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Play It Again Sanders 

Sanders' foreign-policy credentials get a boost as he heads to the Middle East on a congressional junket with leaders of several nations. Freyne speculates this signals the Democrats are trying to woo Bernie to run for Senate.

Bernie Sanders

Published April 7, 1999 at 4:00 a.m.

Picture this. They're all sitting around on carpets in this big tent in Morocco Monday night. It's after dinner and everyone's sipping Turkish coffee and sucking on the dozen or so connections to the giant hookah in the middle of the tent — some more than others. King Hassan II , the Moroccan ruler, exhales a big cloud of yellow smoke, clears his throat and turns to the visiting U.S. Congressional Delegation with a glassy look in his eye.

"So which one of you guys is from Vermont?"

Up pops a startled Bernie Sanders in a white dinner jacket.

"I am, King. I am Bernie Sanders," replies The Bern. "I am from Vermont."

King Hassan nods knowingly to his prime minister sitting cross-legged on the adjacent rug, winks, and says, "I hear you're running against Jim Jeffords."

"My God!" exclaims Bernie. "I mean, Allah be praised! How did you know, your majesty? This is unbelievable!"

"Relax, Bernie," replies King Hassan, "There are no secrets in Casablanca."

The fact is, Vermont's lone congressman and his spouse, Jane Sanders, were in Morocco Monday night as they continued their "Me Bernie, She Jane" show-the-flag tour through the Middle East and North Africa. The four-member delegation is led by Rep. Ben Gilman, Republican chairman of the House International Relations Committee. In addition to Israel, Egypt and Morocco, the delegation met with King Abdullah in Jordan and visited Tunisia. Bernie's sure running with the big dogs now.

First word of the trip came in a press release faxed out to the Vermont media on April 1. Ol' Bernardo, it read, "participated in intensive discussions on the Middle East peace process and economic development with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak."

Yeah, sure. At first, we dismissed it as an April Fool's prank.

Sorry, congressman. A thousand pardons.

Let's face it. The Democrats on Capitol Hill are rolling out the red carpet for Vermont's Independent Socialist. He's their 2000 campaign cruise missile targeted to take out Republican U.S. Sen. Jim Jeffords. First, the Dems funded the poll that indicated Ol' Bernardo is on track to be Vermont's next U.S. senator. (Ironically, the poll has done wonders to pump up Jeffords' campaign war chest.)

Now during the Easter congressional recess, they land him a choice spot on a high-level Middle East junket that beefs up Bernie's foreign policy portfolio considerably. Can't wait to hear Ol' Bernardo say, "As I told Mr. Netanyahu when he met with me in Tel Aviv..."

Up until now, Bernie's international travel highlights consisted of being Daniel Ortega's guest on the reviewing stand in Managua, Nicaragua, for the anniversary celebration of the Sandinista Revolution, and spending a week in Cuba without the "supper and cigars with Fidel Castro" itinerary that U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy enjoyed in Havana last week.

There's a very entertaining political chess game under way, folks.

Sunday, Jeffords professed his love for veterans in a Rutland Herald-Times Argus op-ed piece. That's a move designed to counter Bernie's medals won as the national champion of veterans on the issue of Gulf War Syndrome.

And remember when Sanders did a day in Rutland talking higher education? "Nice move, Bernie," as King Hassan might say.

But what if? What if after all this, Bernie decides he's "more effective" staying in the House?

Not to worry. Jeezum Jim's got that one covered, too.

If Sanders doesn't take on Jeffords, well, there's always State Auditor Ed Flanagan of Burlington. Flanagan's already announced, though, he'll politely step aside for Sanders.

A Flanagan-Jeffords race would be a great battle and, according to the Washington Blade, "the Gay Weekly of the Nation's Capitol," it'll be a battle within the gay community, too.

"The nasty fight among gay activists over whether to support the 1998 reelection bid of U.S. Sen. Alfonse D'Amato is expected to pale in comparison to a potential race in 2000 between Vermont's openly gay state auditor, Ed Flanagan, and its pro-gay Republican U.S. Senator, Jim Jeffords," proclaims the Blade.

Under "ordinary circumstances," reports the paper, "gay activists from across the country would be expected to send money and volunteers" Flanagan's way in Fast Eddie's quest "to make history by becoming the first openly gay U.S. senator."

But circumstances, the Blade notes, are far from "ordinary." That's because Jeffords is "one of the strongest supporters of gay civil rights and AIDS issues in the Congress."

In fact, Monday night, Jeezum Jim was down in D.C. picking up a National Leadership Award from the AIDS Action Foundation. He's also a strong backer of the Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which gives the feds muscle to prosecute antigay hate crimes.

According to Kevin Ivers, spokesman for the Log Cabin Republicans, "It would be absolutely crazy for gays to try to remove Jim Jeffords from the Senate. He is a clear player in the Senate on our issues."

Baloney, says Flanagan. "Vermont's gay and lesbian community," he says, will not have a hard time choosing between "the fellow who didn't dare defy his chosen leader when Trent Lott said gays are sick and need to be cured and the candidate who quickly shot back and said bigotry was the disease and it will be cured."

Senator ... sorry ... Congressman Sanders and his wife Jane return to Andrews Air Force Base Thursday night. Fasten your seat belts for a little name-dropping.

Wanna Bet? — Sometimes it's absolutely amazing to watch State Reps. Dean Corren and Terrill Bouricius strive to live up to their undisputed title as the Self-Righteous Brothers. Friday, on the House floor, the politically correct Progressive duo led the charge against an effort to legalize sports-betting pools, like Super Bowl pools, which are fixtures in the Vermont workplace — even TV stations and newsrooms — and at watering holes, Legions and Lodges.

The bill is a reaction to the strong arm of the liquor inspector in Bennington who made the rounds in January busting Super Bowl pools. The new law would legalize such sinful wagering if all the proceeds are awarded to the winner or winners. No cut for the house. Sounds like freedom and democracy to us.

But Corren and his Scarecrow of a sidekick railed on and on about how it would "turn every bar in Vermont into a casino." The Self-Righteous Brothers popped up and down like tag team ping-pong balls, interrogating the reporter of the bill and preaching against the evils of gambling. Then Corren moved to recommit the bill to the Judiciary Committee. A thunderous "no" rattled the walls. The Self-Righteous brothers were shot down 103-13. Even the two other, newer Progs — Dave Zuckerman and Steve Hingtgen — voted against them.

When it comes to Coricius and Boring, the Statehouse wisdom remains, "Get a life, boys."

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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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