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End of Silence 

Inside Track

Bernie Sanders

Published September 6, 2006 at 4:00 p.m.

Remember the date - September 4, 2006. It's the day more than 1000 Vermonters, led by End of Nature author Bill McKibben, rallied in Burlington's Battery Park to make the loud, clear and passionate statement that global warming - the accelerating, human-produced, deadly warming of the Earth's atmosphere caused by burning fossil fuels - is now Public Enemy No. 1.

"The politicians who say this is a second-tier issue are wrong," McKibben said to the very large and attentive crowd. "People care deeply about the future of this planet, for their children and their grandchildren," he insisted to loud applause.

The rally concluded a five-day global warming protest march that started in Ripton. Each day, as news of the walk got out, more people from all over Vermont joined in.

"There's nothing we've ever figured out to do that imperils more of the planet than this," said McKibben. "The last set of studies I saw showed that if sea levels rise as expected in the next few decades, it'll create 150 million environmental refugees - people on the run. That's more refugees than all the bloody wars of the last century combined created!"

Does put it in perspective, doesn't it?

Mr. McKibben has given countless speeches since his environmental bestseller End of Nature came out in 1989. And, let me tell you, the gentle Methodist has just about had it with being gentle.

"This country has seen a 15-year bipartisan effort to accomplish absolutely nothing!" scoffed Ol' Bill to roars from the crowd. "We need dramatic action quickly!"

How quickly?

Well, yesterday would have been nice.

"It is too late to utterly prevent climate change," Ol' Bill told his audience, "but it is not too late to keep it from getting any worse than it has to get. We are very near a tipping point."

A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step, eh?

Veteran environmental warrior Elizabeth Courtney from the Vermont Natural Resources Council - http://www.vnrc.org - looked out at a crowd that was triple the size expected. Courtney delightedly noted that this global warming rally in Burlington, Vermont, "takes us out of the age of scientific study and into the age of political action." Elizabeth encouraged all "to think of this march as the first step, not the last step." In fact, she called it "the very first step in a marathon for our grandchildren."

Let's hope so, eh? Because Billy-Boy McKibben talks to climate scientists a whole lot more than we do.

"In the last 18 months the tone of voice in the leading climatologists around the world has changed dramatically," said Ol' Bill. "They've been worried and watchful for a long time. Now they are scared."

He noted that Jim Hansen, the lead climate scientist at NASA, said earlier this year "that we have 10 years in order to reverse the flow of carbon into the atmosphere. He meant it," said McKibben. "We can't do it the way we're going now."

P.S. All the usual suspects were there, candidate-wise: Independent Bernie Sanders for U.S. Senate and Democrats Peter Welch for the U.S. House and Scudder Parker for governor.

Incumbent, two-term Republican Gov. Jim Douglas did not show. Given his line-in-the-sand opposition to commercial, utility-size wind energy development in Vermont, it wasn't a big surprise. But Republican wannabes Richard Tarrant (U.S. Senate) and Martha Rainville (U.S. House) did attend and speak - gutsy moves. They also signed the pledge to support Sen. Jim Jeffords and cosponsor Patrick Leahy's goal of a 20-percent renewable energy standard by 2020.

"We have to keep partisanship out of this issue," said Richie Rich. "I'm a good salesman," he said. "I can make it happen."

Marvelous Martha was a surprise show, too, given her recent comments describing global warming as just a theory. A month ago she told us, "The questions [about global warming] are still out there and are the matter of some debate." Her party leaders are no help.

As Ol' Bernardo remarked earlier, "We have a president who has the worst environmental record in the history of our country." And the GOP chairman of the Senate's environment committee, Bernie continued, "believes that global warming is one of the great hoaxes ever perpetrated on the American people."

Martha has apparently changed her tune somewhat. She called for bipartisanship and ending complacency, and she didn't duck the obvious smack dab in front of her eyes.

"Looking out," she said, "it's great to see people involved with political stickers on, but I don't see many Republican stickers. And if this is going to work, if we're going to make the changes we have to make in this society, we have to find ways to bring people together so we can all work on it. No one can do it alone."

