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The Young and the Restless 

Inside Track

Bernie Sanders

Published December 20, 2006 at 5:00 p.m.

One's a Democrat, the other's a Republican. One's 34, the other's 32. One lives in Jericho, one in Burlington. Both have politics in their veins.

Bill Lofy recently ran the Vermont Democratic Party's Coordinated Campaign Committee. In the legislative session ahead he will, for the second consecutive year, be the hired-gun consultant running Democratic House Speaker Gaye Symington's political action committee, called "The Speaker's Circle."

Before coming to Vermont to marry and set down roots in 2005, Lofy had worked for Minnesota Sen. Paul Wellstone. Wellstone died in a small-plane crash just prior to the 2002 election. He was a voice for the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, and Lofy has continued down that road. He's written two books on Wellstone, one a biography titled The Life of a Passionate Progressive, the other a "how-to" book called Politics the Wellstone Way.

In a Monday conversation over coffee at a busy Uncommon Grounds on Burlington's Church Street, Lofy described the latter as a "grassroots primer for progressive/Democratic organizers and citizen activists."

He has a third book proposal in progress.

In addition to his work this winter under the golden dome in Montpeculiar, Lofy remains affiliated with Wellstone Action. Since 2003, the Mankato, Minnesota, native has given 30 to 40 weekend Wellstone Action trainings around the country. But he and his new bride - a UVM grad and schoolteacher - have decided to make their home in Jericho, Vermont. It's about "livability," he told us, going to a "place" instead of a "job."

Sounds like Billy Boy's got a serious dose of Vermont, all right, and the state Democratic Party is damn lucky to have him. Maybe in 2008, Lofy will come up with a way to knock off Jim Douglas?

Yes, folks, the Left in America is finally starting to get its act together after a very long dry spell. The age of the late, great right-wing master organizer of my youth, Lee Atwater (1951-1991), and his disciple Karl Rove is on its last legs. Praise the Lord!

"The way the progressives can win," said Lofy, "is not by ducking and bobbing and weaving on the issues, or running away from their set of principles, but by articulating a clear set of values and fighting for them."

Lofy said the Left needs "to be creating ideas much the way the Heritage Foundation or the Cato Institute have done it on the conservative side for the last three decades. They lay out a social and a political agenda and combine that with contesting for electoral politics."

According to Lofy, "On the Democratic, sort-of-progressive end - with a small 'p' - we need to do a better job of that. And there's a real dearth - though I think we're making progress - on the ideas end. What there's a real lack of right now is a deliberate, widespread, systematic effort to train progressive campaign workers in the nuts and bolts of politics."

Admirable of him to be publicly critical of his own side, we'd say, but when we raised the issue of what critics consider a Democratic "sell-out" on health-care reform last session, Lofy turns on the smoothies.

You'll recall the Democrats, the self-proclaimed champions of health-care reform, backed down so far that Republican Gov. Jim Douglas won national acclaim in People magazine for the bill he eventually agreed to.

Meanwhile, we just got the notice here at the paper about our health-care premiums shooting upwards in 2007.

"I can understand people's frustration," said Lofy. "We had a fundamental choice, which was to make modest - but I think significant - progress, or walk away from it. And from a political perspective," he conceded, "it might have been a better thing to simply walk away from it. But I think, when it came down to it, people really believed this was the right thing to do. It wasn't the perfect thing to do, and it wasn't all we wanted, but it was the right thing to do."

But all the glory Gov. Scissorhands is receiving nationally as a health-care reform champion does have a possible downside, Lofy noted.

"Here's what happens now with Douglas," said the Democratic spin doctor. "Douglas owns that bill. He owns it and he's responsible for making sure that it works. It's not enough to get the accolades. Now, let's see him deliver," said Lofy. "And we will be watching."

P.S. Been running into a lot of folks who think global warming is not only very much for real, but occurring at a faster clip than most realize.

Take heart. At least the Democratic leadership in this coming legislature intend to make a big deal about it.

Both Speaker Symington and Democratic Senate Kingpin Peter Shumlin are committed to that, said Lofy. "It's not enough to simply say global warming isn't our problem," he said. "It's simply unacceptable for the governor to say this is not a Vermont issue. Sure, there are limited things that we can do, but we can be a leader, and we can show the way."

Bright guy. The leadership likes him. After a year in the Vermont political trenches, Billy Boy knows a lot of people and feels much more comfortable at the Statehouse. "And I love Vermont politics," he added.

Who wouldn't, eh?

Certainly not Neale Lunderville, 32, the Republican player and Boy Wonder in today's thirtysomething spotlight. Neale's roots are all Vermont, and he's already got some impressive mileage on his political odometer. In fact, he's currently serving in his fifth month as Vermont's Secretary of Transportation. Gov. Scissor- hands' very talented campaign manager of 2002 and 2004 oversees an agency of 1300 state employees and a budget of around $450 million.

