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Fair Game

Bernie Sanders
Fair Game is Seven Days’ weekly political column.

It’s a girl! It’s a boy! Actually, it’s too soon to say. As of press time, Andy Bromage and his wife, Alison Moncrief Bromage, were heading to the hospital to give birth to Baby Fair Game. We’re hoping that, whatever the gender, he or she will come out looking just like Poppa Fair Game: with a red beard, a reporter’s notebook and a banjo on his knee.

While Andy relishes the joys of new parenthood, you’ll be stuck with me for a while. So send any tips, complaints or dirty diapers my way.

Jack Is Back

The winner of a heated Democratic primary between seven-term Attorney General Bill Sorrell and challenger T.J. Donovan, the Chittenden County state’s attorney, could face a million-dollar headache this fall.

As the AP’s Wilson Ring reported Monday, Republican businessman Jack McMullen is also Mc-Mullin’ a run.

Remember that guy?

McMullen is probably best remembered for the drubbing he took from Tunbridge farmer Fred Tuttle in the 1998 Republican primary to take on Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy. The low point for McMullen came when, pressed by Tuttle in a Vermont Public Radio debate, the Massachusetts transplant mispronounced a few Vermont towns and couldn’t identify the number of teats on a dairy cow.

For the record, it’s four.

McMullen tells Fair Game that, so long as he can find a decent campaign manager, he’ll jump in the race for attorney general. He’s already collecting signatures to get on the ballot.

“I think there’s a reason to have a contest,” he says. “Evidently the Democrats feel the same. The feeling on our side is, ‘Why should there be a freebie in the general election?’”

With McMullen, though, nothing’s ever free.

The Burlington resident and managing principal of the Massachusetts-based Cambridge Meridian Group has a history of self-funding his runs for office. McMullen loaned his own campaign $340,000 when he unsuccessfully challenged Leahy again in 2004. He raised another $390,000 from other sources that same year.

McMullen says he’d likely pony up his own cash if he ends up entering the race — and he’d also count on a little help from his friends.

“I’ve always had a number of my business colleagues say, ‘If you run, we’ll back you,’” he says.

Given his long-held desire to serve in the U.S. Senate, how come he’s not taking on Sen. Bernie Sanders, as is Windsor resident John MacGovern?

“Those races are difficult. Vermont is a small state, and its citizenry seems to value the seniority of its senators,” he says.

McMullen says he’d use the AG’s office to crack down on drug use and crime — not nuclear energy. He calls Sorrell’s appeal of a federal court decision allowing Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant to remain open “a misdirection of effort.”

“You only have so much you can do in that office. Why tilt at windmills?” he says.

If he decides to jump in, McMullen better pull out his Vermont flash cards and study up. Asked if he’s learned about them cow teats, McMullen said he had: “Well, that’s ingrained in my mind. I’ve got four down pat.”

Friendly Fire

In or out, McMullen won’t be getting the support of two prominent Republicans. Last week, Donovan the Dem locked up the support of Barre’s Republican mayor, Thom Lauzon. Two weeks before that, Rutland Mayor Chris Louras — also an R — came out for Donovan.

So does Donovan think he’s running in the Republican primary or something?

Spokesman Jay Els says that, on the contrary, “The issues we’re talking about, that T.J. is bringing to the forefront, are ones Vermonters care about — and they’re not partisan.”

Now that McMullen is considering jumping in, are Lauzon and Louras reconsidering?

Doesn’t sound like it.

“Was he the one who had the primary against Fred Tuttle?” Louras wondered when Fair Game asked him about McMullen.

Scratch him off your list, Jack.

Louras says he’s sticking with Donovan no matter who gets in the race — and he doesn’t much care about party affiliation. After all, the former Republican state rep says, “The only ‘R’ I have next to my name right now is ‘Rutland.’”

As for Lauzon? After a morning chasing lightning — there were at least three lightning-caused house fires in Barre — and a bomb threat at the high school, Lauzon said Tuesday that he, too, will back Donovan no matter who enters the race.

“I have a lot of respect for Jack as a person, but I’ve not had the opportunity to work with him in the context of the skill set you need as attorney general — and I have had the opportunity to work with T.J. Donovan,” Lauzon says.

How’s that one going over with fellow Rs?

“It’s not a decision that is too popular among my Republican friends,” the Barre mayor says. “The thing is, what I’ve always told them is: I took an oath to be mayor and represent my city. I didn’t take an oath to be a Republican.”

Lauzon points to another D he backed over an R: then-Democrat Tom Salmon when he challenged Republican Randy Brock for state auditor. Salmon has since switched teams.

“I endorsed Tom Salmon, but I was the only one smart enough to know he was a Republican,” he jokes.