Hear that, Gov. Scissorhands?


Primary Fights - Next Tuesday, Vermont's unique little pack of "fall-is-in-the-air" primary voters get their biennial thrills. Primary voters are a very select group. They have above-average intelligence, are better-looking, funnier, need less deodorant, and are better in bed.

If you don't believe it, then you obviously don't vote in primaries!

More than 300,000 Vermont voters cast ballots in the 2004 presidential election. In next Tuesday's primary, only about 60,000 will. Truth be told, it's been pretty much just the political junkies paying attention so far, and Tarrant's TV commercials have actually driven up deodorant sales in Vermont.

The hot primary race two years ago was the Democratic contest for Lite-Gov. Incumbent Republican Brian Dubie had snatched the post in 2002, benefiting from a three-way race and the resulting bloodbath on the left between Democrat Peter Shumlin and Progressive Anthony Pollina.

Dubie's luck continued improving in 2004 as two former Democrat state senators - Jan Backus and Cheryl Rivers - went head-to-head. Rivers beat Backus 14,819 to 12,931. Her joy of victory was short-lived, however.

Two months later, voters showed a clear (56 to 36 percent) preference for Doobie-Doo, the likable conservative, over Ma Rivers, the punchy progressive Democrat who couldn't get beyond her party's base.

Of course, Rivers had a true Progressive Party candidate, State Rep. Steve Hingtgen (7 percent), nipping at her heels. And the Democrat running for governor, Peter Clavelle, didn't exactly help, did he?

Whew! At least, you're thinking, the Vermont left won't be stupid enough to repeat that 2004 train wreck, right?


The fiftysomething House Health Care King, Rep. John Tracy of Burlington, is in a hard-fought primary battle with State Sen. Matt Dunne, the thirtysomething gonna-be-somebody-someday state senator from Hartland.

Over the last 12 years, Tracy has undergone a remarkable and successful transformation from a house-husband, stay-at home-dad and evening bar manager at Nectar's to a polished, articulate master of the political dialect in Montpeculiar. He can literally talk health care to death! We've never seen him sharper or better spoken than we have in the last month.

Dunne is a well educated, liberal/progressive Democrat with a thirst for organizing and networking. Besides his recent senate duties, Matt earlier was the national director of AmeriCorpsVISTA. And prior to that, Ol' Matt was a four-term state representative, first elected to the Vermont House at 22.

Both candidates have the experience and qualifications. After all, the only duties of Lite-Gov in Vermont are to 1.) Preside over the state senate when it's in session. 2.) Get elected to something better some day. Some succeed at #2; some don't.

So who wins this baby?

Well, as we write this Tuesday, Tracy's website - http://www.johnpatricktracy.com - hasn't been updated in four days.

Dunne's website - http://www.mattdunne.com - looks much fresher.

"Just one week left" is the headline on the home page this morning - one week before the primary. There's also a candidate's calendar for the week ahead, listing house parties and service projects such as a barn painting at a South Burlington youth home and a riverwalk cleanup in Bennington.

Advantage Dunne.

Also, John-John has a page on which he proudly posts the names of his supporters from under the Golden Dome. Tracy is a former leader of the House Democratic caucus. He lists the names of 35 members of that caucus as his supporters on Primary Day. He also lists four state senators, four Democrats who are not backing their fellow state senator in this one: Sens. Jim Condos, Jim Leddy, Ed Flanagan and John Campbell.

The first three are from Chittenden County. Campbell, however, is, like Dunne, one of three senators from Windsor County. Peter Welch is the third.

On his website, Young Dunne posts endorsements by 12 fellow senators, including Hinda Miller from Burlap and Peter Welch, his other seatmate. And, surprisingly, State Sen. Dunne out-polled State Rep. Tracy for endorsements from fellow Democrats in the House, with 40.

"Inside Track" prediction: Matt Dunne.


Where It Leads? - Winning the Democratic Lite-Gov primary will leave an uphill fight for Candidate Dunne. Recently Incumbent Brian Dubie distanced himself from Gov. Douglas, his running mate, by singing the praises of utility-sized, wind-power projects on Vermont ridgelines. That will make Dubie more likable, eh?

