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Swimming Upstream 

Fair Game

Bernie Sanders

Published September 9, 2009 at 10:48 a.m.

Fair Game is Seven Days’ weekly political column.

Democratic State Auditor Thomas M. Salmon, the son of a former Democratic Vermont governor, is now ... a Republican.

Salmon made the announcement at a Statehouse press conference Tuesday before a room packed with his newfound political brothers and sisters, and less than two weeks after Republican Gov. Jim Douglas announced he would not seek reelection in 2010.

Perhaps Salmon sees a clearer path up the political fish ladder as a Republican, despite the increasing dominance of the Dems, his former party? After today, Dems will hold three of six statewide seats but they still rule in the legislature.

At the Tuesday press conference, Salmon said he “intends” to seek reelection as state auditor, a post he won in 2006 after a statewide recount gave him a slim victory over incumbent Republican Randy Brock. Brock, now a state senator, is viewed as a possible contender for governor or lieutenant governor. In 2008 Salmon won the endorsement of both Democrats and Republicans, and faced Progressive Martha Abbott.

Of course, everyone is waiting to see if Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie decides to run for governor. The L-G could make a pronouncement as soon as Friday. If Dubie opts out, Salmon could step in as a GOP candidate — a move many top Republicans say they would support. Salmon said there was a “10 percent” chance he’d run for the top spot.

Either way, he’s an R. Salmon said policy, not politics, drove his decision to switch teams. “It is my belief that the Vermont Republican Party is closest to accepting the realities of our times,” Salmon said Tuesday, “and is therefore the party best equipped to manage the very real and troubling economic and social conditions which confront us not only today but in the coming decade.”

“I’m sure that anybody looking at me right now would wonder if I’m committing political suicide or just being politically opportunistic,” Salmon told “Fair Game.” He says neither is the case.

Salmon told “Fair Game” he’s been contemplating the switch since July, after being rebuffed by Democratic lawmakers in his attempt to broker budget talks between the legislature and the Douglas administration. Douglas welcomed Salmon’s offer, while lawmakers noted privately that it smacked of political opportunism and promoted Republican spin about an out-of-control legislature.

“At the time, I told lawmakers that the state would benefit from more conservative Democrats or Republicans in the mix so there is more of a sense of teamwork and more of a balance,” said Salmon.

That sounds like the political equivalent of wearing a “kick me” sign. Seriously, though, it appears Salmon took his own advice.

He also sought the counsel of friends and family, including his father Thomas P. Salmon, who was governor from 1973 to 1977 and later president of the University of Vermont. The elder Salmon’s next job? How about president of the “Democrats for Salmon” fan club?

“He supports me unequivocally,” the Salmon fry said Tuesday.

Due to the switch, Salmon will lose his political advisor — Burlington Democratic Party Chairman Jake Perkinson. And Burlington Democrat Sam Osborne is launching an effort to get Dems to ask Salmon to return campaign donations.

Judging from his comments, though, it’s the auditor who feels jilted.

“I didn’t leave the Democratic Party,” said Salmon, “the party left me and tens of thousands of others in a reunion with the Progressive Party.”

It could be a savvy move — or a deal with the devil.

It’s (Not) My Party — Vermont Republicans are overjoyed by Salmon’s move. Why? There’s nothing better than a political victory that doesn’t cost a dime.

“Recruitment is everything,” joked a jubilant Vermont Republican Party chairman Rob Roper. With only two Republicans — Douglas and Dubie — in top statewide spots, Salmon could quickly become the titular head of the party.

That doesn’t seem to faze GOP leaders. House Minority Leader Patti Komline (R-Dorset) said, “We’re glad to have him.” Other GOP stalwarts such as Sen. Brock said they do not expect Republicans to challenge Salmon and will welcome him into the fold.

If Salmon needs any advice on what it’s like to switch parties, he should ask Rep. Andy Donaghy (R-Poultney), who left the Democratic Party after winning a House seat in 2002.

“He’s got be true to himself and to feel comfortable in his own skin,” said Donaghy.

Donaghy won reelection as a Republican in 2004, the same year Democrats regained their majority. I guess the guy has an aversion to being in power.

Salmon may soon find himself in the same situation.

Stand By Your Van (Jones) — Presidential adviser Van Jones resigned over the weekend after a smear campaign spearheaded by FOX News über-patriot Glenn Beck.

Beck successfully dug up unsavory moments from the green-jobs czar’s past — including the fact that he called members of the GOP “assholes” during a speech before he was hired on by the White House. Beck also claimed Jones was a communist, a socialist, maybe a fascist. Or was it a racist? No, that’s what Beck said about Pres. Barack Obama.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who chairs the Senate Subcommittee on Green Jobs and the New Economy, worked with Jones and was “very disappointed” by his resignation. “I think he was doing a great job,” he told “Fair Game.”

On Friday, the ranking Republican on the subcommittee — Christopher “Kit” Bond of Missouri — issued a public letter urging Sanders to hold hearings on Jones’ “behavior and comments to reassure the American people that their government is safe from his divisive, incendiary and ultimately counterproductive sentiments.”

