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Pure Politics 

Fair Game

Published September 22, 2010 at 10:36 a.m.

Fair Game is Seven Days’ weekly political column.

Is Brian Dubie’s “Pure Vermont” campaign for governor an updated version of the decade-old culture-war slogan “Take Back Vermont”?

That was the implication of a sharply worded blog post last week from the editorial-page editor of the state’s largest daily.

During Wednesday night’s debate on Vermont Public Radio, Dubie challenged Democrat Peter Shumlin on his promise to enact a single-payer health care plan. Dubie pointed out that recent federal legislation makes it nearly impossible for a state to get waivers to create its own system until 2017.

During the back and forth, Dubie complained, “We’ve hired a doctor from Taiwan. Vermont is not an island; Vermont is a small little state in New England.”

Dr. William Hsiao — hired by lawmakers to develop a few models to revamp the state’s health care system — is a renowned Harvard professor who is one of the most sought-after public-health consultants in the world. Born in Beijing, China, Hsiao immigrated to the United States in his teens and is a U.S. citizen.

Aki Soga, the editorial-page editor of the Burlington Free Press, took umbrage with Dubie’s “from Taiwan” blunder — properly chastising the gubernatorial candidate for being culturally tone deaf, if not borderline racist.

“Call me sensitive, but assumption about whether you’re an American or not is a sensitive subject for many Asian Americans,” wrote Soga, noting he was born in Japan and raised in Michigan. “If you grew up Asian American in this country in the last part of the 20th century, one of the most dreaded questions is ‘Where are you from?’ The person asking usually didn’t mean in what part of this country did you grow up or were born.”

Soga’s post generated the typical vicious responses on the Free Press website. Some readers took Soga to task for calling himself an “Asian American” rather than just an “American,” while one self-described “native” Vermonter dubbed anyone from outside the state — “flatlander” or “from Taiwan” — as a socialist.

The debate recalled one of Vermont’s darkest moments, the 2000 culture war that ensued after the passage of civil unions and Act 60. Do we really want to go through that again?

Given the national anti-immigration mood, Dubie’s insensitive statement wasn’t uttered in a vacuum, Soga noted.

“Just a note to candidate Dubie. Vermonters like to distinguish between native and flatlanders, as if having a few generations in the local cemetery should give you more say in our democratic system. Add that to our current national paranoia about outsiders and the ‘foreigner’ tag can become a serious negative that, once applied — even as a misstatement — is tough to shed,” wrote Soga.

Dubie’s manager Corry Bliss hails from Virginia, not Taiwan. He said Soga and Dubie chatted by phone, and that all is apparently well between the two. Soga did not return my phone calls or emails.

It’s ironic that on the same day Dubie dissed a “doctor from Taiwan” Gov. Jim Douglas announced a trade mission to the island nation. The reason? He’s searching for wealthy folks to invest in Vermont projects in exchange for long-term visas. Heck, even the conservative-leaning Vermont Chamber of Commerce has an office in Taiwan. The chamber opened the office in 1998.

You’re right, Brian, Vermont is not an island. Let’s not make it one.

Gubernatorial Map

Both major-party candidates for governor boast about being born and raised in Vermont.

Does it matter to voters? History suggests not. Only one governor since 1962 — Republican Deane C. Davis — was born and raised in Vermont. Not a single Democratic governor was a “true” Vermonter.

Gov. Jim Douglas was born in Massachusetts.

More important for electoral success, apparently, is your home county. Since 1962, only one governor has been elected from outside Addison, Chittenden or Washington counties: Gov. Thomas P. Salmon was from Rockingham in Windham County.

Govs. Phil Hoff, Richard Snelling, Madeleine Kunin and Howard Dean were Chittenden County pols; Deane Davis hailed from Washington County. Douglas lives in Addison County.

Before 1962, the axis of Vermont’s political power was not Interstate 89 but the spine of the Green Mountains. Vermonters often alternated choosing governors from eastern and western sides of the state.

Here’s the geographic spread of this year’s crop of gubernatorial hopefuls. Dubie and independent Dan Feliciano hail from Chittenden County. Windham County has three candidates: Shumlin, independent Emily Peyton and Liberty Union candidate Ben Mitchell. Cris Ericson lives in Windsor County, while secessionist Dennis Steele calls Caledonia County home.

The War on Error

Welcome to the bizarro world of political advertising, where half-truths and distortions pose as reality.

In the debates, and again in a Republican Governors Association ad, Dubie’s team is alleging that Shumlin was a “proud architect” of Act 60 — the education-funding law approved in 1999 that raised property taxes for a lot of Vermonters.

