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The Color of Green 

Fair Game

Bernie Sanders
Fair Game is Seven Days’ weekly political column.

Last week, a national group chose Gov. Jim Douglas as one of the top 10 eco-friendly U.S. governors, a designation some in Vermont say amounts to “greenwashing.”

Greenopia, a “green” consumer directory, ranked all 50 governors for eco-mindedness. Douglas is ranked eighth, just ahead of Govs. Jon Corzine of New Jersey and Jodi Rell of Connecticut. Topping the list is Gov. Bill Ritter of Colorado, followed closely by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger of California. Think biodiesel Hummer.

“We looked at all 50 governors in the U.S. and compared their policies, transparency and interest-group ratings — and ranked them. It was a monumental task,” says Doug Mazeffa, Greenopia’s director of research. “People want to know which governors are the eco-leaders or laggards, and especially identify those making repeated eco-gaffes.”

Good goal, but it appears that Greenopia did little more than scour Douglas’ 3000-plus press releases, noting that it was “unable to find any scores from environmental interest groups.”

I guess a phone call to any one of the state’s environmental groups was not in the budget.

“We’ve spent years trying to work with this administration on proactive environmental policy, and it continues to be difficult,” notes Jake Brown, spokesman for the Vermont Natural Resources Council. “The proposal to allow ATVs on state lands is an example of where his administration is, and if that’s an indication of his environmental leadership, he shouldn’t be on a top-10 list.”

In fact, Vermont League of Conservation Voters was so upset with Douglas’ lack of environmental leadership that it created a negative TV election ad to coincide with last year’s election.

“Gov. Jim Douglas’ record on the environment is far below the standards that his predecessors established,” VLCV director Todd Bailey wrote at the time. “Vermonters deserve to know the truth about the governor’s failure to maintain our reputation as a national leader on environmental issues.”

The ad pointedly stated it’s a fairy-tale notion that the governor is an environmental prince: He opposes wind power and his “clean and clear” policy to improve the health of Lake Champlain has been a muddy success at best.

Funny, Greenopia recognized Douglas for undertaking “several programs to make Vermont greener. These include the Clean and Clear Water Action Plan.”

The group also boasted, “Vermont has always been on the forefront of environmental legislation and its governor, Jim Douglas, is no exception.”

Never one to let a compliment gather dust, Team Douglas was quick to push out press release No. 3555 touting Greenopia’s report.

“As the greenest state in the country, Vermont is leading the nation when it comes to setting environmental standards. I believe it is important that we do all we can to keep the Green Mountains green,” says Douglas in a statement. “As governor, I will continue to do all I can to advance our efforts to clean up impaired waterways, reduce our carbon footprint with tough automobile emissions standards and encourage green jobs in our state.”

Paul Burns, the executive director of the Vermont Public Interest Research Group, praised Douglas and his environmental staff for defending Vermont’s clean car standards. But, like other enviros, he claims Vermont has preserved its green ethos despite the governor.

“On the whole, Gov. Douglas has been far more of a laggard than a leader when it comes to environmental challenges and opportunities,” said Burns. “Vermont is a long way from Mississippi, and Jim Douglas might be considered environmentally enlightened there. But here, we expect a lot more from environmental leaders, and Gov. Douglas does not make the grade.”

Craven Conflict — As the region celebrates the Burlington International Waterfront Festival, there are frequent sightings of filmmaker Jay Craven, the event’s producer and chief cheerleader. No exaggeration, the man is everywhere.

Craven is also all over the Burlington Free Press — writing stories about the festival he’s producing. Craven’s byline appeared regularly in the months leading up to the Quad. Last week, he stepped it up with three stories. The paper identified him either as a “correspondent” or “special correspondent,” waiting until the end of the article to mention his role as festival producer.

What is the Free Press neglecting to say? That Craven’s “journalism” is a glaring conflict of interest. He’s being allowed to use the newspaper to “sell” his own shows. It’s the equivalent of letting a local car dealer write a “business story” about the brands he sells.

Craven offered the Freeps a series of first-person articles about the festival’s cultural programs, as well as the events he personally created and produced.

“The cultural side of the Festival needed more contextualizing,” he explained in an email to “Fair Game.” People, including at Seven Days, “were openly asking for an explanation of the what and why. I needed to speak up — so that the whole thing wasn’t ignored, misunderstood, or misinterpreted.”

Isn’t that what reporters are supposed to do? Not anymore, apparently — at least not at the Free Press.

You can’t blame Craven for trying to get free publicity. That is, after all, part of his job.

Freeps Follow-Up — By week’s end, Burlington Free Press staffers will learn how many colleagues will get the axe in the latest round of layoffs implemented by its parent company.

As “Fair Game” noted two weeks ago, the Gannett corporation is saddled with debt it can’t refinance and needs to trim costs, or otherwise default on hundreds of millions in loans.

Hopefully, staffers will get the news first. That wasn’t the case last week as national wire services reported the news of 1400 pending layoffs before Gannett officials told their employees. Tactful.

Thursday is D-Day, and Freeps Publisher Brad Robertson has promised to keep his office door open on Friday to be accessible to employees who want to talk.

