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Progs Picking Up Steam 

Inside Track

Vermont's third official major political party, the nationally acclaimed Vermont Progressive Party, held its annual statewide meeting Saturday, packing Statehouse Room 11 with more than 100 delegates and alternates. Few Vermonters know about it, because the state's mainstream media totally ignored it!

Not that the Progs aren't in the news. Recently, Democrats went after Prog Anthony Pollina in the press, publicly questioning his qualifications for public financing, if he decides to run for lieutenant governor next year.

And Progressive State Rep. David Zuckerman of Burlington has already formed an exploratory campaign committee, moving one step closer to a run for Vermont's open U.S. House seat.

Based on Saturday's spirited gathering in Montpelier, the Progressive Party is anything but yesterday's news. Independent U.S. Rep. and Senate candidate Bernie Sanders, the historic godfather of Vermont's progressive movement of the 1970s, '80s and '90s, may have "sold out" by endorsing Democrat Peter Welch to be his replacement, but the Progs are primed to fight on. In fact, they're even getting support from a few Democrats. More on that later.

"We've had an enormous impact on the political life of Vermont," declared party chair Martha Abbott. "We have earned the begrudging respect of other politicians, other parties and from Vermont's press corps. We have proven that we are not the liberal wing of the Democratic Party!"

In a reference to Ol' Bernardo's defection, Abbott told the party faithful, "There will be former allies who will not support us. There will be people who will criticize our choice of races to run in."

Chairman Abbott urged the attentive Progs "to resist the temptation to get sucked into arguing with our allies for making choices we don't like or agree with. The press and the Democrats would like nothing better than to get us into a public spat with Bernie. The other parties will whine about us being spoilers, and the press will help them, writing stories about our demise."

Martha also noted that, despite large majorities in both legislative chambers, Democrats had failed to pass the comprehensive health-care reform legislation "that 67 percent of Vermonters said they wanted and all of them ran on."

In fact, said Abbott, Democrats "didn't hold the Douglas administration accountable in any meaningful way."

Ouch!

Anthony Pollina, former Prog candidate for Guv and Guv-Lite, and now a talk-show host on WDEV, blamed the Democratic Party for avoiding real issues and embracing mudslinging.

He recalled standing on the Statehouse steps when the Democratic House passed its health-care reform bill. He and other Progs praised Speaker Gaye Symington and Chairman John Tracy for their work and urged the Democratic senate to follow suit.

The Democrats, said Pollina, put out a statement calling his remarks "the ugliest kind of politics." They also said "Pollina was blackmailing the senate to pass his reform bill."

The fact is, said Tony the Prog, he was asking the Democratic senate to pass Democratic House Speaker Gaye Symington's bill!

"The Democrats," said Pollina, "would rather focus on the politics than the issues."

P.S. A few Democrats are listening. For weeks, Zuckerman has told yours truly he has Democratic support. The problem was that elected Democrats, he said, were afraid to come forward. This week one did.

The Democratic house member spoke with "Inside Track" on condition he not be identified beyond that.

Rep. X said he is supporting Pony Tail Dave over fellow Democrat Peter Welch in the congressional race because Zuckerman "has the forthrightness and integrity that Vermonters like." Also, "he has smarts and experience and can work with anyone."

Being from Chittenden County and being a farmer, said Rep. X, will help Pony Tail in the general election.

So what's wrong with veteran liberal Democrat Peter Welch?

"Welch has cuddled up so close to the business lobbyists that's it's hard to trust sending him to Washington," said the Democratic lawmaker.

Rep. X also questioned whether there was much difference between Welch and Martha Rainville, the Republican candidate-to-be.

"After all," he noted, "the Democratic Party recruited her."

Unsuccessfully, we might add. As everyone knows, Martha finally came out as a Jim Douglas-type Republican.

"If Welch really wanted to give voters a choice," suggested Rep. X, "he could back out."

Dream on, eh?

Confused? -- You're not alone. That's because Gen. Martha Rainville's paid campaign spokesman Nathan Rice has been telling the press Rainville will have "no comment" on the Torture Debate in Congress, because "Martha Rainville is not a candidate."

