 percent running against two of Bernie's disciples: Cheryl Rivers (D) and Steve Hingtgen (P).

Interesting, eh?

Meanwhile, Tarrant, the IDX millionaire with the old St. Mike's jump shot, sounds like his pump is primed. He told Seven Days a campaign announcement won't likely come until midsummer, but everything's pointing toward a run now that Gov. Douglas has bowed out.

As for Dubie's sudden U.S. Senate interest, Tarrant said he had not talked to the Lt. Gov. in a while, but made it clear he will not drop out if Dubie drops in. Tarrant also made it clear he thinks he can win against Ol' Bernardo, whether the Ds take a pass or not.

"This is an open seat," explained Tarrant. "It's not like when I was thinking about running against Pat Leahy, where you have to throw out an incumbent. When it's an open seat, people will take a new look. They won't automatically assume the incumbent is better, because technically [Sanders] is not an incumbent."

Whatever you say, Ritchie. But how will you handle the 1000-pound weight around your neck called "George W. Bush?"

"I'm really not running yet," replied Jump Shot, "so I don't want to get into those kinds of political things. I'm not a politician. Yes, I am a Republican. But I'm a businessman that thinks they have some ideas about how they could make things better in certain areas. I'll focus on what I know and what I'm good at."

Ah, yes, another Vermont Republican politician who won't let the name of George W. Bush pass through his lips. Smart. After all, it's a strategy that has worked well for Gov. Scissorhands.

"We're putting together a budget now," said Tarrant, "and I'm not sure how much I'm going to self-fund yet and how much I'm not. I've heard all kinds of numbers. I'm hearing this is going to be a very expensive race from all the people around the country who are supposed to know about these things."

Yes, indeed, folks. The Lusty Month of May and the 2006 political games, are well underway.


Castro Retiring? -- We're unable to get confirmation from our Havana sources, but rumors are flying that Fidel Castro's days are numbered. That's because U.S. Sen. Jim Jeffords and his wife have spent the last five days in Cuba, attending May Day festivities and meeting with Cuban higher-ups.

Now that Jeezum Jim has announced he will be retiring after his term ends, the unconfirmed story goes that the CIA sent Jeffords to Cuba to convince Fidel to do the same thing.

Just joking.

The trip to Cuba is for real. Jeffords did have meetings scheduled with Cuban government officials, but, as of Tuesday, he had not met with Fidel. Yet.

Jeezum's due back Wednesday evening.


Ironic, Eh? -- There's probably no citizens activist organization Gov. Jim Douglas despises more than the Conservation Law Foundation. In his view, CLF is an out-of-state extremist group. Many others view CLF as an effective advocate for environmental laws, some of which Gov. Douglas' administration has been caught breaking.

So it was quite ironic last week to see the Douglas administration's Agency of Transpor-tation Secretary Dawn Terrill accepting the 2004 Public Space Honor Award for its "integrated approach" to rebuilding 3.7 miles of Route 9 along the Deerfield River between Searsburg and Wilmington.

The irony is that the design chosen by AOT was not the one the agency originally proposed. AOT originally wanted to reroute the Deerfield River!

But local residents and environmentalists spoke up, and CLF stepped in with its expertise. The resulting design is a direct result of CLF's efforts. But CLF doesn't get the praise -- Douglas' transportation agency does.

"It's ironic, said CLF attorney Sandy Levine, that they receive an award for a design change that came about because of the work of CLF.

Go figure.


This Just In -- The Douglas administration has bounced Burlington's CCTV/Channel 17 from the job of taping Gov. Douglas' weekly press conferences and is awarding the contract to a new firm.

Press Secretary Jason Gibbs, who decided to put the job out to bid for the first time, says Peak Productions of Brattleboro was the low bidder at $300 per presser.

CCTV, which has been shooting the Guv's weekly since the early Howard Dean days, was the second lowest bidder at $505.

"We had a good relationship with CCTV," said Jason.

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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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