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Fair Game

Bernie Sanders

Published May 21, 2008 at 10:07 a.m.

Fair Game is Seven Days’ weekly political column.

Republicans must defy the laws of gravity.

That was the recommendation Lieutenant Governor and pilot Brian Dubie offered delegates at the GOP State Convention on Saturday during the folksy analogy portion of the program.

Dubie, whose family owns and runs a maple syrup operation, said Republicans must do what sugar makers do to get sap uphill and then down to the sugarhouse. He notes that he uses a "step-up" system - a series of sap lines divided and organized.

"That's what we are doing today," Dubie told the crowd. "We are dividing the work and sharing the load, and we know we have a lot of work to do in this state! We can defy gravity and we can work together to make the state a better state."

Wait - are the Republicans in this analogy identifying with the sugarmakers, the tubing or the saps, er, sap? Just kidding. I think I get it, and plenty of people in the room did, too.

Even GOP Chairman Rob Roper concedes Republicans are up against tough odds in the upcoming election cycle - even more daunting than in 2004, when tens of thousands of new voters ushered in a Democratic legislature.

"Bush fatigue is a reality. Obama mania is a reality. It's a reality that we have our work cut out for us," said Roper. Still, he said the GOP in Vermont has plenty of accomplishments to tout.

"We drove the agenda even though we didn't have the numbers," said Roper, pointing out that Republicans were able to uphold every veto of Gov. Jim Douglas, and turned back other "crazy ideas" and tax increases. Of course, they had the help of a Democrat or Independent here and there.

Speaking of Douglas, for the first time in years the governor didn't attend his party's annual convention - he was delivering the commencement address at Green Mountain College in Poultney. Instead, Douglas achieved larger-than-life status by delivering a two-minute, pre-taped message on a huge projection screen outlining his accomplishments from the past legislative session. Referencing the seats the GOP holds in the House and Senate, he explained to delegates why the "Fabulous 49ers" and the "Magnificent Seven" need allies.

Douglas' speech sounded more like a general election TV commercial than the red meat he usually delivers to the faithful. But, hey, the guy probably thinks he has the room, and the election, pretty much sewn up. Meanwhile, outgoing House Speaker Gaye Symington, his Democratic challenger, embarks on a statewide kickoff tour of her campaign this week. Progressive Anthony Pollina is in the midst of his "Build a Better Vermont" tour.

Aside from Dubie and Douglas, only one other Republican is making a bid for statewide office: Karen Karin is hoping to oust incumbent Democrat Bill Sorrell for attorney general.

There's still no sign of an opponent for U.S. Rep. Peter Welch. As he builds up a strong legislative record - and campaign coffers - taking him on will only get more difficult.

Word on the street was that Randy Brock, the former state auditor who lost after a recount in 2006 to Democrat Tom Salmon, was heavily recruited to run against Welch but decided against it. The guy's smart, and if he runs, you're more likely to see him make a bid for state senate or in a rematch against Salmon.

Yup, it's good to be an incumbent in Vermont. Just ask Douglas, Sen. Patrick Leahy, Sen. Bernie Sanders, Attorney General Sorrell, Secretary of State Deb Markowitz, Treasurer Jeb Spaulding, and the list goes on . . . Face it, we like throwing the bums back in unless they really screw up.


Old New Hampshire - One of the people responsible for getting Douglas into office was at the convention at Montpelier High School on Saturday. Jim Barnett, the former Vermont GOP chairman and executive director, was there in his official capacity with the campaign of Sen. John McCain. As McCain's New England campaign manager, he was part of the team that helped bring the Arizona senator a victory in the Granite State. It was a critical turning point in McCain's campaign and, quite possibly, in Barnett's career as well.

Barnett knows he's got his work cut out for him, but his goal is to make New Hampshire a "red" state once again. In both 2004 and 2006, the GOP suffered major losses in New Hampshire - Democrats wrested control of the state legislature and the governor's office, as well as its two congressional districts. This year, incumbent Sen. John Sununu faces a tough re-election bid. Former Gov. Jeanne Shaheen is his Democratic opponent, and she has a solid lead in early polling.


The Race for Denver - At this weekend's Democratic State Convention in Barre, a group of nearly 400 delegates will pick 10 people, and three alternates, to represent Vermont at the Democratic National Convention in Denver. Of those, four will be pledged to Sen. Hillary Clinton, six to Sen. Barack Obama. The split is based on Vermont's March presidential primary results.

Along with these 10, another 13 Vermonters will be seated at the national convention; seven of them are the so-called "superdelegates" we've heard so much about in recent weeks. Six more - and one alternate - will be picked on June 7 by the 10 delegates who win in Barre on Saturday.