Then why does the Rainville for Congress Campaign have a campaign spokesman?

Mayor Jogbra? -- At the moment, nobody appears to be campaigning harder for mayor of Vermont's largest city, and hometown to DNC Chairman Howard Dean, Sen. Patrick Leahy and Rep. Bernie Sanders, than Hinda Miller.

The Democratic state senator and resident of the Hill Section has been busy as a bee. She's got a great campaign website up at http://www.hindaformayor.com. And she's been hosting early-morning coffee hours and evening house parties, according to her new campaign manager Christine Salembier.

Christine joins a campaign staff that already includes Denise Whittier as communications director. An all-girl -- sorry, all-woman -- team!

Actually, the days of women candidates making an issue about gender have long passed. Jane Fonda will not be campaigning for Hinda. We've come a long way, baby!

Vermont broke the glass ceiling, as far as governors go, with Democrat Madeleine Kunin's election in 1984. It was a big deal at the time, coming on the heels of the bra-burning women's liberation decade of the 1970s. How quickly some forget.

These days it's no big deal. But, so far, Burlington's mayor has always used the men's room. There's a good chance that will change next spring.

Though Hinda doesn't like to wear it on her sleeve these days, back in the women's lib days, she was a principal in Jogbra, and co-inventor of the legendary sports brassiere made from jock straps, which did more for social change than simply corraling the bouncing breasts on female runners. Ms. Miller ran Jogbra through the late 1990s.

"The Washington Post," Salembier pointed out, "once said that the invention of the Jogbra was the the most important thing to happen for women's rights since Title IX" (the landmark federal law prohibiting sex discrimination in schools). And the original Jogbra, she noted, is housed in the Smithsonian Museum!

"It really does stand as an icon for women," said Salembier. But the candidate, she insisted, is about a whole lot more than sportswear. Besides being a terrific businesswoman, said Christine, "Hinda's been doing yoga for 30 years. There's a really spiritual side to Hinda."

Cool.

Mayor Meditation?

By the way, Campaign Manager Salembier brings top-notch credentials to the Yoga Squad. She's a former senior vice-president at Vermont Federal who was recruited by the Dean administration (Ho-Ho always liked bankers). Salembier was commissioner of the Department of Public Service. She's also on the board of the Vermont Forum on Sprawl, and serves on the city's electric commission.

In a phone interview Tuesday from "campaign headquarters" -- Hinda's kitchen table -- Salembier described Hinda's campaign as "very aggressive." The candidate's been to "30 different house parties already," she reported, "listening to people and sharing her vision for Burlington."

It was hard to get specifics of that vision, but Salembier described it as "bringing Burlington to the next level of economic vitality."

Despite recent reports of financial shortfalls in the city's retirement system, Christine said the city "is not facing a financial crisis," but clearly Burlington expenses are "outpacing the city's ability" to find new sources of revenue.

"We do need to take a look at local option taxes," said the ex-banker.

Wright Admits Wrong -- Republican City Councilor and State Rep. Kurt Wright admits he was wrong. Better mark down the date.

Kwik Stop Kurt admits his prediction on WCAX-TV News back in September was simply wrong. In the wake of Mayor Peter Clavelle's decision not to seek reelection, Wright told Ch. 3 that the recent adoption of Instant Run-Off Voting would lead to a "free-for-all" in the 2006 Burlington mayor's race.

"Throw in a whole new political system of electing a mayor -- instant run-off voting," Wright told Ch. 3 News, and "you are going to have an absolute free-for-all. I think you're going to have a Republican, a Democrat, a Pro-gressive -- maybe two or three major independents."

Fast forward to the present. Instead of a large field of mayoral hopefuls, the story has become the lack of candidates. So far, Democrats Hinda Miller and City Councilor Andy Montroll are running. The winner of the January 5 Democratic caucus will go on the March ballot.

On the Republican side, Councilor Kevin Curley said almost two years ago he'd be running in 2006 and, so far, he has not indicated otherwise. Wright told "Inside Track" he's "keeping the field clear" for Curley, but if Kevin changed his mind, he'd be interested.