On his other side, Dunne has Progressive Marvin Malek, M.D., snapping at his heels over America's out-of-control health-care costs - the most expensive on Planet Earth.

Doobie-Doo remains the favorite for reelection in November. It'll take a very big, anti-Republican wave to oust him.


Kiss Press - Burlington's Progressive Party Mayor Bob Kiss told "Inside Track" the other day he strongly supports selling over 199 acres of city land in the Intervale to the nonprofit Intervale Center for $200,000. A presentation to the city council was scheduled for Tuesday night after our deadline, with a vote likely in two weeks. Our sources indicate the city council looks to be 8 to 6 for adoption.

That'll sure make for a very lively debate, eh? Looks like the four Progs, the two Independents and two Democrats versus two Republicans and four Democrats! That's with Ian Carleton, the Democratic city council president and state Democratic party chairman, backing rookie Mayor Bob Kiss on this one.

Mayor Kiss said he considers the Intervale Center - http://www.intervale.org - the land's "best steward." He said the city and the Center have "a common vision" for the flood plain acres.

"I don't have any hesitation," Kiss told us, "to making that commitment to using this land for agricultural and recreational purposes into the future."

Burlington's soft-spoken mayor also responded to our noting his lack of press conferences.

"Whether there are press conferences or not," said Kiss, "I do think it's important for the mayor to communicate with people so I did do one newsletter [called] From the Desk of the Mayor.

Hey, one newsletter every five months - are you serious? Your predecessor Peter Clavelle pumped his "Friday Letters" out weekly.

Everybody's different.

"I'll continue to do newsletters," continued Kiss. "I'll continue to be on the "Charlie & Ernie Show" [on 620 WVMT-AM] and do "5:25 Live" [on Ch. 17]. It's important, I think, for people to hear from the mayor. And there will be press conferences."

Hey, no rush. It's a three-year term, and right now you've got to get through what could be your first nasty public hissing match since becoming mayor. Good luck.

P.S. Perhaps Mayor Kiss' lower emphasis on media attention than his Prog forebearers, Bernie Sanders and Peter Clavelle, reflects a difference in career goals? So we asked him: Mayor Kiss doesn't have any plans way back in the back of his head about running for president, does he?

"That's safe to say," replied Mayor Bob.

And Mayor Kiss does not have any plans to run for governor of Vermont?

"That's safe, too" he replied.

Whew! A guy who just wants to be the best Burlington mayor he can be? No dreams of higher office than this.



Correction - Last week, yours truly screwed up the 1980 Vermont governor's race. It wasn't Incumbent Republican Richard Snelling beating Democrat Ed Granai. That was 1978. In 1980, King Richard the Lionhearted trounced Jerry Diamond. And in 1982 he did likewise to Lt. Gov. Madeleine Kunin before taking 1984 off.

But back to Ed Granai. He sent us an email alerting us to our 1980 mistake. (Veteran GOP state senate candidate Dennis Delaney called, too.) Sorry, guys.

Granai, now 75, forwarded a 50-year remembrance he'd sent to his old college yearbook that's worth a read:

Ironically, my life's vocational highlight was a losing political race in 1978. Having served as the Majority Whip in the Vermont House of Representatives, the Democratic Party nominated me to take on the incumbent Republican Governor. The Attorney General and the House Speaker, both higher Democrat office holders, had decided not to try to unseat the incumbent. Next in line for consideration as an electable candidate, I was confident that, not only could I win, but that I could make things better for my fellow Vermonters.

I lost the campaign but gained an elevated view of humanity. In that six-month campaign I got to shake a lot of hands and talk with a lot of folks about things that mattered. It was an unforgettable and uplifting experience. It sealed my belief in the basic good will and intent of the average citizen.

After his 1978 defeat, Ol' Ed went on to serve in the Vermont Senate and as state party chairman and Democratic National Committee member. What's he doing these days?

"In the mornings I try to write for a couple of hours," he replied, "then go to the Y to exercise.

"In the afternoon, at age 75, I read, nap and look forward to my happy-hour martini!"

Good man.

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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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