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The Political Gutter 

Let’s make believe for just a second, okay?

Just imagine the existence on Vermont’s political stage of a stridently partisan, pro-Democratic political Web site that chronicled the alleged illicit sexual activity of leading Vermont Republican politicians.

Just imagine the titillation, reading about Republican gubernatorial candidate Jim Douglas and the passionate fling he had back in the mid-1990s with a certain former Statehouse reporter.

Hey, hey, hey, Jimmy D! Didn’t know you had so much lead in your pencil, bro! Hope Mrs. Douglas and the children took it okay, eh?

Just imagine the spicy thrill, reading about airline pilot and gov-lite candidate Brian Dubie’s wild and crazy sex-sodden layovers with the flight attendants in Acapulco. Hey, it’s true what they say about those jet jockeys. They are veritable Tarzans in the stamina department. No Viagra necessary!

Just imagine if such a sleazy Internet Web site were advertising on the airwaves of WCAX-TV, “Vermont’s Own.”

Hey, trust me. If such a sleazy pro-Democratic Web site were spewing out such garbage, there would be a bipartisan outcry from leading Democrats, Progressives and Independents as well as Republicans. Regardless of party label, they would unite in one voice to say, “Keep your political sex sleaze out of Vermont!”

The good news is that there is no such pro-Democrat Web site in Vermont.

The bad news, however, is that there is a pro-Republican one, and it’s been a challenge this week to find Vermont Republicans who’ll condemn it.

The Web site is operated by James Dwinell. You’ll find it at www.dwinellpoliticalreport.com. In 1998, Mr. Dwinell ran unsuccessfully for state auditor on the Republican Party ticket. Subsequently, Mr. Dwinell served as executive director of the Vermont State Republican Committee. At that time he began writing a weekly “GOP Update,” which was posted on the party’s official Web site.

After leaving his party post, Dwinell started up his own Web site and continued the weekly reportage, all of it staunchly pro-GOP. Today, Dwinell’s political report serves as crack for Vermont conservatives who hate the left. Jimmy the Joker preaches to his choir with the fervor of a Jimmy Swaggart.

Readers may recall that, last year, yours truly publicly defended Mr. Dwinell when Gov. Howard Dean refused to take his questions at the Guv’s weekly press conference. Ho-Ho incorrectly charged that Dwinell was working for the Republican Party.

Officially, he wasn’t. He was on his own. And our point was, the First Amendment protects all political columnists, regardless of slant.

We still support Mr. Dwinell’s right to publish what he chooses, but it’s time to call a spade a spade. Of late, Jimmy the Joker has dramatically lowered the bar on Vermont political reporting to its all-time lowest level — the gutter.

Dwinell’s last couple of columns have contained outrageous, unsubstantiated allegations about the sexual activity of leading Vermont Democrats. Sex sells and, right now, it’s the juicy sub-rosa topic titillating Vermont conservatives. And as we know from the impeachment of the Presidential Pecker, conservatives love stories about peckers above all others.

For weeks, some Republicans have been massaging the Vermont mainstream press in hopes of getting the pecker stuff into the daily press. They’ve been unsuccessful — so far.

So it was a surprise Sunday morning when an advertisement for Dwinell’s political sex site appeared on the screen during WCAX-TV’s broadcast of CBS’ “Face the Nation.” The spot, coincidentally, ran right before a “Douglas for Governor” campaign commercial. Kind of a one-two punch.

On Monday yours truly contacted WCAX-TV. We asked the general manager, Peter Martin, if Ch. 3 has any advertising standards.

“Absolutely,” replied Mr. Martin.

Might we obtain a copy?

No, he replied, they’re not in writing.

Orally, Peter informed us his station does not accept “advocacy advertising,” or advertising that promotes “criminal activity.” In addition, he said Ch. 3 runs a wide range of ads that they know “are not deceptive or false.”

Cool.

