Until this week, few of us in Vermont had ever heard of Rep. Richard Pombo of Stockton, California. Now it looks like Pombo, the chairman of the House Resources Committee, is going to be a hot issue in Vermont's November election.
Under GOP control of Congress, Rep. Pombo has thrived and steadily moved up in the leadership. He has a well-earned reputation for being what the St. Petersburg Times calls "a virulently anti-environmental congressman."
Pombo's in the spotlight because he's the Republican committee chairman our Republican Gov. Jim Douglas wrote last week to express his "concern" about the New England Wilderness Bill that had just passed in the U.S. Senate unanimously.
The fact is, the officially expressed "concern" of a state's Republican governor over pending federal legislation is more than enough to derail a bill when expressed to a powerful committee chair of the same party. And that's just what happened on Capitol Hill on Monday. Hold all bets!
Gov. Douglas' opposition looks like it may be sufficient to kill the bill, something that's gotten a lot of folks very upset. Our congressional delegation is united in their opposition to Gov. Douglas' effort. State Sen. Ginny Lyons, chairman of the Senate Natural Resources Committee under Montpelier's Golden Dome, is firmly with them. And the issue has given Democratic gubernatorial challenger Scudder Parker a huge opening, though it's taken him five days to drive through it.
"We're seeing the unfortunate effects of the governor's letter to Congressman Pombo," said Sen. Leahy's spokesman David Carle on Tuesday from Washington. "It is difficult enough to forge bipartisan efforts to get good things done without an effort like the governor's to derail the Vermont part of the New England Wilderness Act. Time is short, and his intervention with Republican leaders is not helpful," said Carle, "but the members of the Vermont delegation will continue to do what they can to get a carefully balanced Vermont bill enacted."
Good luck, eh?
State Sen. Lyons weighed in as well this week, expressing her "disappointment" in our Gov. Jimbo's little letter to Chairman Pombo.
Sen. Lyons pointed out, "The decision by the National Forest Service to create 48,000 acres of wilderness lands in the Green Mountain Forest is a compromise between a variety of outdoor, environmental, local government, sporting, forest industry, citizen, business and other interests in Vermont. Some wanted more wilderness area or regulation, others wanted less, some wanted none. The resulting bill, passed unanimously by the U.S. Senate, is the result of years of public hearings and input, including over 70 meetings and 10,000 public comments."
Lyons wondered aloud, "Why would a sitting governor intervene after such an extensive public process and disrupt such a delicate balance?"
Maybe it's to rally his conservative base so they'll turn out and vote on November 7?
And Sen. Lyons added some extra punch by noting the Guv's "swift and aggressive action to contact Republican colleagues in Washington" on this one issue is "all the more notable given his previous reluctance to do so when asked on other issues of vital importance."
Sen. Lyons was referring to troop deployments in Iraq and emergency relief for Vermont farmers.
"So it is both strange and disturbing for the Governor to choose now to intervene on an issue that is the product of such extensive public input and deliberation," wrote Lyons. "Vermont's traditional way of decision making in open forums and frank discussion stands to be undermined by the Governor's current action."
Ouch! And Sen. Lyons isn't even running for governor. Scudder Parker is. And on Tuesday morning Scudder finally called a presser on this baby - but guess what?
Yours truly was the only reporter to show up!
Parker played, for an audience of one, the new 60-second radio ad he's putting out on the Pombo/Douglas Wilderness Bill brouhaha. Pretty snappy, too:
"Jim Douglas is ignoring five years of hard work and compromise on a bill to protect Vermont's environment, a proposal that thousands of Vermonters weighed in on. Democrats and Republicans agree that Congress should preserve Vermont's wilderness lands, but not Jim Douglas."
Catchy, eh? The spot also noted that both The Burlington Free Press and the Rutland Herald have written editorials in recent days criticizing Gov. Jimbo big-time on this one.
"They said his actions as governor were disturbing and overly political. In Vermont we expect more from our leaders. We should have a governor who brings us together, not divides us the way Jim Douglas does. Scudder Parker will bring Vermonters together . . ."
Nice spot, but as we mentioned above, yours truly was the only reporter to show up for Candidate Parker's 9 a.m. presser at Democratic Party Headquarters, where he played his new radio spot and took questions. The fact is, the Vermont press corps, especially at election time, is a very, very thin line.
Meanwhile, Anthony Iarrapino at the Conservation Law Foundation in Montpelier goes even further. He says Gov. Jimbo is trying to have it both ways.
"In the letter to Pombo," noted Iarrapino, "Douglas claims that he supports the wilderness allocation in the Forest Plan. But before he wrote that letter," noted Anthony, "his administration had already intervened in an appeal, siding with the appellants. The appeal objects to the small amount of actual wilderness suggested by the Forest Service. Gov. Douglas is trying to have it both ways."
Scudder Who? - According to the recent Ch. 3 poll, when voters get to know Scudder Parker they end up feeling favorably about him by a 2-1 margin. If Parker can get the same reaction from voters who are still just getting to know him, he might surprise some people.
