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Year of the Flip-Flop 

Inside Track

Published November 13, 2002 at 5:00 p.m.

Republican Jim Douglas was born in the Chinese Year of the Tiger, but he will long credit his victory on November 5 to the Vermont Year of the Flip-Flop.

For one thing, the Douglas campaign successfully defined Democrat Doug Racine as a flip-flopper. They didn't have to make up any of it.

Some mushy types on the Douglas team squirmed at first at the hard-hitting TV spot that flipped Racine's image back and forth like a catfish on a griddle. Since both candidates enjoyed high favorability ratings, victory required going on the attack and taking the Quiet Man down a few notches.

It worked.

The Year of the Flip-Flop also produced many flip-flop results. Most observers, including yours truly, expected Racine to win the popular vote. And while we were in a small minority predicting significant Democrat gains in the House and Senate, most observers thought the Republicans would gain seats under the golden dome.

In the end, Republicans Jim Douglas (45 percent) and Lite-Gov candidate Brian Dubie (41 percent) won the popular vote. But Vermont voters flip-flopped all over the ballot and handed the Democratic Party big victories in both legislative chambers.

Take Franklin County. There are deep Democrat roots in the pastures of Franklin County. But Slim Jim Douglas swept the land of the Dairy Festival by more than 2000 votes. Simultaneously, Franklin County voters made their two-seat Senate delegation 100 percent Democrat for the first time in a long time.

In Lamoille County, Slim Jim used a 2-to-1 thrashing of Racine in upscale Stowe to take the county by 300 votes. But the Hyde Park cat came back. Democrat Sen. Susan Bartlett once again gave her anti-Act 60 enemies in Stowe a big fat headache as she won her sixth consecutive senate race. Battling Bartlett defeated the Rs' latest, greatest hope -- Rep. Kathy Voyer -- by 181 votes, almost doubling her margin of victory from 2000.

Same deal in Addison County, where Slim Jim sleeps soundly in a Dingleberry, er, Middlebury bed. Mr. Douglas lost his hometown but won the county by 954 votes. Meanwhile, Democrats swept Addison County's two Senate seats for the first time since 1990. Sen. Gerry Gossens won re-election, as did newcomer Claire Ayer. Ms. Ayer won the popular vote in her very first senate race.

And Democrats were particularly elated to finally defeat Republican stalwart Sen. Tom Bahre, whom they've long revered as one of the greatest minds of the 12th century. In the end they limited Bahre's senate run to 12 consecutive years.

Douglas Racine carried his homeland of Chittenden County by just under 2000 votes. Unlike Jim Douglas, he easily swept his hometown of Richmond. But he needed a bigger cushion and didn't get it. Take the Land of Maple Tree Place.

While Doug the Democrat lost the Town of Williston by a decisive 553-vote margin, Williston voters threw out Republican Rep. Michael Quaid and elected two Democrats.

What's with that?

Maybe there is something to the Douglas name confusion?

It either reflects the thoughtfulness and choosiness of Vermont voters, or the possibility that a few thousand ballot-challenged Douglas Racine supporters simply checked the wrong box on the ballot and voted for Jim Douglas. Maybe that explains why Jim got 45 percent while his Republican running mate Brian Dubie got just 41 percent? Either way, it's in the history books now.

The New Boy Wonder? -- Not since 1974, when a 27-year-old kid named Paul Bruhn helped pull a rabbit out of the hat for a Chittenden County state's attorney by the name of Patrick J. Leahy have we seen anything like it.

This time the boy wonder's name is Neale Lunderville. He's 28 years old, and the Jim Douglas campaign was the very first Mr. Lunderville ever managed.

Born at the Mary Fanny and raised in Chittenden County, Neale engineered a sparkling come-from-behind victory. He's a graduate of Mount Mansfield Union High School and American University in Washington, D.C., and he's currently sitting atop Vermont's most-eligible-bachelor list. And Lunderville has definitely made the national political radar screen.

Neale told Seven Days that the day before the election he received a very special call from a guy flying around in a 747. The call came from Air Force One. Karl Rove, the Rasputin of Bush's West Wing, was on the other end.

"He told me, 'We need a big win in Vermont.'

"I told him, 'I'll do my best,'" said the Boy Wonder.

Neale studied political science in college, but he was born with a dose of political DNA. His great-uncle Howard Lunderville, a.k.a. Mr. Williston, was a state legislator and police chief. The great-nephew is about to move into the Fifth Floor of the Pavilion Building with the new administration.

With Young Neale behind the Wheel, the Douglas campaign steered a steady course, following a trusty road map they had decided upon early.

"We rode the flip-flop wave," said Lunderville. "The flip-flop defined [Racine], and we started using it back in April. Vermont voters reacted the way we thought they would."

P.S. Unfortunately, Vermont's most eligible bachelor did not have a perfect election day. Mr. Lunderville, currently a Burlington resident, was a Republican candidate for justice of the peace. There were 39 candidates for 15 slots. Lunderville the Boy Wonder finished 38th.

Can't win 'em all, eh?

Playing the Percentages-- Except for Gov and Lite-Gov, Democrats swept all the lower-tiered races. It's a Gang of Four comprising politicians who can be expected to seek higher office.

Topping the list is Secretary of State Deb Markowitz, with 59 percent of the vote. Jeb Spaulding got 57 percent in his first statewide race. Watch out for Jeb!

Attorney General Bill Sorrell was a nose behind with 56 percent.

And a lot of noses behind Sorrell was Cell Phone, er, sorry, Chainsaw Liz. Auditor Elizabeth Ready won with just 51 percent. That's down from 54 percent the previous election.

