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Inside the Backlash 

Inside Track

Published July 26, 2000 at 4:50 p.m.

If you’ve been following the political trail in the pages of the local daily lately, this is the picture you get: Veteran Statehouse Democrats are dropping out of the legislature like mosquitoes caught in a cloud of civil-unions bug spray. Rather than face the ignominy of defeat in November, 19 Democrats are chickening out. Four in the state Senate and 15 in the House.

The Republican Party, as the story goes, is salivating at the prospects of reclaiming the mountain top. GOP state chairman Patrick Garahan is biting his lip to stifle the smile that’s erupting across his cleanly shaven, pro-heterosexual, Republican face. The Democrats got into bed with the homosexual community and made the national gay agenda their battle cry. In November, the story goes, they will pay the piper for this abominable tune, and they will pay mightily! Happy days are here again for the Vermont Republican Party!

At least that’s the scenario being scripted in the pages of Vermont’s largest daily. The hammer’s going to fall, so all you Democrat mice better run for your lives! Judgment Day is approaching! Just read the full-page ads from the lunatic fringe if you don’t believe me.

And it’s not just The Burlington Free Press. The electronic press appears to develop an erection every time there’s a hint of the new civil-unions legislation having a negative impact on life as we know it.

What’s next? “Concorde Crashes in Paris — Vermont Civil Unions the Likely Culprit?” Or “Popular Burlington Beach Closed by Fecal Coliform — Civil Unions to Blame?” Or how about “Heavy Snow in the Forecast — God’s Revenge for Civil Unions?”

Yes, we exaggerate, but only to make the point. If there’s an earthquake in Vermont tomorrow, civil unions will be blamed by some. After all, since the country was founded, superstition has been a cherished constitutional right.

For readers who are just passing through our beautiful patch on holiday, you may be wondering if all this is about the Civil War. It isn’t.

“Civil Union” is the new law in Vermont that literally legalizes love for all citizens, be they straight or be they gay. The democratically elected government of the Green Mountains has, by majority vote of both houses of its bicameral legislature, leveled the playing field for all two-legged animals. They did it in a civil manner after hearing from thousands and thousands of constituents in Vermont and interested axe-grinding citizens from out-of-state. In the end, the sanctity of marriage was extended to sanctify the love and commitment of any two unrelated adults who wish to pledge their troth for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do them part — or divorce court, whichever comes first.

Hey, let’s hear it for love, which is already on the endangered species list as it is.

Needless to say, the new law does not enjoy unanimous support. No law ever does. A number of people, who are masters at rowing a boat with just one oar in the water, have jumped on the public stage to expose their genius. They claim to represent God. But we talked to God the other day down on the Burlington bike path, and She said She had not authorized anyone to speak for Her, so go figure.

In fact God, who’s been around a long time — even before the Abenakis — told us She’s observed a direct correlation between the chafing yuckiness of the strident, self-righteous opponents of legalized love and poor potty-training when they were toddlers. No kidding.

God said, in an exclusive Seven Days interview, “It’s more than coincidence that folks like Nancy Sheltra and Brian Pearl blurt out such gross and disgusting things because, when they were little babies, they never properly learned the fine art of holding it, if you know what I mean. Thus,” said God, “as adults they swim in it.”

Once again, God hit the old nail right on the head! Wish we’d had our tape recorder with us. But in all seriousness, riddle me this: If Vermont’s landmark, benchmark civil-rights law is going to spell political doom for all the politicians who supported it, explain what’s going on in Hinesburg?

For the last six years, the Chittenden-6 district has been represented in Montpelier by Rep. Bill Lippert, a Democrat. A liberal-progressive Democrat.

And more than that, Billy the Lip had quite the Winter of Civil Unions. It was a winter he’ll never forget. It was Mr. Lippert’s moment in the spotlight.