Reality check number 1: I covered the Act 60 debate, and the true architects of Act 60 were House Democrats John Freidin of New Haven and Paul Cillo of Hardwick. In 2000, Cillo and Freidin paid the price for their hard work: Both lost their reelections. Cillo now runs the left-leaning Public Assets Institute.

Reality check number 2: Shumlin says Act 60 lowered property taxes by about $64 million. Technically true, but it raised $58 million in new, or increased, taxes to do it.

Of course, Act 60 no longer exists — Act 68 was passed in 2004 and signed into law by Gov. Jim Douglas. Act 68 raised millions more in broad-based taxes to further defray property taxes.

Shumlin didn’t hold political office in 2004. Dubie and Douglas did.

Details, details.

Shumlin was in the Senate when the legislature overrode Gov. Douglas’ 2009 budget. The disagreements were over how much money should be shifted from the general fund to the education fund — and the rules that would then apply to local school boards to ensure they didn’t raise property taxes.

To balance the budget in 2009, the legislature raised about $20 million in taxes, closing a capital gains tax deduction loophole that hit wealthy Vermonters the hardest. This year, lawmakers reopened that loophole a tiny bit by relaxing the rules for some business owners.

It should be noted that income taxes on Vermonters earning less than $200,000 a year dropped by $6 million in each of the past two years, for a total savings of $12 million.

Cash Cows

You’d think having tons of cash in the bank and negligible opposition would inspire both Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Rep. Peter Welch to dole out big bucks to their fellow Vermont Dems.

Not exactly.

Leahy is sitting on a $3.2 million campaign chest and recently added $400,000 to his Green Mountain political action committee. From that PAC, he’s doled out $180,000 to the national party and fellow congressional Dems, $10,000 of which went to Welch.

His in-state giving is less grandiose: He’s awarded a whopping $1000 to each of the statewide candidates; the maximum donation from a PAC is $3000. Welch’s campaign gave each statewide candidate $500; the maximum he can give is $2000.

Big spenders.

Leahy also donated $2000 to each of the Democratic House and Senate campaigns and plans to max out $12,000 to the Vermont Democratic Party — $10,000 to its federal committee and $2000 to its state committee.

Tea for Two

The Republicans challenging Sen. Patrick Leahy and Rep. Peter Welch aren’t making much headway in the polls. They are also struggling to raise money.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee has yet to give Leahy’s GOP challenger Len Britton the token $42,000 candidates typically get. A recent Rasmussen Reports phone survey shows Leahy besting Britton 62 to 32 percent.

Britton tells “Fair Game” he’s still hopeful his campaign will get some help from the NRSC, noting the $42,000 would buy a lot of ad time to help him improve his name recognition. Stay tuned.

The same goes for Welch’s challenger, Paul Beaudry, who is trailing Welch 64 to 30, according to a recent Rasmussen survey.

He’s not surprised. “I was not the party favorite in the primary. I was the Tea Party candidate,” said Beaudry.

He hopes to convince the national GOP to back his campaign and make the race competitive.

“I’ve been getting the complete runaround,” said Beaudry. “Every time I get a different person to call and a different number.”

Law and Order

The Vermont state troopers will endorse Democrat Peter Shumlin for governor at a press conference Wednesday, sources tell “Fair Game.”

Vermont Troopers Association president Michael O’Neil would neither confirm nor deny the news. The union chose its candidate Monday.

The troopers’ backing may shoot some holes in Republican Brian Dubie’s claim that Shumlin is soft on crime.

This isn’t the first time the VTA has dissed Dubie. They endorsed Democrat Matt Dunne in the 2006 lite-gov race.

Media Notes

The Burlington Free Press has been renamed Burlington Free Press. The tweaked logo appeared in last Thursday’s paper with no accompanying explanation.

Gone, too, is the Freeps’ front-page tagline “A Local Custom, Serving Vermont for 184 Years.” The slogan has been outsourced, er, replaced, by the paper’s website address.

Speaking of changes: The former Main Street, Montpelier, digs of the Vermont Press Bureau has a new, ink-related tenant: Venus Tattoos. The Rutland Herald and Barre-Montpelier Times Argus ditched the shared space earlier this year to move their three-person capital bureau to an office next to the Montpelier police station. The Times Argus had occupied the Montpelier storefront for more than a century.

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About The Author

Shay Totten

Shay Totten

Shay Totten wrote "Fair Game," a weekly political column, from April 2008-December 2011.


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