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Inside Track

Published August 9, 2000 at 8:15 p.m.



Hey, welcome to the brave new world of Vermont journalism! The above capitalized interrogatories come directly from the top of the brand-new questionnaire that The Burlington Free Press just sent out to statewide and legislative candidates.

The Freeps’ crime-busting candidate query appears to be the outcome of the ethical conundrum the local Gannett Empire outpost has been in since last winter.

You may recall that Seven Days broke the news back in January about the criminal records of a couple of candidates for the Burlington City Council. Both were soundly defeated in March. But the Freeps balked at reporting that they both had rap sheets. In fact, one of them had been arrested twice over the Christmas holiday on assault and unlawful mischief charges. She eventually copped a plea.

Back then, Vermont’s largest daily chose not to inform readers of the criminal conduct of those candidates because, as Executive Editor Mickey Hirten told us, the paper wanted to be “fair.” By that he meant it would be unfair to report on the two candidates with known records without being absolutely certain all the other candidates were crime-free. We can only marvel at how the unlubricated wheels of the Gannett journalistic mind turn.

Now it appears Mr. Hirten and crew have come up with a solution — they’ll just ask every single Vermont political candidate point-blank in the newspaper’s statewide candidate questionnaire if they’ve ever been busted.

But what if candidates refuse to answer? What if Gov. Howard Dean doesn’t answer the question? Or Barbara Snelling? Or State Sen. Jean Ankeney? What then? And do traffic tickets count?

Actually, we couldn’t wait for the Freeps to report the results, so we called Babs and Nurse Jean and asked if they had criminal convictions.

“Unfortunately, no. I need the publicity,” said Ankeney, leader of the Senate Granny caucus. Same with Babs — no time in the slammer. What a relief!

After the questions designed to weed out the crooks and bankrupt politicians on the ballot, the Freeps asks five more: What does the candidate consider to be the “top issue” among constituents? What should be done with the state surplus? What’s the office-seeker’s position on “price regulation” of prescription drugs? Act 60? Civil unions?

Candidates are warned to limit their answers to 25 words or less. Can’t wait.

Speaking of Civil Unions

As everyone knows, when it came to the hottest public policy issue on the Vermont legislative burner this year, The Burlington Free Press limited its opinion to much fewer than 25 words. The sorry fact is, the Freeps did not publish even one editorial devoted to the paper’s position on civil unions. Not one.

For an editorial page that has a chronic obsession with graffiti and other equally pressing matters of public policy, the absence of a civil-unions editorial in the state’s largest daily has been astonishing.

“Civil unions” for those of you from Mars or Mississippi, are the brand-new legal partnerships available to same-sex couples in Vermont. For the $20 price of a license, partners in a civil union enjoy the same rights and benefits as opposite-sex married couples.

Here in Vermont, love became legal for all citizens on July 1. And, so far, except for the few vulgarities of members of the sanctimonious “Take Back Vermont” gay-bashing set, civil unions haven’t caused so much as a ripple in life as we know it in the Green Mountains.

As we’ve indicated before, the editorial silence of Vermont’s Gannett paper has been attributed to its publisher. Sources at the newspaper tell us Jim Carey, president and publisher, is a born-again Christian. In fact, on several occasions we’ve witnessed Mr. Carey operating a motor vehicle adorned with a “JESUS” bumper sticker. We assume it was not a reference to the goalie on the Mexican national soccer team.

Tuesday morning we attempted to speak to Boss Carey about this matter, but he declined to take our call. Boss Carey was in his office when we rang, but after informing him of our call, his secretary came back on the line to ask what we wanted. After ascertaining our question about her boss’ religious persuasion and the absence of a civil-unions editorial, she politely informed us that Mr. Carey “will be in meetings for the rest of the day.”

Hey, God bless him! Boss Carey’s a hard worker, for sure. The paper’s a cash cow. A jewel in the Gannett crown. And Boss Carey’s always been reluctant to speak to reporters who are not his personal underlings. Nothing new there. In his mind, it appears we simply don’t exist.

Not to worry, we don’t take it personally. And Boss Carey’s absolutely entitled to his opinion and religious beliefs. Maybe he’s just shy. No problem. We understand. However, Jim Carey is the publisher of the largest newspaper in Vermont. So what’s with the pressphobia, James?

No question. Some folks are getting the distinct impression Vermont’s Gannett newspaper has an internal problem with equal rights for gays and lesbians. You see, the paper has also recently taken a pass on publishing a Gannett-syndicated, pro-civil-unions column by one of the chain’s top columnists, a writer who actually came to Vermont to obtain a civil union with her longtime partner!

Years ago, before gay marriage was even on the radar screen, the Freeps regularly carried a column by Deb Price. Then they dropped her. Ms. Price’s home base is the Detroit News, a Gannett-owned newspaper. Her column is syndicated nationally on the Gannett News Service (GNS) wire. Any one of the chain’s 102 newspapers is free to run it. It’s a local call.

Deb Price also happens to be one of the most prominent openly gay columnists writing for a mainstream, big-city newspaper. And a month ago she wrote a beautiful column in the Detroit News about her recent visit to Vermont. It ran on the GNS wire and was picked up by Gannett papers around the country. However, Vermont readers haven’t seen it.

It’s not often that we’ll do the heavy lifting for the Gannett media empire, but hey, yours truly really does have a soft heart. So if The Burlington Free Press can’t find room for Deb Price, we’ll give up some of ours. You see, we disagree with the editorial geniuses at 191 College Street on this one. We’re positive their Vermont readers would benefit from Price’s work:

We wanted to be among the first gay couples to receive Vermont’s blessing. But since the history-making creation of “civil unions” for gay couples has divided Vermonters, we weren’t sure what sort of welcome to expect. What we received was a joyful, magical celebration of our love that was far more special than anything we could have dreamed up on our own.

