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Another Vermont Foursome 

Inside Track

Bernie Sanders

Published October 17, 2007 at 6:10 p.m. | Updated November 7, 2017 at 12:33 p.m.

State Senator Matt Dunne
  • State Senator Matt Dunne

State Sen. Peter Shumlin claimed again in an appearance on “The Mark Johnson Show” Monday morning that there will be a “strong” Democratic candidate for governor in 2008, but it definitely won’t be him. In fact, he doesn’t have a name . . . yet.

Missed the morning broadcast on WDEV-AM & FM, but host Johnson told “Inside Track” that Shummy of Putney cited “business and family obligations” as the reason for his non-candidacy. Sen. Shumlin said Democratic leaders had tried to talk Secretary of State Deb Markowitz into running, but she’s not interested.

Shumlin also told the radio audience, said Johnson, that Progressive Anthony Pollina, currently testing the gubernatorial waters, would have a difficult time attracting “the middle.” Shumlin was of a mind that Republican State Sen. Vince Illuzzi “would run stronger.”

Hey, how about Anthony and Vince face off in a special little Italian primary? Or run as an Italian ticket? Anything’s pastable, right?

Illuzzi-Pollina. Or, Pollina-Illuzzi?

Let’s face it. Incumbent Republican Gov. Jim Douglas looks like a very tough incumbent. The top rumor making the rounds in Vermont political circles over the past week is that a deal’s already been done — one more term as governor, then the presidency of his alma mater, Middlebury College, awaits him!

Finally, since entering the Statehouse way back in 1973, Gentleman Jim wouldn’t have to commute to work!

Of course, there’s absolutely no confirmation — nor would there be any at this point. It’s just the wildest, most entertaining, rumor of the week, and one that a couple seasoned, behind-the-scenes Vermont pros scoff at.

We’ll see.

Meanwhile, one name still being floated in Democratic Party gubernatorial circles is that of former Windsor County State Sen. Matt Dunne.

Dunne will be chairing a fundraiser next Monday night — already sold out — at The Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction. It’s the top cartooning school in the nation, said Dunne, and it’ll mean that he will be able to “check off one of those things I wanted to do before I die.”

Which is?

“Meet Garry Trudeau,” replied Matt. “He doesn’t do these things . . . ever. It’s a huge deal.” Former Gov. Madeleine Kunin will be introducing Trudeau, said Young Matt.

Had to ask: If Tony the Prog came out of the closet, so to speak, and announced his gubernatorial candidacy, would that discourage a Democrat like Dunne from jumping in?

“As I think I said before,” replied Matt, “there are going to be a lot of factors going into my decision whether or not to run, and the discussion or possibility of Anthony Pollina running is not one of them.”

Asked when he’ll have a decision on his plans for 2008, Dunne said he’s sticking to his commitment “to wait a full year after the last election to start the process of looking at a race.”

Dunne, father of a 2-year-old and a consultant for Google, said his future political possibilities “would include the possibility of running against the lieutenant governor, as well as running for governor, as well as not running this cycle. I’m sticking to that trajectory, making sure I’m doing good work for Google, and keeping the Service Politics Institute focused on its mission.”

“Service politics” — — has been a Matt Dunne trademark. In fact, on Sunday he and his crew will be partnering up with Habitat for Humanity to build a new home in Swanton.

Some Democrats are open to a Pollina head-to-head against Gov. Scissorhands, and some are not. After all, Independent U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, the man many consider the “father” of Vermont’s Progressive political movement, certainly held the left as well as the middle in his landslide victory over Republican Richie Tarrant in 2006. Where’s Dunne?

“Anthony and I have been in touch,” Dunne disclosed. “We’ve actually had coffee in Montpelier and talked about possibilities. I think some of the work that Anthony has done, particularly around trying to get a fair price for milk, has been very admirable, and I don’t think anyone would deny that.”

Dunne the Democrat told “Inside Track” that he and Pollina the Prog will have “more conversation in November.” And the goal of those chats will be to figure out “what is the best way that we will have a shot at change in our state, and where’s the best place to focus those energies.”

And what are the chances of the Democrats and Progressives burying old hatchets and coming up with a “unity” candidate to spoil GOP Jim’s plans, possibly making him available for that Middlebury presidency sooner?

“I’m not ready to speculate on that,” insisted Young Matt. “Just like I’m not ready to speculate on my plans.”

God forbid. Me neither. You?


Bernie’s Marine — First met Franklin County native Jeff Weaver back in 1986. Ronald Reagan was president. Weaver was driving Independent gubernatorial candidate Bernie Sanders’ car on the campaign trail. Jeff had just been kicked out of Boston University for protesting South African apartheid.

Weaver finished up at UVM and was driving a winner in Vermont’s 1990 U.S. House race. He went to Washington in January 1991 with Congressman Sanders. Also picked up a law degree at Georgetown and practiced a few years in downtown D.C. before signing on with Ol’ Bernardo for good in 1999. We asked the former Marine this week if he ever thought he’d end up where he is today: chief of staff for the only socialist member of the United States Senate?

“Absolutely not,” replied Weaver. “It’s a long way from those cold and sometimes lonely days in the fall of ’86.”

And we’re on the mark, said Weaver, with our observation that Sanders is loving the U.S. Senate much more than he did the House.

“Oh, no, you’re absolutely not wrong,” said Jeff. “This place is so well-suited for someone like him who is willing to step out a little bit. It gives him the opportunity to say the things that other people won’t say, or that other people won’t do.”

Like what?

Well, in the Senate, he noted, a member can bring amendments to the floor on any bill, something one cannot do in the House. And Bernie did just that recently, noted Weaver, when they were working on the immigration bill.

