Playing Chicken on the IBM Driveway | Inside Track | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Playing Chicken on the IBM Driveway 

Inside Track

Published July 23, 2003 at 4:00 p.m.

You may recall our recent report on the controversial Circumferential Highway Project in which IBM spokesman John O'Kane said there was "no direct link" between construction of the road and Big Blue's future as the cornerstone of Vermont's economic engine.

The Circ has become a prized jewel in Gov. Jim Douglas' crusade for economic prosperity. He campaigned for it and he even got the Bush White House to speed things up. The connection between the Circ and IBM's future has never been doubted by Gov. Douglas. And he was noticeably skeptical about O'Kane's published remarks to the contrary in this space.

So was the guy he beat in last Novem-ber's election. Shortly after Seven Days hit the street, Doug Racine called and said he felt "sympathetic" for his former opponent. Racine, who served as Gov-Lite for six years, told Seven Days that in countless meetings with IBM over the years O'Kane and others had "made clear" to him that "not building the road would be a sign to IBM that we don't want them here."

O'Kane is Big Blue's political point man in Vermont and a bit of a politician himself. He's a master of the art of being half-pregnant, and seamlessly talking out of both sides of his mouth simultaneously.

"O'Kane has been cautious with his words," said Racine, "but the message has been clear to me that [the Circ] is absolutely essential to their continued presence in Vermont."

Racine was so convinced of this that in September 2001 he abruptly changed from a Circ opponent to a Circ supporter.

"I was not going to be the governor of Vermont who presided over the demise of IBM," said the Quiet Man. "I wasn't willing to take that on, and a lot of my friends disagreed with me on that one."

In fact, Candidate Douglas used that switch as campaign ammunition, labeling Racine a dreaded "flip-flopper."

In writing the O'Kane item, yours truly called the IBMer back to double-check his statements. He told us we got it right. He repeated that the the Circ "is not directly linked" to the multinational's Vermont future.

But after hearing from Racine and Douglas, we called O'Kane back. Guess what?

Mr. O'Kane has flip-flopped... sort of.

He told yours truly he "regrets" his previous denial of a direct link. He said he "misunderstood" the question and "the way it was put."

"Is IBM's future directly linked and solely connected to the Circ Highway?" he asked rhetorically.

"It's more complicated than that," said O'Kane. "The best way to put it is to say that there are things that Vermont can do which will impact IBM's future and other things the state cannot control." O'Kane said the use of the phrase "directly linked" was a "poor choice of words."

On one hand, O'Kane implies no direct link, but in the next breath hints that it might be.

In a subsequent report on Vermont Public Radio, Mr. O'Kane once again tried to embrace the Circ and distance IBM from it simultaneously. O'Kane was asked about the proposal by the Circ's leading opponent -- the Conservation Law Foundation. CLF announced it would drop its opposition to the 3.8-mile segment linking IBM to the interstate if Gov. Douglas agreed to seriously study the impact of the unbuilt 7.5-mile segment that cuts through Colchester.

"The proposal made by the environmental group to the governor is one that has been made in private to IBM for three years," said O'Kane. "Our reaction to it is this is not the IBM highway. It's not for IBM to decide."

Really? Funny how Mr. O'Kane has managed to convince Jim Douglas and Doug Racine otherwise. They agree it is the IBM Highway, and they say IBM has done the convincing.


Meanwhile, the Federal Highway Admin-istration is expected to give the Circ its official blessing in August. With supporters and opponents miles apart and the Douglas administration refusing to negotiate, it's obvious Jimmy D is prepared to roll the legal dice and take on a court challenge from CLF and others.

If CLF gets an injunction halting construction while the legal issues are debated in court, the Circ remains where it's been for 10 years -- on the shelf.

Obviously, the governor and IBM have decided to hang tough and go after the whole Circ loaf. In doing so, they risk losing the half-loaf that paves a brand-new driveway to IBM's front door.

This is one hell of a game of chicken, eh?

DeanWatch 2004 -- The coast-to-coast Howard Dean media roar quieted down a wee bit last week. After the Dean Campaign's second-quarter fundraising bonanza, there was a barrage of stories earlier this month in the national press. Nothing like money to attract the press' attention.

In the horse-race school of political coverage, money defines credibility. Ho-Ho topped the Democratic field in the latest test, raising more than $7.5 million. Besides the amount, the most interesting aspect of Dean's campaign contributions is that half of them are $200 or less. Dean donors are not the high-rollers who have long dominated the political money game.

By comparison, only 14 percent of President George W. Bush's contributions are that small. Dubya's donors tend to max out at the $2000 individual limit. Chump change for most of them.

But in politics, which comes first, the chicken or the egg? The message or the money?

In Dubya's case, we'd argue, it was the money. George W. Bush never had much of a message to begin with, other than the assurance he would be the president of the country-club set. The president of the Wall Street robber barons. The president of the oil companies. So far, Mr. Bush hasn't disappointed, has he?

As early as 1998, GOP insiders were declaring the Texas guvster the designated choice of Corporate America. We were incredulous. To yours truly, daddy's little bushwhacker belonged on the cover of Mad Magazine, not in the White House.

Back then, we were assured that, despite his shortcomings, the former baseball executive would set the Guinness Book of World Records standard for money raised. And he did --$185 million. The message, whatever it was, came later.

By comparison, Dean started out with no money. No baseball background. No familial lines of succession to the presidency. In January, the Dean campaign had seven staffers and only $157,000. Then the Dean message kicked in. Boy, did it ever.

Ho-Ho became a voice for the voiceless as leading Democrats in Congress signed onto the Bush Doctrine, which declares that America, like James Bond, shall have an official license to kill anywhere and anytime it wants to.

