by Peter Freyne
Trust me, it's a wee bit unusual for a member of a state's congressional delegation to publicly smack a state's governor in media land. But that's what happened over the weekend when Democratic U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy let it be known in no uncertain terms here in "Freyne Land" that he viewed Republican Gov. Jim Douglas as "a cheerleader for the war and the administration all the way through."
We weren't going to let it fly without getting a response from the alleged cheerleader.
Checked his online "Public Appearance Schedule" and saw our governor would be making a 9 a.m. appearance at a national Conference of State Medicaid Directors at the Sheraton Burlington.
Hopped in the jalopy. Turned on the radio.
"At least five Americans were killed in Iraq yesterday, three in a suicide-bombing at a checkpoint that also injured eight."
Meanwhile there's the bold leader who made it all possible, President George W. Bush, smiling on the TV screen from Sofia this morning raising his glass in a toast with the Bulgarian President Paranov. Bulgaria?
Anywhere but Washington is the place to be when you just set the all-time record for lowest presidential approval rating - 29 percent.
I know, some wonder how he could even be that high.
Gov. Douglas was his usual charming and witty self this morning as he welcomed the state Medicaid officials from across the nation to Vermont. Learned a few things from Gentleman Jim:
* There are 19 cities in the United States that are bigger than Vermont
* Vermont first adopted the name "New Connecticut"
* Vermont's the second healthiest state
* The second oldest state, and
* Has the second-lowest number of uninsured
Also learned from a National Association of State Medicaid Directors official that since the NASMD's last meeting in November, 26 out of 50 state Medicaid Directors have left their posts. That's a staggering 52 percent turnover rate!
Vermont's Medicaid Director, Josh Slen, however, has been in his post since 2003. A seasoned veteran, eh?
Anyway, Pedro, get to the point, dammit! What did Jim Douglas say about Pat Leahy calling him a "cheerleader" for the Bush-Cheney War in Iraq?
Well, I caught him in the hall after his speech. Just the two of us and the state trooper. Told Jim what Patrick had said - and what we had published in Freyne Land.
DOUGLAS: Does that make it so?
FREYNE: I don’t know.
DOUGLAS: I think we’ve covered this ground a lot.
FREYNE: I just want to get it from the horse’s mouth.
DOUGLAS: Well, I expect that the protesters are interested in the congressional offices because they [the congressional delegation] have something to say about it, whereas I don’t. They’re the ones who authorize military action, authorize the expenditures for that action. I think their concern is directed appropriately.
FREYNE: As far as I’m aware, your only criticism of the war policy was a few months ago when you called for an exit strategy. But I have never heard you criticize the policy or say it was wrong, a mistake. As you know, many people are saying that it was a lie about the ‘weapons of mass destruction’ and all that stuff. You’re a man [who is] very careful with your words, which we appreciate, but are you critical of the policy? Have I missed something?
DOUGLAS: Well, your question was about the protesters and I have nothing to do with the decision to authorize the use of force or fund it. Members of Congress do.
FREYNE: So you're drawing the line there? I’m not going to get past that?
End of interview. Douglas did a very smooth Pontius Pilate, washed his hands of the matter and off he went.
I've learned from years of experience that one is not going to get Jim Douglas to address a subject he does not wish to address, unless you've got a few other reporters, preferably with TV cameras, who are also interested in an answer to the same question.
Incidentally, here's the response we received last night from the Guv's spokesman Jason Gibbs to this question: "Given what we all now know regarding no Iraq WMDs, no link to 9/11 etc, does the governor have any criticism of the White House war policy or for leading us into this mess?"
Mr. Gibbs via email: The Governor has been crystal clear on this issue. He expects the Congress and the administration to stop pointing fingers at one another and get to work finding a real, responsible exit strategy that will bring our troops home as soon as possible.
Vermonters, and all Americans, are frustrated by the lack of progress in Washington and expect both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue to get their act together and find a way to bring this war to a conclusion.
You may have noticed neither gent was the least bit critical of the disastrous, dishonest Iraq War policy or of its architects.
By this time next year, I predict, there won't be many Republican pols left standing out there who won't be publicly critical of the Bush-Cheney War policy.
What do you think?