Though Sanders doesn’t have to worry about responding to Bond’s asinine letter, he is bothered by the lack of counterattack by Democratic leaders and the Obama administration on the “right-wing echo chamber” and its savage attacks on Jones.

“To surrender to them is ridiculous, because they’re not going to stop. They’re just going to go after the next guy,” said Sanders. “We need to be standing up to them more vigorously and exposing their lies.”

Vermonters had a close-up view of Jones at work when he gave the keynote speech at this year’s Vermont Business Expo — the organization’s 25th annual event.

The best line from the speech was Jones telling the crowd that if we have a 22nd century, it will not be because Pres. Obama was the first black president. “It will be because he was the first green president,” Jones noted.

Jones also took time to be interviewed by South Burlington middle-school students Riya Patel and Neel Desai. He told them he preferred the moniker “green jobs handyman” to “green jobs czar.”

I’ll post links to both videos online.

If you ask me, Jones is just the first of any number of talented, articulate, educated black men in the administration that Beck and other closeted — or not-so-closeted — racists will attack and denigrate.

Why? Because the real target is Pres. Obama — the person they are convinced was born in Kenya with only one goal in mind: to steal the U.S. presidency, indoctrinate our kids, kill our grandparents, and enslave white people as reparation for, you know, real slavery.

And Beck claims Obama’s out of touch?

Passing the Torch — In recent weeks, Vermont has lost two high-profile civil rights champions: Larry McCrorey and John Tucker.

Tucker, the longtime director of the Racial Justice and Equity Project at the Peace & Justice Center, died within nine days of McCrorey, the well-known UVM professor, administrator and musician.

Both African-American men were tireless opponents of injustice, and they complemented each other. McCrorey and Tucker approached their work differently, but their goals were identical.

Tucker often came across as gruff and tough, but he could be funny and compassionate. McCrorey’s demeanor was mellower on the surface, but his inner sense of justice was as fierce as Tucker’s.

Both McCrorey and Tucker were the old guard of the Vermont civil rights movement, noted Susan Sussman, a Middlesex attorney who worked closely with both men.

“It’s such a loss for the state,” said Sussman.

McCrorey, who came to teach at UVM in the early 1960s, led the fight to end UVM’s infamous Kake Walk — where students dressed in black face and performed minstrels — and pushed the university to hire more people of color.

He trekked to Irasburg in July 1968 after guns were fired into a black minister’s home in what became known as “the Irasburg Incident,” the nonfiction inspiration for Howard Frank Mosher’s novel Stranger in the Kingdom. McCrorey stayed with the family and assuaged community fears. His experiences with such racial hatred motivated him to help launch the Vermont Human Rights Commission.

In the mid-1990s, Tucker led antiracism trainings in Vermont businesses and communities. He was also a member of the Vermont Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, a group that shed light on racism and harassment in Vermont schools. In response, the state created uniform standards and protocols for schools to follow when racial incidents occurred. He also worked with the Vermont Health Department to adopt standards to screen children of color for early signs of sickle cell anemia, among other conditions, noted Ellen Kahler, a former PJC director.

A public memorial for McCrorey will be held at UVM later this month on campus. Meanwhile, Tucker’s friends are planning a similar memorial in Burlington.

“We have lost the two elder voices of the civil rights movement in Vermont,” said Sussman. “I think the question now is, who is going to carry on their work?”

Farewell Faye — After more than two decades and four mayors, Executive Secretary Faye Lawes is bidding adieu to Burlington City Hall.

Lawes is the first person to greet people upon entering the mayor’s office, or calling him on the phone.

She began working for the city in 1973 and, after holding various city jobs, moved over to the mayor’s office in 1987. Her first boss there was then-Mayor Bernie Sanders, an Independent. After him, Lawes served under Progressive Peter Clavelle, Republican Peter Brownell and Progressive Bob Kiss. She could tell some stories, no doubt, but is too discreet to betray any of her former bosses.

“Working in the mayor’s office has been incredibly interesting and fulfilling,” said Lawes. “I’ve had many great experiences over the years, but most of all appreciate the opportunity to meet so many different people and work closely with other city staff to serve the people of Burlington.”

Here’s to a happy retirement, Faye: May someone else answer your phone for a change.

Never Say Never — I should have paid closer attention to the phrase that kept recurring in last week’s column: “Never say never.” In my deadline haste, I wrote: “Vermonters have never thrown out an incumbent governor.”

I meant to write almost never … doh!

Of course, incumbent governors have lost. In fact, I’ve written about one famous ouster numerous times: Democrat Phil Hoff unseated Republican F. Ray Keyser in 1962, and became the first Democrat elected to be Vermont governor in modern history.

There are also, as several astute readers noted, two other worthy examples of an incumbent being tossed from office.

In the 1946 Republican primary, Ernest W. Gibson II defeated sitting governor Mortimer Proctor.

Gibson played a role in the next unseating, too. He was succeeded by Lt. Gov. Harold Arthur, but in the 1950 Republican primary, Arthur was defeated by Lee Emerson.

That’s this week’s history lesson.

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About The Author

Shay Totten

Shay Totten

Shay Totten wrote "Fair Game," a weekly political column, from April 2008-December 2011.


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