As the only “openly gay” lawmaker out of 180 (a title used to distinguished Lippert from the non-openly gay lawmakers, the openly non-gay lawmakers, the not openly non-gay lawmakers, the completely unopenable lawmakers and the hovering press), Billy the Lip was quoted globally from Paris, France, to Perth, Australia. In his dramatic floor speech, Billy the Lip thanked his colleagues on the Judiciary Committee — Republican, Democrat and Progressive — for doing the right thing. For sending a message “that it is time to take another piece of the hatred and the discrimination and the prejudice and remove it ... to embrace our neighbors, to affirm committed, loving relationships and to affirm our common humanity.”

Pretty radical stuff, eh? If anyone would be on the right-wing, party-of-God, Take-Back-Vermont hit-list, you’d think it’d be Rep. William Lippert.

But guess what? Not one, repeat, not one anti-civil unions zealot has stepped forward to challenge Billy the Lip. Not one member of the Patrick Garahan Party of God has followed through on all the angry threats of retribution we’ve been hearing for months. Not one. Lippert is running unopposed.

And in Burlington, Ch. 3 reported Monday night a Blue Dog Democrat, Rep. Jim McNamara, has a primary opponent who’s motivated by McNamara’s vote on civil unions. McNamara voted against the legislation.

Challenger Mark Larson told Andy Potter, “My perspective is that gay and lesbian couples are a strong part of our community, and they are families within our community. And I don’t believe in government that excludes people.”

Pretty radical stuff, eh?

And in Chittenden 5-1, which covers parts of Shelburne and Williston, Republican Rep. George Schiavone has a Progressive challenger who didn’t like his no vote on civil unions, either.

Of course, Garahan’s Party of God will point to the challenger taking on Republican Rep. Tom Little of Shelburne, one of 15 House Republicans who stood up to the fear mongers. Big Mr. Little, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, is widely acknowledged as one of the genuine class acts under the golden dome. He said it was a good thing to be challenged because “the public gets a better idea of who you are and what you stand for.”

Little’s big challenge comes from a gentleman by the name of Rod Fisher. Mr. Fisher told Ch. 3 the civil-unions law prompted him to run. But here’s the funny part. Mr. Fisher declined to be interviewed on camera. What kind of political candidate turns down free airtime?

Experience tells us, the kind with less than two oars in the water do. The kind that are afraid to have their face attached to bigotry and intolerance. The kind that may have flunked Dr. Spock’s potty course back in diaper days. Candidate Fisher apparently prefers to remain anonymous. Cool.

New Talker Hits the Airwaves

Yes, that was James Dwinell behind the microphone Monday and Tuesday for the vacationing Mark Johnson on the stations of Radio Vermont.

Which reminds me. Some of you probably are not aware yours truly also freelances news reports on the same airwaves. Everything from Howard Dean on lingerie to the latest jury verdict. Now you know. (WIZN-FM on Wednesday mornings, during The Howard Stern Show, is a whole other ball game.) There. This is what’s known as “full disclosure.” And regular readers know our association has never stopped us from voicing criticism of Radio Vermont programming when appropriate. Hey, it’s still a free country, thank God!

Jimmy the Joker’s latest role on the Vermont stage was as executive director of the Vermont Republican Party. Before that, two years ago, King James gave Ed Flanagan a few headaches when he challenged him for state auditor. Mr. Dwinell, raised in the pre-Interstate Vermont, has, shall we say, the gift of gab. And, like many of that ilk, it’s ended up working to his disadvantage at times. Chairman Garahan was nothing short of positively delighted when Dwinell departed. Can anyone name Dwinell’s replacement?

Didn’t think so.

Dwinell is a natural troublemaker. The “GOP Update” column he authored while on the party payroll is sorely missed by political junkies across the spectrum. Maybe talk radio is his next calling?

Anyway, there he was Tuesday morning interviewing Republican rising star Skip Vallee, of gasoline fame. Mr. Vallee’s running for state Senate. There was so much butt-kissing going on we had to call in to point out that, had not Vermont’s sodomy laws been repealed in the 1970s, Gasoline Vallee and Jimmy the Joker would be at risk of arrest.