We asked the veteran Vermont broadcaster if he had read the recent Dwinell sex reports. Mr. Martin informed us that he had not.

So we asked him if he might check out the Web site his station was promoting and get back to us.

Haven’t heard from him since.

Next, we dropped into Jim Douglas’ Burlington campaign office. Surely a man of integrity, a man who aspires to be Vermont’s chief executive, would want to publicly distance himself from Dwinell’s Sleaze, right?

Wrong.

Slim Jim’s campaign manager and press aide, the infamous Nasty Boys, went apoplectic. Like two stereo speakers, they excitedly waved their arms and denied any connection between the Jim Douglas campaign and Dwinell’s sex attacks on Douglas’ Democratic opponent.

“It’s an issue we have not broached,” said Neale Lunderville, “and it’s an issue we have no intention of broaching.”

We asked if the Republican gubernatorial candidate, a veteran of three decades on Vermont’s political stage, would comment on the recent work of Republican columnist James Dwinell.

We didn’t get an interview, but the next day Lunderville e-mailed us the following statement from his boss.

“Journalistic standards are for journalists to decide,” read Jim’s statement. “As for my own standards, I have not and will not make anyone’s private relationships an issue in this campaign.”

Great. There’s leadership for you!

We also left a message on candidate Brian Dubie’s voice mail Monday asking for an interview. Dubie presents himself as a man of integrity and highlights his native-Vermont roots. Surely Doobie-Doo, we thought, would seize the opportunity to weigh in on the ethics of Dwinell’s Sleaze.

On Tuesday, a campaign aide returned our call. Mr. Dubie, we were told, was in Washington and won’t be back until the end of the week. Our request for his cell phone number was denied.

Bummer.

We also rang up the state chairman of the Vermont GOP — Joe Acinapura of Brandon. Coincidentally, Mr. Acinapura has a letter to the editor in Dwinell’s current edition singing the praises of Mr. Dwinell’s political coverage.

Asked to comment on Dwinell’s descent into sex, Acinapura replied, “The Dwinell Report has nothing to do with the Vermont Republican State Committee.”

He repeated that statement several times for emphasis, even when we pointed out the Dwinell Report is the sole direct media link appearing on the Vermont GOP’s official Web site.

Birds of a feather, they say, flock together. Remember Susan Sweetser?

Susie Creamcheese was the Republican con-gressional candidate in 1996 who challenged Independent Bernie Sanders. On the surface, Sweetser was all about a higher morality. Behind the scenes it was a different story.

Susie Creamcheese will be remembered in Vermont’s political history as the candidate who hired a private detective agency to dig up dirt on Ol’ Bernardo’s first marriage back in the 1960s. There was no dirt. Nice try, Susie! So much for focusing on the issues.

A recent edition of Dwinell’s Report carried the following letter to the editor from Sweetser.

“You are doing a remarkable job!” she wrote. “My Catholic guilt got the best of me. Enclosed is my paid subscription for this year… and last year… and the year before. Keep up the incredible work.”

Just when we were on the verge of giving up our search for a Republican to stand up for Vermont’s political tradition, Skip Vallee returned our call. Gasoline Vallee is Vermont’s direct connection to the Republican National Committee. We asked him for his take on Dwinell’s sex, lies and sleaze reporting.

Vallee didn’t hesitate for a millisecond. “It doesn’t belong in Vermont. I truly believe it,” said Vallee.

Too bad, Jim Douglas, Joe Acinapura and WGOP, er, sorry, WCAX don’t see it that way.

Does anyone doubt that if Mr. Dwinell were a Democrat cheerleader instead of a Republican one, they’d all be singing a very different tune?

Flanagan’s Last Hurrah? Since Seven Days went to press Tuesday evening before the votes were counted, we don’t know if Democrat Ed Flanagan lost his primary contest for treasurer with Jeb Spaulding. Fast Eddie certainly deserved to lose.