Ho-Ho articulated the suspicions and fears of millions who questioned Dubya's irrational obsession with Iraq's Saddam Hussein. This, despite the fact that everyone knew the Iraq dictator had played no role in the terrorist master plan of 9/11. Last winter, when the polls were showing a frightened public supporting a sabre-rattling ruler, Dean took the point as the leader of the loyal opposition.

And as Dean's message spread, the money started rolling in. It was the exact opposite of the Bush campaign strategy, in which the money preceded the message.

Meanwhile, all the giants of American political punditry were caught with their pants down. Soon their words will become their dinner. The candidate they sloughed off for coming from a tiny, gay-tolerant theme-park state dominated by aging hippies in Birkenstocks has clicked.

This month a steady stream of national media types, including folks from Time, Newsweek, CNN and U.S. News & World Report have flown to Burlington for a firsthand look. Is it something in the water? The mountain air?

Incidentally, in addition to UVM's anti-Ho-Ho political pundit Garrison Nelson, the Bush team has found other Dean critics to strut before the media.

Recently, Fox News, the Bush Campaign's unofficial TV network, featured two anti-Dean Vermonters.

One was the Green Mountain State's #1 sore loser. The other, a GOP state rep whose career blossomed as a result of the 2000 civil-unions backlash.

Ruth Dwyer got trounced by Dean in 1998 and 2000. She then drifted into a TV job with WVNY, the state's least-watched news operation.

Mrs. Dwyer told Fox News, "Personally, I think [Dean] will self-destruct at some point. When push comes to shove, and he's under pressure, he won't make it -- he never could."

Amazing how some people will project their greatest shortcomings on their enemies. Because, when push came to shove, GOP hopeful Dwyer is the one who self-destructed. The two-time loser from Thetford is an example of a politician who couldn't make it "under pressure." Remember when Bernie Rome, the guy who lost the GOP primary to Ruthless in 1998, said Dwyer attributed Dean's success to a Jewish connection between Ho-Ho and the Vermont media?

She denied it, but it sure sounded like a classic Ruth Dwyer tongue spasm.

The other Vermont critic tapped by Fox was Dwyer acolyte Rep. Frank Mazur of South Burlington. Dwyer may have gone down in flames in 2000 with just 38 percent of the vote, but the GOP won a majority in the House by playing the gay-bashing card. Mazur's star rose. He's gone from backbencher to chairman of the House Transportation Committee.

Cranky Franky told Fox News that Ho-Ho "has a very short temper. He gets rattled easily, and when he gets rattled he says dumb things."

At the Statehouse, Mazur is recognized as something of an expert when it comes to "dumb things." In January, Frank distinguished himself by introducing a bill that would require poor people on state assistance to undergo drug testing in order to get their benefits. A true compassionate conservative, eh?

Meanwhile, Ho-Ho continues to turn up the heat on Bush. Capitalizing on Dubya's 16 dishonest words in the State of the Union Speech about Saddam's nuclear ties to Niger, Dean issued "16 Questions" for Bush last week. Good questions, too. You can find them at

So far, no answers from the White House.

On Tuesday, the news out of California was that Ho-Ho had finally finished first in a statewide poll gauging support for the Democratic contenders. Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts was second. Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut was third.

In three months, Dean's California support doubled. The A.P. headline read, "Dean Zooms to Front of Democratic Field."

Maybe the Bush Campaign will ship Ruthless Ruth and Cranky Franky out to California to set the Dean record straight?

Wishful thinking, eh?

Dean's Vice-President -- When asked who is the perfect running mate for Howard Dean, our crystal ball keeps spitting out the name "Wesley Clark."

Clark was all over the boob tube in the late 1990s as the crisis in the Balkans erupted. Clark, a four-star general, was the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe (1997-2000). He put the NATO coalition together that took down Serbian ethnic cleanser Slobodan Milosevic.

Unfortunately, Clark's talent was overshadowed by the American media's fixation with Bill Clinton's Presidential Pecker. It was, after all, the Age of Monica Lewinsky, when the search for a "smoking penis" was Job One for the American press.

Gen. Clark led the strategic negotiations for the Bosnian Peace Accord. But Bosnia had to play second fiddle to the media's obsession with oral sex.

Wes Clark, now retired, has been floating his own presidential trial balloon. We suggest it's all about boosting his name recognition. And the more people know about Wesley Clark, the more they're impressed.

Among other highlights, Clark graduated first in his class from West Point (1966). He studied philosophy, politics and economics at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar. He was an armor officer like Gen. George Patton, and he commanded the First Cavalry Division. Gen. Clark has a silver star, two bronze stars and a purple heart to remind him of his experience in Vietnam.

Gen. Clark matches up nicely against current Vice-President Dick Cheney, whose military experience consists of snaring no-bid Pentagon contracts while CEO of Houston-based oil giant Haliburton Inc. His resume also stacks up well against Dubya's dubious Vietnam-era service in the Texas Air National Guard.

Having Wesley Clark on the ticket would put to rest any and all questions about the military and foreign-policy credentials of a Dean administration.

Dean-Clark 2004.

Nice fit on a bumper sticker, eh?

Tracy vs. Dubie? -- Popular Burlington Democrat John Patrick Tracy has let the cat out of the bag. Tracy says he's eyeing a run for Gov-Lite in 2004. The former House Democratic leader is often mentioned as a future Burlington mayor, but the next election isn't until 2006.

One doesn't need military experience to be Gov-Lite, but the incumbent Republican Brian Dubie was once an F-16 pilot in the Air Force.

John Tracy was once an Army helicopter machine-gunner in the skies of South Vietnam.

Army vs. Air Force, eh?

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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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