As for low vote percentages, let's not forget that most Vermonters did not vote for Jim Douglas and Brian Dubie. And it may come as a surprise to some of Doobie-Doo's more strident supporters that no candidate for Lite-Gov has ever won with a smaller percentage of the vote.

The Pollina Factor -- As we predicted, Progressive Anthony Pollina sealed the win for Republican Brian Dubie. Tony the Prog finished third with 25 percent.

The current snapshot of Vermont's political landscape indicates that no Democrat can win with Pollina in the race. And Pollina can't win with a Democrat in the race. It's a predicament for Vermont's left wing, and an absolute delight for the Republican right wing.

What to do?

Well, Tony the Prog could declare for 2004 next week in hopes of scaring off a Democrat, whom he could then accuse of being the spoiler.

Or the Vermont left, Democrat and Progressive, could wake up and smell the coffee.

DeanWatch2004 -- Our favorite presidential hopeful continues to deny any blame for the dismal showing by his designated successor, Doug Racine. In fact, Gov. Howard Dean says he offered to do whatever he could to help the Quiet Man, but his services weren't sought beyond the perfunctory endorsement.

Any idea why, Ho-Ho?

Could it have anything to do with the fact that you're not exactly one of the most popular people in Vermont?

Dean refuses to buy it. He's busy, after all, working on gaining "presidential stature."

Helping him do that this week is Steve Grossman. Dean for America announced Monday that Mr. Grossman has signed on with the Dean Dream Team. To political insiders, his appointment sends the message that Ho-Ho is for real.

Grossman is a highly regarded big-time money guy whose resume includes excellent service to President Bill Clinton, the Democratic National Commit-tee and AIPAC, the vaunted Israeli lobby on Capitol Hill. He's a major catch.

Mary Fanny Bombshell -- Last Friday Ed Colodny announced that Fletcher Allen Health Care management had concealed a whopping $98 million of Renaissance Project costs. This is a Renaissance we'll pay in our health insurance premiums. The price tag has skyrocketed from $174 million to $326 million!

The one name that was not mentioned in Colodny's remarks was that of the disgraced CEO he replaced -- William Boettcher. Boettcher resigned and took a $750,000 retirement package with him after just four years of service. Asked if Boss Bill was responsible for what appears to be the biggest cover-up in Vermont history, Mister Ed replied, "I will let you draw your own conclusions at this point on responsibility."

One might hope Gov. Jim Douglas will consider applying his proposed Megan's Law to hospital administrators instead of convicted drug dealers. That way it might actually accomplish something.


Colodny's report of the multi-million-dollar cover-up reads like a criminal indictment. But it's not just an indictment of Boettcher. It's an indictment of the Mary Fanny's entire board of trustees, headed by Philip Drumheller of the Lane Press. It includes such corporate geniuses as Verizon's Louise McCarren and IDX's Richie Tarrant and Henry Tufo. If they didn't know that the administration they were overseeing was concealing almost 50 percent of the Renaissance Project's true cost, they damn well should have known.

Insiders are now expecting criminal charges will be brought against Boettcher. But they expect it to be in federal rather than state court. That's because Vermont statutes that would apply are rather flimsy.

In the future, Commissioner Betsy Costle told Seven Days, she'd like folks like Boettcher and other hospital managers put under oath when they testify about a proposed project.

"There should be clear penalties for lying," said Costle, "and civil penalties and fines against individuals."

Mr. Colodny gets high marks for his handling of the Mary Fanny mess. He's only been on duty a month, but Mister Ed is already steering the ship in the right direction. Last Friday he personally notified hospital managers about the latest shockeroo before his press conference. And he publicly apologized to the community and all Mary Fanny employees.

The key to good crisis management is to get all the bad news out first. Colodny's doing that. A lot of people are already remarking that Mister Ed would make a damn good governor.

Media Notes -- The biggest news in media land last week was not the election. It was the firing of Rutland Herald Managing Editor Steve Baumann by Publisher R. John Mitchell.

Baumann, 51, had been with the Rutland Herald for 24 years. He started in 1978 as a stringer and worked his way to the top. He officially replaced John Van Hoesen a year ago after a national search by management. Not only is Steve in the dark about why he was suddenly dismissed, Mitchell has so far not allowed his newspaper to even report Baumann's departure.

"I feel like I've been 'disappeared,'" Baumann told Seven Days this week. "I'm trying to figure out what happened to me. I was told I was doing a good job with news. My style is to work with people on an individual basis. I'm real good at that."

Baumann got the bad news the week before the election, but he asked to stay on through Election Day.

"My election coverage was my swan song," said Baumann. And it was topnotch, too.

So why was Steve sacked?

Publisher Mitchell, who inherited the paper from his dad, declined to respond to either our e-mail or our phone call. He also owns the Barre-Montpelier Times Argus.

Baumann's canning comes in the wake of a string of departures of Boss Mitchell's most talented journalists, including Van Hoesen, Jack Hoffman, Diane Derby and John Dillon.Our phone quickly started ringing off the hook last week with calls from current and former Rutland Herald writers. They were united in their respect and admiration for Steve Baumann and their outrage over the way Boss Mitchell has been steadily dumbing down what once was Vermont's premier daily.

Baumann told Seven Days he will be looking for a new job somewhere. Luckily, three of his four kids are already out of college.

"It's an invigorating time, but it's scary," he said. "I've been working at the old savings and loan for a long time," he added, "and now it's time for George Bailey to move on. It's a wonderful life... I hope."

Best wishes, Steve!

P.S. The Rutland Herald endorsed Con Hogan because that's what John Mitchell wanted. It wasn't what Baumann or David Moats wanted.

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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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