Before heading to Vermont, Joyce and I discovered that the tiny state’s government operates at a wonderfully human level. The town clerk who promised us she would be open on Saturday, July 1 — the day civil unions became legal — drew us a map so we could find her office.

Though pressured by civil union foes to be closed July 1, the clerk — a woman of her word — was at her desk when we arrived that morning. Her office was in her cozy cat- and orchid-filled home. We filled out our civil union application on her kitchen counter. Then, the clerk finished giving a neighbor his fishing license, took our $20 and handed us our certificate.

Deb and Joyce went looking for a justice of the peace and found a great one in Plainfield by the name of Keith Goslant.

On Sunday afternoon, we drove to the village of Plainfield and were immediately swept up into a loving embrace unlike anything we had ever experienced. We were surrounded by Vermonters of all ages — most of them straight — who were proud of their state and happy for us as a couple. A many-splendored wedding celebration materialized as if by magic.

The Green Mountain state captured our well-defended hearts.

Ms. Price returned to Detroit with the impression that Vermont is a state populated by “generous” and “kind-hearted” people. Remember her words the next time the homo-hate squad tells you their “Big Lie” about Vermont being the laughingstock of the nation.

Unfortunately, the folks down at Boss Carey’s Gannett outpost didn’t think Deb Price’s column was suited for Vermont readers.

We respectfully disagree.

Dwyer Money Pinch?

A few eyebrows were raised in response to the size of the campaign war chest Republican Ruth Dwyer reported last week. Ruthless Ruth has only raised $132,000 so far. But Mrs. Dwyer told Seven Days Tuesday not to worry. She said it would have been a waste of energy to go heavy on the fundraising before U.S. District Court Judge Bill “Friend of Pat LeahySessions makes the big call in the giant campaign finance lawsuit over on Elmwood Avenue. In fact, Sessions’ eagerly anticipated ruling is expected any minute. It’ll be big-time national news, maybe even historic. Judge Billy knows it.

But the Dwyer campaign also has one unusual ingredient that hampers its fundraising — a candidate who simply refuses to pick up the phone and personally ask people to write checks. Unfortunately for Mrs. Dwyer, calling up highrollers and asking for mucho dinaro is a trademark of successful politicians near and far.

“I don’t think it’s appropriate for a candidate to personally beg people for money,” said the Thetford farmer. The practice, she told Seven Days, lends itself to the appearance of a quid pro quo. “And there is no quid pro quo with me.”

Funny, but when you talk to Ruthless one-on-one, she sure doesn’t sound like the “extremist” Howard Dean says she is. Maybe she was drowning kittens in the back room before she called us back.

To pump up the Dwyer war chest Darcie Johnston, a veteran Vermont GOP operative, has been signed up to raise the necessary cash. If Judge Sessions blows off the spending caps, the sky will be the limit. If he blows off the $400 contribution limit, the floodgates will no doubt open. We’ll see.

Meanwhile, there’s a fresh Ruth Dwyer direct-mail piece out this week. It’s written by her Washington, D.C., consulting firm. Finally, for the first time publicly, Mrs. Dwyer is targeting the civil-unions backlash bunch.

According to the Dwyer letter, Gov. Dean is “a Democrat who believes in tax increases, government-mandated health care and the legalization of same-sex unions.” Ho-Ho, charges Dwyer, “is a man who laughs at those of us who believe in the sanctity of life.”

The Dwyer pitch goes on to accuse Dr. Dean of ignoring Vermont’s children while leading the charge for a better life for homosexuals.

“Take the crisis facing our families,” write Ruth. “Instead of focusing on the dangers children face at school and at home, the Democrats, led by Governor Dean, made the legalization of same-sex unions their social priority.”

On the campaign trail so far, Dwyer has ignored civil unions in her stump speech. She talks health care, education and taxes. But the truth is, everywhere she appears, she said, it’s the prime issue her audience wants to discuss.

“Usually it’s the first question,” said Mrs. Dwyer, adding, “usually it’s the first several questions.”

It was inevitable that the time would come in the gubernatorial campaign when Ruth Dwyer would put civil unions on the table.

“I’ve got to,” she told Seven Days Tuesday. “It’s out there. You can’t pretend it’s not an issue.”

She’s right about that. You can’t pretend.

Happy Props to You!

Fresh from the Republican National Coronation in Philadelphia, Vermont delegate Skip Vallee had the perfect words to describe the role of delegates. Appearing on “Vermont This Week” he responded to criticism that the show in Philly was little more than a scripted commercial.

“We may have been props,” said Gasoline Vallee, “but we were happy props.”

Not everyone from Vermont was. One very unhappy prop was State Sen. Vince Illuzzi. Vince the Prince told Seven Days the GOP convention was both “hedonistic” and “decadent.” Every night, he said, “they poured 800 college kids onto the floor and they cheered when cued by evolving lights on the ceiling. It was so candy-coated,” said Illuzzi, “my teeth started to rot.”

Media Notes

(After one year at WVNY-TV, our ABC affiliate, two rats are jumping ship. Just kidding about the rats.) Weatherman Rich Hoffman and sports babe Erin Flynn are moving up the ladder into much bigger TV markets. Rich is off to WFSB in Hartford, Conn.. Erin’s heading west for Doug Flutie/Dominik Hasek-land in Buffalo, N.Y..

Bon voyage!

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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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