The Freeps has laid off nearly two dozen people and eliminated several vacant positions since August. It employs 210 people today, down from 275 just a few years ago.

Yet the staff continues to churn out papers each day, and recently launched a new weekly enviro section inauspiciously dubbed “Green Mountain.”

The weekly supplement is chock-full of local reportage, including stories from Executive Editor Mike Townsend. It’s good to see all hands on deck and not just filler copy from afar.

Let’s hope there’s some green to back this venture, as we noticed the first week’s issue weighed in at 12 pages; the second week, only 10.

For a “green” mag, that’s not a sustainable trend.

Senate Shuffle — State Sen. Ed Flanagan (D-Chittenden) dispensed with the rumors and made it official: He’s running for lieutenant governor.

Flanagan is in his third term as senator. He served four terms as state auditor.

What I wonder is this: Is Flanagan’s bid a serious one, or is it just a way for him to gracefully exit the political stage? The portrait of Flanagan (“Continuing Ed”) by Seven Days staff writer Ken Picard raised serious questions about his ability to serve. The senator suffered a traumatic brain injury in 2005.

Rep. Floyd Nease (D-Johnson), the House majority leader, is also exploring a bid for the lite-guv post. The 2008 challenger Tom Costello has thrown in his hat, too.

Flanagan’s decision opens up a second slot in the six-seat Chittenden County Senate district. Fellow Democratic Sen. Doug Racine won’t be on the roster. He’s running for governor.

So far, the only candidate to announce is blogger, novelist, school board member and UVM prof Philip Baruth. He’s hoping to get to 100 donors, dubbed “Barnraisers,” by July 15 to get his campaign off the ground.

Dash for Cash — All media eyes will be on Montpelier next Wednesday, which is the deadline to file quarterly campaign-finance reports.

Anticipation is high in the governor’s race. How much will Gov. Douglas raise compared to his Democratic challengers? Can Racine match the fundraising prowess of Secretary of State Deb Markowitz? And what about State Sen. Susan Bartlett — will her numbers reflect what was considered to be a “late” start?

The big question is how much Racine and Markowitz will have in the bank. Technically, Racine announced his intentions before Markowitz, but she was out as early as last fall lining up support for a gubernatorial bid.

“We are very pleased with the financial support we are receiving. We also know that money isn’t enough,” noted Mark Larson, a state rep and Racine’s outreach coordinator.

That’s a lesson Terry McAuliffe learned the hard way. The Clinton ally just got whupped by lesser-financed candidates in a three-way Democratic gubernatorial primary in Virginia.

Markowitz’s campaign manager, Jason Powell, sounded more upbeat.

“The campaign is thrilled by the overwhelming response from donors all over Vermont. There is no doubt that Markowitz will have a strong quarter, building the foundation of a winning campaign,” said Powell. “This shows that there is a clear desire among many Vermonters for real leadership.”

To date, Markowitz has raised more than $56,000 online via the Democratic netroots site ActBlue. Racine has raised $20,000. Candidates use this site to process credit-card donations.

Then there’s Gov. Douglas. Do donors smell blood in the water? Will recent defeats at the hands of legislative Dems motivate them to walk away — or rally?

The suspense is killing me!

Robo Rooter — The Vermont GOP is polling residents in legislative districts represented by politicians they consider to be weak Democrats.

Their initial targets were first-time Reps. Megan Smith (D-Killington) and Bob South (D-St. J.). Constituents were asked to respond to a three-question telephone poll that highlights the tax-and-spend aspects of each rep’s voting record.

This week, the Republicans targeted two more Democrats: Reps. Kristy Spengler (Colchester) and Chip Conquest (Wells River).

But given the response we’ve heard from readers, these “surveys” are coming across as push polls and are doing more to anger than educate.

That’s a winning strategy?

Straight Talk — No, folks, you weren’t watching a rerun. Former Queen City Councilors Kurt Wright and Jane Knodell were on Channel 17 recently talking about city council politics and policies.

Their live, Channel 17 call-in program is not called “The Odd Couple” but rather “Setting the Record Straight.” The show now airs every other month, though Wright hopes it can eventually air monthly.

Wright, a New North End Republican, and Knodell, a center-city Progressive, have some things in common: They both served as the body’s president, and both have been critical of the Democrat-controlled council since leaving office in April.

Their half-hour “show” will eventually include clips from city council meetings the pair will heckle, er, critique.

On last week’s episode, they spent much time criticizing the decision by council Democrats to pool $10,000 and hire an outside lawyer for advice on city matters, rather than use the services of the taxpayer-funded city attorney.

Think they’ll review the night Wright called the cops on the Dems?

Just a thought.

Senator’s Reps — A quick correction to last week’s column: U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders’ move across North Avenue did not change his rep in Montpelier.

Rep. Mark Larson has been Sanders’ rep since he was first elected in 2001. “While I hope my representation in Montpelier might make some consider a move,” notes Larson, “in this case Bernie and Jane need not change their Rolodex when it comes to wanting things done in the Statehouse.”

Guess I’ll have to scratch Rolodex off my list of possible housewarming gifts.

What would you get Bernie? Email me your suggestions and I’ll post them to Blurt later this week.

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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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