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Fear of Dwyer Unites Old Political Enemies 

Published June 28, 2000 at 1:00 a.m.

It’s a very old political axiom, and this week it came from the lips of Republican gubernatorial candidate Ruth Dwyer. “Politics,” Mrs. Dwyer told Seven Days, “sure makes for strange bedfellows.”

No question about it. And Ruthie’s candidacy is causing some longtime political foes — people who have hardly been on speaking terms — to swallow their pride and their politics and jump into the sack side by each. Amazing!

Ruthless Ruth the Republican was referring to last week’s love fest on a hillside in Hartland Four Corners. There, before a gathering of about 200 like-minded souls, two historic rival chieftains in the Vermont Democrat Party temporarily buried the hatchet and joined arms in their quest to do everything legally possible to prevent Ruth Dwyer of Thetford from becoming Vermont’s next governor.

One chieftain was Gov. Howard B. Dean III, the venerable incumbent, who is seeking a fifth term. The Lord of the Middle.

The other was former Windsor County State Sen. Peter Welch, the distinguished, bald-headed liberal, who was the last Democrat to run for governor before the Howard Dean Era kicked in way back when.

Believe me, these two guys ain’t ever been buddies. Over the years, Peter the Liberal has been unable to conceal his antipathy for the Republican in Democrat clothes who stole the top job. In the 1980s, when Madeleine Kunin was governor, Welch was the unofficial head of the left wing of the Vermont Democrat Party, and in those days, Vermont’s Democrat party was pretty much all left-wing.

Today, Welch is a good friend and staunch supporter of U.S. Senate candidate Ed Flanagan. Dean positively detests Flanagan. Go figure.

A decade ago, in his race for governor against the powerful Republican war horse, Dick Snelling — a race Ho-Ho wisely took a pass on — Peter Welch was the first prominent Democrat to come out of the closet and bravely endorse Bernie Sanders, the renegade socialist, for Congress.

Sanders won a House seat that November. Welch lost to Snelling. A year and a half later, Richard Snelling died in office. Dean, the lieutenant governor, ascended to the top spot and he’s been there since, an immovable object.

Last Thursday’s event, at the home of Welch and his wife Joan Smith, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at UVM, was a fundraiser for Dean’s reelection campaign.

It’s said in politics, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.” In this case, Welch’s enemy is Ruth Dwyer, a conservative Republican. Therefore, that makes Dwyer’s enemy, Howard Dean, Peter Welch’s new-found friend. Pure Machiavelli. The downside is, Peter the Apostle also gets to play the role of Judas Iscariot in the Anthony Pollina Superstar musical.

Pollina is the gubernatorial candidate of the new Progressive Party and a longtime political ally of Welch. Tony the Prog just qualified for $265,000 in public campaign financing. He’s bright and articulate, and his resume includes all the best left-wing checkpoints, from a senior policy role at VPIRG to faithful service on Congressman Bernie Sanders’ staff.

But to Howard Dean, Tony the Prog is a spoiler. The word the Dean Team is putting out is “A vote for Pollina is a vote for Dwyer.” Ho-Ho is plainly worried Tony the Prog will bleed him on his left flank, while Ruth Dwyer bites into his right flank. No question, he should be worried.

“This election,” explained Judas, sorry, Peter, “is quite unique. There’s a volatile situation as a result of civil unions.” Mr. Welch said he thinks the governor did the right thing on civil unions. However, “If there is a backlash,” said Welch, “we’re going to see it in this election.”

Worst-case scenario — Ruth Dwyer becomes governor. To Welch and many other proud Vermont liberals, Dwyer is viewed as a Great Satan, the second coming of the Third Reich, almost larger than life. She opposes the things they cherish, like Act 60 and civil unions. Their tactic has been to demonize her. Months ago, Gov. Dean labeled her an “extremist.” And abortion-rights activists who support Ho-Ho called her “dangerous.”

But viewers who watched Mrs. Dwyer’s appearance Sunday morning on Ch. 3’s “You Can Quote Me” saw a candidate who looked normal and sounded reasonable and intelligent. And that’s what’s got Howard Dean really worried.

“I think she’s a very capable candidate,” said Welch. “She’s effective in her presentation. She did extremely well in her debates with Dean in the last election.” Welch also noted some improvement in her delivery. “It appears as if she’s gone to candidate finishing school,” he told Seven Days. “Her capacity to articulate a message that’s appealing is significant,” he added almost approvingly. “She’s not anyone that can be disregarded as an idle threat.”

Welch told Seven Days it was the governor himself who bridged the moat between them when he called a few weeks ago to personally ask for Welch’s support.

After nine years in office, Ho-Ho is finally reaching out for a life preserver from the wing of the party he has successfully muzzled and reprogrammed. When Dr. Dean took the throne back in 1991, “fiscal conservative” was not in the Democrats’ dictionary. Today, they have it stamped on their foreheads.

Welch said he’s backing Dean because a Gov. Dwyer would turn back the clock on all the things he holds dear, like environmental protection and health care for children. He said his endorsement of Dean rather than Pollina, an old comrade-in-arms, “is in the best interest of preserving the things I care about.” He said he thinks the world of Anthony, “both politically and personally,” but the Ruth Dwyer threat is real. “I’ve concluded the right thing to do is to support Dean,” said Welch.

Needless to say, Mrs. Dwyer is getting a kick out of watching Howard Dean dump on Anthony Pollina while crawling on his hands and knees to ask for Peter Welch’s support.

“Poor Anthony,” lamented Ruth. “I think he’s getting screwed,” she said. “They’re scared and it shows.”

And how’s poor Anthony taking the betrayal by his old pal Judas, sorry, Peter, and the other leftists rallying to the Dean cause?