Young Lunderville had departed the Fifth Floor last May to become a Pfizer pharmaceutical salesman in Boston. But two months later, Sec. Dawn Terrill decided to go into business with her hubby, and the position opened. What does the Ol' Campaign Manager know about culverts, bypasses and snowplowing, you ask?

"I know the issues, having worked on them in the governor's office," a confident Sec. Lunderville told "Inside Track" this week. "But I'm coming in taking a fresh look at everything. And I'm taking a look from the perspective of taxpayers, from people out there in the real world - the everyday world."

He demonstrated that with a Tuesday presser outlining, dare we say, a rather "progressive" policy of realigning priorities, focusing on what Neale calls "system preservation." In layman's terms, said the new transportation sec, that means focusing on "89 dangerous large culverts" amidst 1112 large ones statewide "that are in serious to critical condition, meaning their point of failure is somewhere between today and three to four years from now."

A dollar spent today, said Lunderville, "will save taxpayers $10 down the road. It's a great investment for us to make. And all the money we save," Neale told us, "can be put into other projects, like public transit."

"Public transit" from the lips of a Republican. Nice spin, eh?

The Boy Wonder also was a behind-the-scenes "helper" in the recent campaign, as Landslide Douglas showed remarkable strength in a year the pendulum swung from red to blue.

"The governor's race played out very much as we anticipated it would play out," said Lunderville. "The governor's leadership has been widely recognized over the last four years by the people of Vermont. Even in a year that was strongly, strongly blue, the governor was able to keep well above that."

Yes, he sure was, wasn't he?

The Boy Wonder - excuse me, the head of the Vermont transportation agency - says he's currently got "one of the best jobs in state government and one of the best jobs around."

Sure beats pharmaceutical sales, eh?

One thing Mr. Lofy and Mr. Lunderville have in common, besides last names starting with the same letter, is that they both really love their jobs and care deeply about the place they choose to call home. And they're making a difference.


Media Notes - The shoe dropped Tuesday afternoon: Ch. 3 reporter Anson Tebbetts is joining the Vermont Agency of Agriculture after all, but as deputy secretary rather than secretary, as was rumored. Congratulations, Anson!

A warm-up for the top job?

And it looks like a clean sweep on the editorial page of The Burlington Free Press. "Inside Track" has learned that Editorial Page Editor Susan Reid is departing this holiday season to take the post of editor at Emerson and Angelo Lynn's two Chittenden County weeklies - the Colchester Sun and the Essex Reporter. Emerson Lynn also publishes the daily St. Albans Messenger. Angelo owns the Addison Independent. Reid's departure follows that of Freeps Editorial Writer Sue Allen, who left a few weeks back to take the top editor's reins at the Barre-Montpelier Times Argus.

Ms. Reid, a Toronto native who maintains her Canadian citizenship, has been on the local Gannett-chain daily's editorial page since May 2001. She started in the number-two slot as editorial writer, then moved up to the top job in the summer of 2004 when David Awbrey, a Kansan, was fired. The last straw for David was his scathing but factually incorrect editorial trashing U.S. Rep. Bernie Sanders. A basic knowledge of Vermont geography would have saved Awbrey from shooting himself in both feet.

Reid will be remembered for two major editorial targets that drew blood. And let's not forget the way the system works: The editorial page editor's targets are in "lockstep" with those of Freeps Publisher Jim Carey.

One was a scathing series of editorials that contributed mightily to rousing opposition to the long-planned, already approved and federally funded Burlington Transit Center on Battery Street. The impact of at least six Freeps editorial smashes was deadly.

Today, the old, abandoned, one-story building that sits where a new, clean and efficient bus station would have is a crumbling eyesore. God forbid we do anything to improve mass-transit possibilities in these parts, or anywhere in Vermont, eh? Remember that the next time you're in bumper-to-bumper rush-hour traffic.

Reid's other habitual target is wind-power development in Vermont. Her endless anti-commercial wind-power edits - there was another on Tuesday - stimulate much discussion, which is, after all, what they're supposed to do. In fact, Reid and Gov. Jim Douglas see eye-to-eye on commercial wind power. "Industrial wind turbines on our ridge lines," states Tuesday's editorial, "are not a viable option. The destruction of our mountain ridges - the last of our wild places - is too great a cost for too little energy."

We called Susan Tuesday morning to confirm her departure, which she did, but getting a quote out of her was like pulling teeth.

"You decide what what my quote could be," said a surprisingly tongue-tied Canadian.

OK, how's this one: "Didn't mean any of it. It was all rubbish. Jim Carey made me do it!"

Just a wild guess, Susan. Good luck in suburban weekly land.


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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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