But the real reason for our call was simple curiosity. It’s received remarkably little attention, but some may recall the case of Dan Hillard. Mr. Hillard was Mr. Garahan’s predecessor as chairman of the Vermont Republican Party. Very charming gentleman. Personable and well-groomed. An insurance salesman by trade. An unfortunate thing happened to Mr. Hillard a couple years ago — he got indicted for fraud and embezzlement. Last summer Dan Hillard pleaded guilty in federal court to embezzlement. Now you remember? The sleazebag who got caught stealing from a little old lady in Bethel, Vt.. Tsk, tsk, tsk.

We asked the Republican talk-show buddies Tuesday morning if they knew whatever became of Chairman Hillard, and guess what?

Neither one had a clue.

Hey, everybody can’t know everything, otherwise there’d be too many smart people all at once and it’d be a huge traffic jam on the information highway. So we called U.S. District Court. Mr. Hillard’s sentencing was originally to have occurred last November, but it was postponed. Mr. GOP is now expected to appear before U.S. District judge Garvan Murtha in Brattleboro on August 23 at 10 a.m.

Do you think Mr. Garahan, Mr. Vallee or Mr. Dwinell will be anywhere near Brattleboro that day?

Media Notes

Gone like the wind? That would be Brooke Murphy, the weekend weather girl at WCAX TV who vanished from the box a couple weeks back. Bummer. She sure wasn’t here very long, but L’il Brooke was fun to watch. Word from WCAX is, she just didn’t fancy Vermont and headed back west.

Okay, Jim, you can take down the ugly sign now! “Jim” would be the publisher/boss of The Burlington Free Press, Jim Carey. And the sign is the tacky banner tied to the front of 191 College Street between the second and third floors. The sign announces the paper is finally, at long last, posting news content on their website. Wow! Lately, if it wasn’t for the wire stories out of Rhode Island, Connecticut, Maine and Massachusetts, the Freeps would have had an empty “local news” section.

We checked with the city — the banner’s legal for 30 days. No permit necessary. The ordinance was written to facilitate “going-out-of-business” sales.

Yeah, I know, don’t you just wish?

However, the real shockeroo is the fact that Molly Walsh, the distinguished editorial writer who’s been waging a courageous one-woman war on unsightly graffiti, hasn’t told Mr. Carey to clean up his act.

Don’t give up, Molly.

Cleanliness is next to godliness.

The biggest news in Vermont media circles is the departure of political writer Diane Derby from the Fourth Estate. Diane has taken a flak position with the state Department of Education. Over the years “Derbs” made the rounds from the Freeps to Vermont Times to the Rutland Herald/Times Argus. And she’s been a popular regular on “Vermont this Week” on Vermont Public Television. Ms. Derby did not go quietly. In her final column, she tore into Ed Flanagan for his recent press conference announcing “Prominent Women Endorse Ed Flanagan.” Diane really gagged on that one.

Please, let’s talk credentials, not chromosomes. We are not victims simply because we were born with two X’s ... Blame it on my upbringing if you will I grew up the youngest of four girls, with a mother and father who never taught us to expect that gender would be a barrier to our lives.

As women, we can and should continue to challenge the stereotypes that pigeonhole our talents and our expectations. But women and men do a great disservice to both genders when they single out a “women’s agenda.” If women are to be equal, people must stop viewing them — and women must stop viewing themselves — as a special interest group.

So as the candidates gear up for another campaign season, I issue this appeal: Please don’t pander to me based on my gender. Appeal, if you will to my intellect.

And a tip to Ed Flanagan (or any other candidate, for that matter): Next time you are inclined to use gender in your campaign, reverse the sex and see if it works. I am betting there won’t be a news release promoting a “men’s agenda,” or shouting, “Prominent Vermont Men Endorse Ed Flanagan.”

Well said. We’ll miss her.

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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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