“All these companies wanted to bring in these foreign workers,” he said. “Bernie said, ‘If you need foreign workers, obviously we aren’t doing enough to educate American workers.’”

That argument held sway, said Jeff, “and the Senate passed Sanders’ amendment on the floor, over some pretty strong opposition, to create hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of math and science scholarships on an annual basis. It’s just an example of the things you can do in the Senate but just can’t do in the House.”

Being a “socialist,” we noted, appears to be of little import?

“No, it’s not a big deal,” said Weaver the Chief. “What people down here realize about Bernie — you’ve seen it in media stories over and over again over the years — is that even the Republicans, even the people the furthest from him on the ideological spectrum, have respect for him because they know he is a principled guy. And there’s too little of that in Washington.”

In fact, we noted, Vermont’s junior senator appears to attract a lot of interest from the foreign press, such as the BBC.

“Yes, he does,” confirmed Weaver. “He’s been getting a lot of attention both internationally and nationally because he says things that other people don’t say in a way that other people don’t say them.”


What’s ahead?

“We have a big energy bill that needs to be worked out,” said Sanders’ veteran Top Gun. The Energy and Natural Resources Committee is one of five Ol’ Bernardo sits on.

“Bernie added some pretty interesting provisions to create new, green jobs,” said Weaver. “We have some health-care legislation that we’ve been pushing to try to increase universal access for people at the state level. That’s something we’ll be working on. And we’ve got to deal with this fact that the president doesn’t want kids to have health insurance. We’ve got to deal with that problem.

“And then, needless to say, we have this war, which needs to be ended,” noted Weaver. “It’s a pretty deplorable situation.”

Thank you, George W. Bush!

“Any light on the horizon?” we inquired.

“Yeah,” replied Mr. Weaver. “It’s called the 2008 election.”


Salmon Catch — In last week’s “Inside Track,” Windsor County’s brave State’s Attorney Bobby Sand suggested the “War on Drugs” in Vermont, particularly its lopsided emphasis on prosecuting marijuana cases, is a waste of taxpayer dollars. Sand suggested someone like Democratic State Auditor Tom Salmon take a look at the situation.

Auditor Salmon, son of Democratic Gov. Thomas P. Salmon (1973-77), told “Inside Track” this week, “We are interested in all the issues related to the cost to run government.” The Department of Public Safety, said Auditor Salmon, “gets about $26 million in federal money, of which around $2 million goes to grant programs and marijuana education and drug enforcement.”

The folks at the state auditor’s office, said Tom the Younger, are “accountants.” Matters related to marijuana decriminalization, he said, “are more of a policy issue.”

But Salmon told yours truly he’d “be curious to see what law enforcement felt about this, because I know in Vermont there were about 2500 drug arrests [in 2006], and two-thirds were marijuana-related.”

That’s a whole lot of cop time, court time and corrections time, eh? For what?

“This being Mental Health Awareness Month,” said Salmon, “there is a very strong effect that all these issues have on the financial statements for the State of Vermont. And we cannot be afraid of addressing it head on.”

Tom the Younger, a CPA, sounds like he’s having an absolute ball as Vermont State Auditor. He applauds the work of his predecessors, but insists he’s got to take it to the next level.

“I’m hoping we can reform this office even further. I give my predecessors credit for their reforms, but we need to take this to a higher use and achieve more functionality. It has to improve on my watch, for sure,” said Salmon.

Sound like it’s in his blood, eh?


Our Man in China — Never did a phone interview with anyone farther away than the one the other day with State Sen. Vince Illuzzi.

The King of the Kingdom, the youngest person ever elected to the Vermont Senate at 27, was calling from Taipei, Republic of China, or, as it’s now willing to be known, Taiwan. Vince was part of a New England legislative delegation sponsored by the Vermont Chamber of Commerce. And next to Canada, Taiwan is Vermont’s top trading partner.

“You come to a country like Taiwan with certain preconceived notions,” said Illuzzi. “When I was a kid, you’d get these cheap little toys with a sticker that said ‘Made in Taiwan.’ So I’d thought I’d come here and find a Third World-like country, and it’s really anything but that.”

He was surprised, he told us, to find that “the standard of living here is almost equal to the United States.” Plus, “they all speak English.

“In fact,” said Illuzzi, “we’ve been joking today that in the next 20 to 25 years, Chinese should be our first language in America. That’s the way things seem to be developing.”

The Illuzzi delegation’s visit coincided with Taiwan’s Independence Day celebration. The United States representative blew off the island. The U.S. does not recognize Taiwan as a sovereign nation. After all, Taiwan is considered a renegade province by The People’s Republic of China, which has hundreds of missiles pointed at the island.

Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom King told “Inside Track” he was interviewed by two television stations in Taipei about the obvious slight by the Bush administration.

“As I recall it,” said Vince, “I basically said that I think most Americans know that the Taiwan-ese people are hardworking and industrious, and that Vermonters appreciate Taiwanese companies because those companies purchase many of the chips produced at IBM Essex, Vermont’s largest private employer.”

“Made in Taiwan” no longer means what it did 35 years ago, said Illuzzi. “This country has transformed itself into a high-technology R&D nation, and it is moving fast-forward to take the lead in the area of biotechnology development and manufacture, which they consider the next frontier.”

And, yes, said Vince, they have heard of Vermont.

“Most are familiar with the changing seasons in Vermont, and some have even attended schools in Boston or New York, and they have skied or at least visited Vermont,” he said. Some Taiwanese had heard of one of Vermont’s U.S. senators, and it wasn’t the former prosecutor.

“Sanders’ name has come up a couple of times,” said Illuzzi. “They find it intriguing that a person who’s declared himself a socialist at some point is in the United States Congress, and they ask questions.”

Love to hear the answers, wouldn’t you?

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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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