Mr. Flanagan surprised a lot of folks and former supporters with a slick, negative, fast-buck campaign. It appeared a desperate effort by Mr. Flanagan to maintain a presence on Vermont’s political stage by any means necessary.

We vividly recall Mr. Flanagan was a veritable newcomer to Vermont in 1988 when he jumped into the race for attorney general. He was definitely a “man with a plan.”

Yours truly will never forget Fast Eddie’s campaign kick-off at Burlington’s City Hall that year. Former Gov. Phil Hoff introduced him with the line, “I haven’t met him yet, but he has a very impressive resume.”

Flanagan grew up on Capitol Hill where his Vermont-born dad worked. You could see in his Hollywood eyes that Ed wanted to return to Washington one day as a big shot.

The incumbent AG, Repub-lican Jeff Amestoy, was widely popular. And many folks got a bad taste that fall from Fast Eddie’s unbelievable, over-the-top attacks on Amestoy. In the end, a lot of Democrats voted for the Republican and Flanagan was trounced by a 2-1 margin.

Amestoy, by the way, won the following four races for AG without Democratic Party opposition. In 1997, Gov. Dean appointed him chief justice of the Vermont Supreme Court.

After the 1988 race, Flanagan decided to settle in. A graduate of Harvard Law School with experience on Wall Street, Flanagan joined Hoff’s Main Street law firm.

Four years later, he resurfaced as a candidate for the unheralded job of state auditor. Flanagan ran a determined campaign and won.

He quickly butted heads with Gov. Dean and became a darling of the left wing. Along the way he came out as a gay man. And he has been nationally recognized as such, once holding the title of the only “openly gay statewide elected official in America.”

In Vermont, however, there’s no evidence Ed’s sexual preference ever mattered. He was easily reelected three times.

After four terms as auditor, Fast Eddie finally reached for the big prize — a U.S. Senate seat. He squeaked by State Sen. Jan Backus in the 2000 Democratic primary, but, once again, he soured a lot of Democrats with his negativity. That November he was crushed by Republican U.S. Sen. Jim Jeffords, who won by a landslide.

A two-time loser now, Flan-agan sees his dream is fading. His run for state treasurer has had an air of desperation about it. Fast Eddie’s spent more buckaroos in the primary than any race for treasurer has ever seen, and most of it has come out of his own rather deep pockets. Once again, Flanagan is making many Demo-crats cringe.

The two best signs of that come from the current state auditor Elizabeth Ready and the legendary trailblazer of the Vermont Democratic Party, former Gov. Phil Hoff.

If Chainsaw had been on the Titanic, she’d have been in the first lifeboat. Ms. Ready has great instincts and knows when a ship is sinking. Last week, Chainsaw Liz, a longtime buddy of Flan-agan’s, broke ranks and publicly came out for Mr. Spaulding.

Gov. Hoff may have only been familiar with Flanagan’s resume back in 1988, but in the 14 years since, Prince Philip has had the opportunity to get to know him better. Much better. Fast Eddie still rents space at Phil’s law office, but he’s no longer connected to the firm professionally. And in this election, Phil Hoff is an enthusiastic supporter of Ed’s opponent, Jeb Spaulding. Hoff’s even doing radio spots for Jeb.

What does that tell ya?

Should Flanagan pull a primary victory out of the hat courtesy of his big bucks and sketchy strategy, many Democrats will cringe. One particular Vermonter, however, will be positively thrilled — John Labarge of Grand Isle. Labarge is the straight-arrow Republican candidate for treasurer, the kind of guy moderate Democrats might learn to like.

DeanWatch 2004 — Campaign workers have started moving in at the Dean for President HQ in downtown Burlington. Kate O’Connor and a troop of twentysomethings were on duty Monday when we stopped by. At the moment they’re high on energy and low on furniture, but that will soon change.

What caused a double-take was the sign identifying the other new tenant across the hall. Would you believe it’s the U.S. Secret Service?

Could be an omen, eh?

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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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