“I take it okay,” Pollina told Seven Days. “People have to make their own decisions. It’s unfortunate,” he said, “some people are falling for the politics of fear.” Pollina agreed with Dwyer that Gov. Dean is “running scared.” The governor, he said, “is actually reaching out to liberals he has abandoned in the past, and I assure you, he will abandon them again.”

According to Pollina, “Dean’s strategy is to make Ruth Dwyer the issue. That way,” said Tony the Prog, “he won’t have to talk about the real issues.”

Interesting race, eh?

Law of the Land — This Saturday, July 1, Vermont’s landmark civil-union law goes into effect. Get ready for one final international media gang bang. The TV cameras will find no shortage of same-sex “I dos.” And hey, you guys with the cameras, for chrissakes, be sure and get your lenses in there for close-ups of the mouth-to-mouth kisses. Hey, how about slow-motion replay?

Many — yours truly among them — will mark the day as a historic step forward for individual liberty and freedom. Others will scorn the occasion as a defeat for “traditional” marriage and their religion-based morality. They’ll be thinking Sodom and Gomorrah is right around the corner.

Of course, we can’t forget that just 400 years ago a curious gentleman named Copernicus was similarly being condemned by the Catholic bishops. In the course of history, 400 years is but a millisecond. Copernicus was in serious hot water for daring to suggest Planet Earth was not the center of Almighty God’s universe. At the time, his was a disgusting, immoral and heretical point of view. Parents of that day were, no doubt, losing sleep worrying schools might start teaching crap like that to their kids. Then what?

Our best guess is, Vermont society will not only survive the arrival of legal civil love unions, but even thrive. A bit of a boom in the tourism sector would not be a surprise.

Photo-Op City — Sometimes it takes a seasoned pro like Republican U.S. Senator Jim Jeffords to show everyone how it’s done. Jeezum Jim’s Monday media event was a textbook example of how a politician should properly employ props to garner TV attention. The senator held a press conference on the lawn of Mike Moffat’s house on Airport Parkway in South Burlington. The subject was our national and regional energy policy. Yours truly had a tough time hearing Ol’ Jeezum. The passing traffic on the busy thoroughfare drowned out most of his speech. No problem. This one wasn’t about words. It was about pictures.

Jeezum stood behind a podium affixed with his official U.S. Senate seal. Behind him was the Patterson Fuels delivery truck. He urged folks not to wait until the snow flies to fill up their fuel tanks. He also released a letter he’d sent President Bill Clinton alerting Monica’s ex to the looming home heating oil crisis in New England. Then Sen. Jeffords personally attached the truck’s delivery hose to the spigot. Jeezum Jim had the expression of a kid in a candy store posing for the cameras as the No. 2 heating oil was pumped into Mr. Moffat’s basement tank. It took all of 60 seconds. Four hours later, Sen. Jeffords was splashed over the TV news Monday night playing oil delivery man.

And surprisingly, the Jeffords photo-op wasn’t considered a campaign event by Team Jeffords. Members of his senate staff were present, rather than campaign staffers. Turns out Mr. Moffat is a fishing buddy of Tom Berry, Jeezum’s natural resources coordinator.

Last week, one of Jeezum’s Democrat challengers, Jan Backus, released a letter she’d sent the President requesting New England be included in the FTC investigation of soaring gasoline prices, and warned of the consequences on the home heating oil front this winter. Jeffords’ non-campaign event was scheduled the day after Backus’ press release went out. What a coincidence, eh?

As we mentioned, the photo-op fill-up only took a minute. Jason Harvey, vice president of Patterson Fuels, only pumped 38 gallons into the 275-gallon tank. He told us he was a little wary because he noticed the vent pipe on Mr. Moffat’s tank “did not appear to be up to code.”

We trust you’ll have that checked out real soon, Mike, okay?

P.S. Congressman Bernie Sanders was on the House floor Tuesday raising the same alarm. Sanders said, “Last year, home heating oil prices were the highest they have ever been in history. And now, we are faced with a home heating oil stockpile that is 37 percent lower than last year. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that we are setting ourselves up for a huge heating oil crisis next year unless Congress and the White House act decisively.”

Just in case they don’t, it might be a good idea to stock up on fleece.

More Dingleberry Stuff — You bet there are more names to add to the growing list of prominent Vermonters who are graduates of Middlebury College. This week we add four names to the list. One pair matriculated in the 1960s. The other in the 1970s. The first pair ended up in the Vermont media. The second got into politics. Give up?

Joel Najman and Andy Potter, class of 1967, were fraternity brothers at Phi Kappa Tau in their days at Middlebury. It seems like they’ve been on the Vermont airwaves almost forever. Mr. Najman is currently the news director at Ken Squier’s flagship radio station WDEV-AM and FM in Waterbury. Joel moonlights, however, on Vermont Public Radio, where he produces and hosts the most informative oldies show you’d ever want to hear. “My Place” airs Saturday nights and is in its 16th season. Joel grew up in the Bronx and knows more about those early days of rock ’n’ roll than anyone on Earth.

Andy Potter has been a fixture on the Burlington radio dial since the 1970s. Recently he finally made the jump to television. You may know him as the rumpled, street-smart reporter on WCAX-TV covering City Hall with a very professional, no-bullshit style. If Tom Waits were a TV news reporter, he’d be Andy Potter “barreling down the boulevard, looking for the heart of Saturday night.” It’s to Ch 3’s credit they passed over the hundreds of resume tapes from young, cookie-cutter TV wannabes to sign up an experienced, solid journalist like Mr. Potter. Age may dim the beauty, but it sure helps with the journalistic savvy.

The other dynamic duo of Dingleberry alums who today are among the “prominent” members of Vermont society are State Reps. Dean Corren and Terrill Bouricius. Ah, yes, the Self-Righteous Brothers!

Enough said.

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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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