Competition for these coveted slots has been heavy, and one of the highest-profile contenders is Philip Baruth. The blogger ("Vermont Daily Briefing"), University of Vermont professor and novelist is an avowed Barack Obama supporter who bought his way into a fundraiser in 2007 and wrote about it on his blog.

"I was on the bandwagon for Obama before there was a band. Or a wagon," Baruth explained in an email. "I was a founding member of Vermonters for Obama in November of 2006, months before he declared. And in a year where Hillary Clinton has made it clear that flipping pledged delegates is a key part of her ongoing strategy, I think loyalty to and longevity with the candidate are at a premium."

Founding-fan status may not be enough for Baruth. Politicos such as Sen. Peter Shumlin and Chittenden County State's Attorney T.J. Donovan are also seeking the coveted seats.

Why? Regardless of who wins the nomination - the first African-American candidate or the first female candidate - the convention will be historic.

Democrats will send an equal number of male and female delegates to the convention. Of the six Obama slots, only three will go to men. Two alternates will be picked, one of each gender. More than 100 people are in contention.

Clinton supporters will get two slots per gender, and the one alternate will be a woman, according to party officials. About 50 people are competing for these slots.

Vermont's superdelegates are: national committeewoman Billi Gosh, national committeeman Chuck Ross, Party Chair Ian Carleton, Party Vice Chair Judy Bevans, Sen. Patrick Leahy, Rep. Peter Welch and former Gov. Howard Dean. Of these delegates, Gosh is the only one committed to Clinton. Dean is abstaining since he is the current DNC chairman.

Gosh will have more influence at the convention if she is reelected to the influential DNC Credentials Committee. This group "credentials" delegates to be seated, and there has been much ado about whether some, or none, of the delegates from Michigan and Florida should be allowed to vote at the convention. Both states broke party rules by holding their primaries earlier than they were supposed to.

A special DNC rule-making committee could decide on May 31 whether to seat those delegates, and the credentials committee would then be charged with upholding that decision. If for some reason Clinton has not bowed out by convention time, she would be the big winner of delegates from those states. Obama was not on the ballot in Michigan, and he did not campaign in Florida.

For her part, Gosh will remain loyal to her candidate until the end. She won't be the Clinton superdelegate who switches to Obama and ends up on "Larry King Live."

"I take my signal from Hillary Clinton and, although I'm free to do whatever I want, I am very loyal and I have seen loyalty dissolve all around me," said Gosh, who sits in on weekly phone calls with the Clinton campaign.

"I talked to her [recently] and thanked her for sticking in there, and commended her on what a wonderful role model for women and girls she is providing - that when the going gets tough, to keep on going," said Gosh.

No matter who wins in the Democratic primary, Gosh will support the party's nominee.


The Doctor Is Out - Single-payer health-care advocate and physician Deb Richter will not be a candidate for lieutenant governor after all. This also means my predecessor Peter Freyne will remain idle. The rumors were true: Freyne was considering a role in the good doctor's campaign.

So, who will challenge Dubie?

Pollina supporters dismiss all rumors that their candidate might slide over to run for the number-two spot, leaving Douglas and Symington to duke it out for number one.

Meanwhile Sen. Jim Condos of Chittenden County, once considered a top pick, is not running for LG. Nor, according to party sources, is Sen. John Campbell, the senate majority leader.

The likely Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor may not even be a legislator. Imagine that.

The Stimulator? - Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is known as The Terminator from his film "star" days. Could Gov. Douglas get his own rep as The Stimulator?

You'd think so by listening to the old-guard business leaders at the Lake Champlain Regional Chamber of Commerce. Headed by former Douglas administration official Tom Torti, the group held a presser on Monday to praise Douglas in person for the economic stimulus package he squeaked through at the end of the legislative session.

Douglas purports the package is worth $200 million. Dems argue it's closer to $50 million, and that the package was largely composed of items they had already introduced and were prepared to pass.

Asked whether any Dems had been invited to share credit with Douglas, chamber officials looked at each other awkwardly until the governor piped up, singling out Burlington Rep. Mark Larson. Larson chaired a key panel at session's end that came up with a compromise economic package everyone could support. Larson is considered a strong favorite to replace Symington at the speaker's podium come January. He does face competition, though, from Rep. Shap Smith of Morrisville and Rep. Floyd Nease of Johnson.

Only Channel 17, Nancy Remsen of The Burlington Free Press and Seven Days witnessed the event. No Vermont Public Radio, no WPTZ, and - the big shocker - no WCAXa. Wow, WCAX missed a feel-good event with business leaders and the governor!

Someone pinch me.

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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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