Does bipartisan Thom see any further Dem endorsements on the horizon? Like, say, for Gov. Peter Shumlin?

“I will confirm that I’ve had conversations with the governor’s staff,” Lauzon says. “They’ve asked about an endorsement, and I’m considering it. That’s not a knock against anyone.”

Like, say, Brock, who’s now challenging Shumlin for governor?

Lauzon says that in spite of the fact that — or maybe because — he campaigned hard for Shumlin’s 2010 opponent, former Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie, the gov reached out to Lauzon immediately upon taking office. Literally.

“His first day on the job he was having lunch in my home. I have a great relationship with the governor. I’m going to stop short of giving you an endorsement, but I respect what he’s done,” Lauzon says. “In my mind, you have to give me a reason to fire someone.”

So hypothetically, if Lauzon were to endorse the gov, when would he hypothetically do it?

Lauzon: “If there is one, I suspect it will come in the next couple of weeks.” (Dramatic pause.) “Followed by my resignation from the Republican Party.” (Loud cackling.)

Decisions, Decisions

Since March, Senate stalwart Vince Illuzzi (R-Essex/Orleans) has been running for … something. Back then, the Northeast Kingdom pol told Seven Days he was 75 percent sure he’d challenge Sorrell for attorney general, calling the incumbent “an absentee owner” of the office and criticizing Sorrell’s handling of the Vermont Yankee lawsuit.

But when Salmon announced two weeks ago that he will not seek reelection as state auditor, Illuzzi shifted gears.

“I’ve been talking with folks and certainly leaning strongly toward running for auditor,” he says. “It’s an open seat. It’s a challenging office that would certainly enable me to parlay my legislative experience into looking at how well the programs we’ve created and funded are working.”

So what changed?

Illuzzi says “the only issue” in the AG race is Sorrell’s record of losing three high-profile court cases defending three state laws: VY, campaign finance reform and a ban on prescription-drug data mining.

“The problem is, the legislature passed the laws, which he was required to defend, and I voted for a couple of those,” Illuzzi says.

Now that he’s honed in on a job to run for, Illuzzi just has to pick a party — or not. The longtime Republican says he’s thinking about running as an independent.

“In order to succeed given the current makeup of the general assembly, I have found success lies in working with both parties equally,” the senator says. “I think if you asked most of my colleagues, they’d tell you I’ve done that effectively.”

What does Vermont GOP chairman Jack Lindley think of a possible Illuzzi defection?

“Good luck!” he says. “He won’t get any help from Republicans.”

Lindley warns Illuzzi that eschewing the GOP label would be “a big mistake.”

“I would point out that not a single independent has been elected to statewide office,” Lindley says. “I just don’t think an independent can win statewide.”

Tell that to Bernie Sanders!

Of course, with President Barack Obama at the top of the ticket this fall — a recent Castleton State College poll had the prez leveling Mitt Romney 59 to 28 percent in Vermont — and the state GOP’s finances in the tank, what exactly can Lindley offer Illuzzi to party on with the Rs?

“It takes an unusual amount of effort to run statewide, and you’ve gotta have some volunteers,” Lindley says. “Maybe he’s figured out how to get volunteers.”


One guy who won’t be donating anything to Illuzzi is Doug Hoffer. The independent policy analyst has frequently contributed research and analysis to the Senate Economic Development Committee, which Illuzzi chairs —and the two have a strong working relationship.

Problem is, Hoffer, who lost to Salmon in 2010, is already in the race for auditor. He’s hoping to pick up the endorsements of the Dems and the Progs.

“Vince is a good guy, and I’ve done good work with him,” says Hoffer. “But I think I’m better qualified than him.”

Illuzzi agrees with the whole “working together” thing — just not the “better qualified” thing.

“Doug has provided some valuable information to the committee,” Illuzzi says. “I guess the big difference is, I’ve funded the programs, I’ve created the programs and I know what the goals are. I think I’m in a better position to assess how they’re performing and whether changes should be made.”

Hoffer says that’s a stretch.

“The auditor audits the entirety of state government,” he says. “So is Vince suggesting he created state government?”

Hoffer believes Vermonters would be better served by a state auditor who focuses on, say, auditing — not simply holds down a government job.

“I’m not a career politician. I’m a numbers guy,” Hoffer says. “If I had wanted to start a career in electoral politics, I would have started a long time ago.”

Not that he has any problem with Illuzzi running or anything.

“It’s not for me to judge what people’s motivations are,” Hoffer says, “but it is of some concern that some folks seem to be shopping instead of focusing on something they’re particularly interested in.”

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About The Author

Paul Heintz

Paul Heintz

Paul Heintz was part of the Seven Days news team from 2012 to 2020. He served as political editor and wrote the "Fair Game" political column before becoming a staff writer.


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