In a Tuesday interview before his presser started, the former minister told "Inside Track" that he thinks "There's a profound unease on the part of Vermonters about what's happening at the federal level. Now they're beginning to recognize that's happening at the local level in Vermont as our institutions come under strain and, frankly, as our governor fails to provide the leadership to protect Vermonters."
Parker responded quickly, citing "the underfunding of the Housing Conservation Trust Fund. And he has the nerve to proclaim he's for affordable housing at the same time," scoffed Scudder. "Jim Douglas has no program to promote affordable housing in this state."
Candidate Parker also cited Gov. Jimbo's "unwillingness to fully fund Efficiency Vermont and his failure to plan for our energy future by buying the dams on the Connecticut and supporting thoughtful development of wind projects."
"I think," said Parker, "people are beginning to put it together and to recognize that the kind of leadership Jim Douglas offers the state actually divides people rather than pulls them together to solve our problems."
Now if the Vermont press will only show up for Parker's pressers, he might be able to get this in the mainstream Vermont press, too!
Crunch time is now - the last six weeks - and Parker said his campaign strategy has always been to save his money for the homestretch.
"We will be getting the word out to everybody," he said.
Welch Zeroes In - Democrat Peter Welch, who's held a slim 5-point lead over Republican Martha Rainville in recent polls on the congressional race, is turning up the heat on the former National Guard general with a tough new ad and the words to back it up.
So far Marvelous Martha has been demonstrating the old "chain of command" mentality, refusing to call for her former boss' replacement. That's too bad, because everyone knows Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, the defense chief who led us to war on false and fabricated reasons, is not real popular in Vermont. Perfectly understandable. You'd think Rainville would have dumped Rummy weeks ago, eh?
Candidate Welch invited reporters to Democratic HQ Monday morning (four attended) to get a preview of the TV spot. No dog in this one, folks. This is about the Iraq war. Welch doesn't beat around the bush (pardon the pun) in the new ad. He looks right into the camera for a little heart-to-heart:
"The Bush administration misled us into Iraq and it's time to hold them accountable. Donald Rumsfeld should be fired for his incompetence. And the president should be required to tell us when our troops will come home. The Republicans running Congress will never demand that. But I will."
Welch noted that Sunday's New York Times and Washington Post both carried front-page stories saying that a leaked U.S. government "National Intelligence Estimate" shows America's war in Iraq has made that country a "breeding ground for terrorists" - something it wasn't prior to the U.S. invasion in 2003.
"What we have to have," insisted Welch, "is a new direction. Donald Rumsfeld has been wrong. He was wrong in his leadership leading us into war. He has been wrong in his prosecution of the war. He's been out of line in criticizing the critics of the war. He's got to go."
Wonder how long Marvelous Martha can keep Rummy propped up?
Boxer Day in Burlap - Packed house at Burlington City Hall over the noon hour Monday for California Sen. Barbara Boxer's appearance on behalf of the candidacy of U.S. Senate race front-runner Bernie Sanders, our eight-term Independent congressman.
Sanders is seeking the seat being vacated by Independent U.S. Sen. Jim Jeffords. Thanks to the disgusting, depressing TV ads his megabucks Republican opponent Rich Tarrant has been putting on the airwaves, Ol' Bernardo's Senate seat looks pretty secure. The only question is how big his landslide victory will be.
We haven't seen that big and enthusiastic a turnout for a City Hall political rally since Republican Sen. John McCain drew a standing-room-only crowd for his presidential campaign appearance on a frigid Sunday morning in 2000.
It's fair to say most Vermonters are a little worried these days about the nation's future. Two more years of one-party rule in Washington is a thought many Vermonters find very depressing.
Sanders fired up the crowd by suggesting the Democrats could take back the majority in the U.S. Senate. Besides Vermont Sen. Patrick J. Leahy becoming the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Ol' Bernardo also noted that Sen. Boxer would replace GOP Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma as chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.
"Mr. Inhofe has the profound view that global warming is one of the greatest hoaxes ever perpetrated on the America people," said Sanders. "This is a man who chairs the most important environmental committee in the United States Congress. Well, guess who's going to replace him?" shouted Ol' Bernardo. "It's going to be Barbara Boxer!"
Sen. Boxer told the upbeat audience that she can't wait to hear Bernie's "sweet tones" in the U.S. Senate next year.
"This is a subservient Congress," said Boxer. "This is a rubber-stamp Congress in the House and Senate," she said, "and it's dangerous for America."
I dare say most Vermonters would agree with her, eh? And she's not the only one who's noticed.
"In foreign policy, I can tell you right now," said Sen. Boxer, "if we don't change course, we are in a never-ending war. It will never end because people are stubborn."
Not a bright future, eh?
"I've served with four presidents in my career in the Congress," said the Minority Leader in the Senate. "I have never yet seen a president at a press conference have absolutely no clue as to how to get out of the worst mistake ever made in American history."
Like we said, the turnout was big and emotions were high.
"The excitement, the energy, the optimism that I feel in this room," said Boxer, "is going to start on the East Coast (on Election Day) and sweep clear across the country, and we're going to take back the House and the Senate!"
One thing we do know: If the Democrats don't win back a majority in at least one chamber on Capitol Hill, Christmas is going to be a little quiet and somber in the Green Mountains.