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Speaker Bernie? 

Published August 21, 2002 at 4:00 a.m.

The U.S. House of Representatives is currently composed of 223 Republicans, 211 Democrats and one Independent. That’s our Bernie Sanders. Sanders’ reelection isn’t in doubt. What is in doubt is which political party will control the House come January.

Since Ol’ Bernardo enjoys a special relationship with the Democrat Party in Congress, a relationship that allows the Vermonter without a caucus to climb the ladder of seniority, we asked him if he’s hoping for a Democrat victory in November. After all, as the current “ranking member” of the subcommittee that oversees one of his favorite targets — the International Monetary Fund (IMF) — Bernie would be in line for the chairmanship.

Mr. Sanders is, indeed, aware of the possibilities come Election Day. Very aware. He’s done the math.

“I’m looking for a 217-217 deadlock,” he replied. “After 30 days of frantic debate, they say, all right, we’ll agree on Sanders.”

House Speaker Bernie Sanders?

After more than 20 years covering Vermont politics, we’ve learned to never say never. Hey, Bernie could be the House Speaker who’ll introduce President Howard Dean for his first State of the Union speech!

Bernie’s also done the math on the Bush administration’s sudden support of the proposed IMF bailout of Brazil, the largest economy in Latin America and the 10th largest on Earth.

In the midst of last week’s heat wave, the congressman held a press conference to blast the $30-billion Brazilian bailout. Unfortunately, the Vermont weather was the hot news story of the day, and yours truly and Ch. 22’s health reporter were the only attendees. Everyone else was at the beach.

“Sometimes,” said Sanders, “the most important issues aren’t talked about.”


The fact is our flip-flopper of a President, George W. Bush, used to oppose bailouts, calling them “bad policy.” And Bernie noted Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill had recently expressed his concern that the money for the bailout of Brazil “would end up in Swiss bank accounts.”

Sanders noted that the explanation for Dubya’s switcheroo may be tied to the fact that giant financial combines like Citicorp, J.P. Morgan Chase and FleetBoston have $25 billion in outstanding loans to Brazil. They’re also faithful campaign contributors.

What a coincidence.

“These vocal proponents of the free enterprise system,” scoffed Sanders, “are very, very happy when they make huge profits. But somehow, when their investments go bad and they lose money, oh, my God, do they love the government! They love Big Government. They love to have taxpayers in this country, the middle-class and working families, come to bail out the large multinational banks who have made bad investments.”

Sure sounds like a pretty hot story.

Mary Fanny Update — Fletcher Allen Health Care (FAHC) nurses have decided to strike while the iron’s hot.

Hospital CEO Bill Boettcher has been placed on administrative leave. Upper management is under investigation by federal and state prosecutors for possible fiscal hanky-panky. So it was hardly a surprise Friday when the Vermont Federation of Nurses announced they are petitioning the National Labor Relations Board for a union vote. Of the Mary Fanny’s 1300 nurses, 700 have signed on with the union. It’s now or never.

According to one leading expert on labor relations, “The employer that has an honest, well- intentioned and decent attitude toward his employees has a foundation that will make union organizing of his business entity unlikely.”

Given recent developments on Hospital Hill, one might suggest that FAHC management has failed miserably in addressing issues of concern to the nursing staff.

By the way, the labor relations expert quoted above is William Adams of Fort Wright, Kentucky. Mr. Adams is president and chief executive officer of Adams, Nash, Haskell & Sheridan. That’s the professional union-busting firm the Mary Fanny’s brass have hired to fight the nurses. Adams’ remarks appeared in a guest editorial titled “Unions Work Only If Management Doesn’t,” published at ManufacturingNews.com.

The hired-gun firm’s Web site — www.anh.com — offers a wealth of information on union busting. Adams, Nash doesn’t come cheap. Wonder how many millions they’ll scoop up from the Mary Fanny?

Meanwhile, retired Army Col. Thad Krupka is filling in for Boettcher as the hospital’s acting CEO. We don’t know his personal views on unions, but we do know something about his politics. That’s because Mr. Krupka’s name appears in a federal financial-disclosure document filed with the Federal Election Commission by U.S. Sen. Jim Jeffords.

In the wake of Jeezum Jim’s defection from the Republican Party last year, Col. Krupka asked that his $1200 campaign contribution be returned.

It was, by Jeezum.

Racine Holds Steady — The recent July poll by ORC Macro of Burlington shows Democrat Doug Racine holding on to a solid lead in the governor’s race. Racine got 35 percent to Republican Jim Douglas’ 24 percent. Independent Con Hogan shows a pulse with 7 percent. According to Macro, 30 percent were undecided.

It’s certainly not good news for Jim Douglas. He’s dropped three points since the March Macro poll. The poor guy’s big investment in a month-long media blitz back in May and June appears to have been for naught. Could it be a case of “the more voters see Slim Jim, the less they like him?”

This week Mr. Douglas kept plugging along. He tried for the “drug hysteria vote” Monday with a Burlington City Hall press conference calling for a Megan’s Law for drug dealers.

Racine responded by noting many parents might question the idea of publicizing the addresses of drug dealers. Free advertising and all.

Good point.

On “The Mark Johnson Show” Tuesday, Racine sure sounded confident. The Quiet Man scolded Treasurer Douglas for improperly taking credit for things he was never involved in, such as Vermont’s string of balanced budgets and the creation of rainy-day funds.