The big surprise is that the Progressives -- the party that began back in 1981 as the Bernie Sanders-led "Progressive Coalition," the party that came to power with Bernie's miraculous, 10-vote victory over Democratic Mayor Gordon Paquette -- looks like they're sitting this one out. The young Queen City political revolutionaries of the 1980s have evolved into comfortable, middle-aged professionals with careers of their own and earnings that match or exceed that of the mayor.

"I just thought there'd be more interest," said Wright.

Got to respect a politician who owns up to a mistake. It's a rare commodity these days.

P.S. Despite being shot down by the Democratic bloc on the city council last week, Kurt says he's adopting Plan B in getting an advisory question on the March ballot regarding a statewide teachers' contract. The council referred the matter to the school board, but Wright said this week he has begun a petition drive to get the question before voters. In Burlington, that requires 1500 registered voters to sign on. Shouldn't be a problem.

Feedback -- We always enjoy hearing from readers, and last week we received a nice little email from Kevin Blier, the director of the Rutland-based Center for American Cultural Renewal -- http://www.cfacr.org.

The Center's stated goal is "to promote and protect traditional values based on the Judeo-Christian ethic . . . Our goal is to renew the promise of America envisioned by the Pilgrims of the 17th Century and the Founding Fathers of the 18th Century restoring our greatest institutions; traditional marriage, two-parent families, community and religious organizations, and civic responsibility for the purpose of renewing our values to fall in line with our most cherished traditions."

Earlier this year, Republican U.S. Senate hopeful Richard Tarrant went to Rutland and spoke to CFACR members in his run-up to declaring his candidacy. Apparently Richie Rich, a good Catholic boy whose charitable foundation has a policy against contributing to pro-choice organizations, made a good impression.

That's evidenced by the interest Director Blier took to our Tarrant coverage last week, and the fact that the Tarrant Campaign had not responded to our questions. Wrote Director Blier:

Tisk, tisk, tisk [sic]. . .

Q. "What do you call a political columnist with no access to politicians?"

A. "Finished"

I saw your wimpering [sic] tirade this week about a lack of access to Tarrant. Funny how he won't speak to you after you've thrown him under the bus several times . . . imagine that, eh?

And forget about blaming "out-of-state" consultants for your lack of access. If I have my way, you'll get access to no one and like it!

And loved how you sucked up to Jim Barnett . . . you should get "Lemon Through a Straw" award for the giant, tart-tasting sucking you did on that one! By the way, how DO your lips feel after last week?

Considering the way you've gone after other members of the media in this state, good luck trying to find allies to make it painful for me. Most of them I've talked to can't stand you, and what's it say that an outspoken conservative like me has more friends in the liberal Vermont media than you do, a member of that very media? Seems you've burned more bridges than you've built.

That giant ticking sound you hear, Mr. Freyne, is the clock winding down on your dismal career!

We were so impressed, we emailed Mr. Blier back, requesting his photo to run right here alongside his insightful missive. Free publicity!

Unfortunately, and perhaps understandably, Kevin the sucking expert did not forward his mug shot. Can't blame him. In fact, he did send another charming, culturally renewing message, perhaps designed to prevent this column item from appearing:

And of course, when you get done attacking me in your column, your editors will have no choice but to let me respond, which will give me access to your readers so they can hear my side of the story minus your editorializing.

I love how a plan comes together. I might have access to Seven Days readers for months to come.

Sorry, Mr. Blier, but you've already gotten more space than you deserve. Your own words, we'd suggest, "attack" you better than we ever could.

Thanks for sharing.

Media Notes -- Rutland Herald editor Randal Smathers, a Canadian by birth, has been on board for five months. The Herald is Vermont's second-largest daily newspaper.

Born in Pouce Coupe, British Columbia, Smathers found his Vermont connection in Moscow, Russia, a few years ago when he was covering sports for the Moscow Times. That's where he met his future wife, Katya Cooke, a Burlington, Vermont, girl! Katya was in Moscow working on her Ph.D. dissertation. Small world, eh?

Got something to say? Send a letter to the editor and we'll publish your feedback in print!

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About The Author

Peter Freyne

Peter Freyne

Bio:
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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