“The governor and the legislature get the credit for those,” said Racine. “Meanwhile, for four years in a row,” noted the Quiet Man, “[Douglas] hasn’t been able to balance the books on time.”

Lite is Tight — Our sources say a recent internal Vermont Democrat Party poll shows a very tight race for the #2 spot, with all three major candidates registering in the 20th percentile. Progressive Anthony Pollina of Middlesex came out on top, sources say, nosing out Democrat Peter Shumlin of Putney, who finished a couple points ahead of Republican Brian Dubie of Essex.

It’ll take a miracle for one of them to crack the 50-percent threshold and keep the outcome out of the hands of the Vermont Legislature. Under the golden dome, you can count the Progressive Party votes on the fingers of one hand, a fact that adds a dose of Shakespearian tragedy to the Pollina campaign.

Mr. Pollina’s first-place showing in the Democrat Party poll proves he has, by far, the best name recognition.

Tony the Prog has been on the Vermont political scene for 20 years — popping up way back in 1984 as the Democratic Party’s official candidate for Congress. (He got clobbered by an incumbent Republican named Jim Jeffords.)

Almost 20 years later, Anthony, God bless him, is still at it. Unfortunately, this time Pollina’s party label appears to be his greatest impediment.

Two years ago, Tony the Prog had a great time running for governor. He had no money worries, since he, like Lt. Gov. Doug Racine, tapped into Vermont’s public-financing fund. Pollina ended up just under 10 percent of the vote, but he came out of the race on a high.

Tired of playing a perennial fringe role, Mr. Pollina decided he’d reached that point in his life when it would be nice to actually win an election. A Progressive Party poll last winter steered him into the Lite-Gov race. And there he stands today, playing kissy-face with Brian Dubie while chipping away at Peter Shumlin every chance he gets. From a Republican perspective, Pollina is the best weapon in Dubie’s arsenal.

The sad fact is that Pollina is in the right race this time, but unfortunately, he’s in the wrong party.

If the talented and articulate former Democratic congressional candidate were running as a Democrat this time, we’d pick him as the odds-on favorite.

Given Anthony’s name recognition and popularity with the left wing of the Democrat Party, we suggest Tony the Prog wouldn’t have had to work that hard to defeat Putney Pete in the primary. After all, the colorful Vermont Senate president pro tem is in his first statewide dance. And coming from the southern Vermont Banana Belt, Shumlin’s finding many folks up north can’t even pronounce his name right.

As the Democrat candidate in November, Pollina would have been poised to achieve his long-sought goal — winning statewide office. Knocking off Doobie-Do would have been a piece of cake for Tony the Democrat in a head-to-head contest. He’d be perfectly positioned to achieve further glory.

But, alas, not to be! Pollina has positioned himself as too pure and perfect to swim in the Vermont Democrat pool with the likes of Patrick Leahy, Doug Racine, Elizabeth Ready, Deb Markowitz, Bill Sorrell, Ed Flanagan and Jeb Spaulding.

And that, mes amis, is nothing less than tragic.

INS Workers Worried — Here’s the update on our June 10 column in which we reported INS Commissioner John Ziglar’s glowing praise for U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy. Commissioner Ziglar, a Bush appointee, toured INS facilities in St. Albans and Williston. As we reported:

“My friends in the Republican Party back in Washington might be upset with me,” said Ziglar, “but you couldn’t have a better senator in Vermont than Pat Leahy. Nobody is confused in Washington,” he continued, “that Pat Leahy is there representing Vermont. And nobody is confused in Washington that Pat Leahy is also there representing the country, and he does that extremely effectively.”

When word of Commissioner Ziglar’s praise for St. Patrick reaches the Bush White House, we hope it doesn’t cost him his job. But if it does, we’ll understand.

Guess what?

On Friday, Commissioner Ziglar submitted his letter of resignation to the president. We’re unable to determine whether Ziglar’s public praise for the Vermonter who leads the opposition to Bush’s right-wing judicial nominees was a factor.

Meanwhile, almost 1000 INS Information officers, including those at the St. Albans facility, are quite worried they’re about to lose their jobs. The Bush administration is currently preparing to put those jobs out to bid. The job insecurity is being fueled by Dubya’s march to establish a Department of Homeland Security. The final showdown on Homeland Insecurity, er, Security will occur in the Senate after Labor Day.

Vermont’s Tiger Connection — What a stirring final round Sunday in the PGA Tournament, golf’s fourth and final major of the season. It was held at Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska, Minnesota.

Tiger Woods, winner of the Masters and the U.S. Open, turned on his magic, firing birdies on the final four holes. But it wasn’t enough, as Rich Beem, a golf unknown, won in dramatic fashion to beat the World’s #1 by a single stroke.

And Vermont was well represented at Hazeltine. On hand to watch it all, with the best “seat” in the house, was Larry Startzel of Stowe.

Larry’s the Director of Golf at the Country Club of Vermont in Waterbury Center. He served as a starter at the PGA Tournament, and on Sunday he walked 18 holes as the PGA referee for Tiger’s final round with Fred Funk.

“Being inside the ropes,” said Startzel, “there’s just nothing like it.”

Larry started out as general manager at the Stowe Country Club in the 1970s. He’s a member and past president of the PGA Rules Committee and has refereed Ryder Cup matches since 1983. In his younger days, Mr. Startzel even played in two PGAs.

Small world.

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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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