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Assume the Position

Fair Game


Published July 15, 2009 at 8:37 a.m.

Fair Game is Seven Days’ weekly political column.

Next week, Jim Douglas will become the third Vermont chief to head the National Governors Association. Like Howard Dean (1994-95) and Richard Snelling (1981-82) before him, he’ll take over as chairman of the organization of state CEOs, which is now 101 years old.

But unlike either of his Vermont predecessors, Douglas will lead the group at a time when someone from the other party is in the White House. Republican Snelling was chairman during Pres. Ronald Reagan’s first term. Dean, a Democrat, served in the middle of Pres. Bill Clinton’s first four years.

On Dean’s watch, the national guvs convened for a meeting at the Burlington Sheraton. Pres. Clinton came, too.

I remember Clinton’s visit well. I was a reporter at the Burlington Free Press, assigned to join the White House press pool for the day. After sharing some stem-winding policy-wonk gibberish with the governors, the prez hit Church Street and lunched at the Oasis Diner.

No word yet on whether Douglas might lure another NGA summit and presidential visit to Vermont — we’re due, after all. But he does plan to discuss his “initiatives” for the post when he assumes the chairmanship on Monday, said spokeswoman Dennise Casey.

Can’t wait.

Dean focused on children’s health care during his tenure, pitching the state’s poster programs, “Success by Six” and “Dr. Dynasaur.” Snelling advanced a panoply of issues related to Pres. Reagan’s welfare “reform” and the fiscal impact on states of federal devolution.

As GOP governors go, Douglas is pretty liberal compared to the likes of outgoing Alaskan Gov. Sarah Palin, South Carolina’s Gov. Mark Sanford and Mississippi’s Gov. Haley Barbour, notes former Middlebury College political science professor Eric Davis. He expects Douglas to launch an initiative involving energy and the environment — something even the most conservative members of the GOP gubernatorial caucus can embrace.

As we noted in last week’s “Fair Game,” the greenwashing, er, green consumer reports publisher Greenopia ranked Douglas as one of the top 10 “greenest” guvs.

That eco-friendly image may be challenged by his ongoing support to relicense Vermont Yankee, which is likely to be a hot topic when the legislature resumes in January. Ditto turning ATVs loose on state lands and watering down rules protecting archaeological finds.

Davis speculates, “He knows that the next election is going to be a difficult one. He has his base sewn up, but he needs to hold onto the voters in the middle and burnish his green credentials.”

Pushing a national initiative with both Democrats and Republicans will help to solidify Douglas’ reputation as an environmental governor, said Davis.

It’ll also be interesting to see if the post pays off in other ways — for a Republican governor serving during a popular Democratic presidency. The two Democrats who held the post during the unpopular presidency of George W. Bush — governors Janet Napolitano of Arizona and Mark Warner of Virginia — did pretty well for themselves. Napolitano is now secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. Warner won a seat in the U.S. Senate.

Maybe there’s a plum post awaiting Douglas down the line?

For now, expect to see Douglas spending more time in D.C. meeting with Pres. Barack Obama, his administration and members of Congress.

“I expect he’ll appear more regularly on C-SPAN and perhaps some of the national Sunday talk shows,” said Davis. “He’ll particularly receive more national attention from the inside-the-beltway set.”

Can’t hurt when you’re raising cash in a re-election year.

Felling at the Freeps — Late last week, Burlington Free Press staffers learned that three more news-related colleagues had lost their jobs in the latest round of layoffs implemented by the paper’s parent company, the Virginia-based Gannett Company, Inc.

Photographer Alison Redlich, chief graphic designer Deena Murphy and Jill Fahy, an online reporter, were let go. Two more vacant newsroom positions will not be filled.

Other departments, including circulation, are also expected to shed personnel. That’s no surprise, as the Freeps has stopped offering home delivery to certain parts of the state. Freeps Publisher Brad Robertson met twice with employees last Friday to discuss the layoffs in an effort to ease fears of future, deeper cuts.

Gannett’s top bean counters will discuss recent cost-cutting moves and their impact on the media giant’s bottom line in a live webcast on Wednesday morning, as Seven Days hit the streets. Tune in at 10 a.m. to

The Eagle Has Crash-Landed — Last week, the Eagle Times, based in Claremont, N.H., printed its last daily edition after its parent company announced it was filing for bankruptcy. Based just across the Connecticut River from Vermont, the paper covered a number of towns in Windsor County and even maintained a bureau in Springfield.

In addition to the Eagle Times, Eagle Publications published two weekly papers — The Message for the Week, based in Chester, Vt., and the Connecticut Valley Spectator in Lebanon, N.H. — as well as a paper chock-full of classified ads, the Weekly Flea.

One of the paper’s alums is popular WDEV radio host Mark Johnson. Johnson caught his big break at the Times, later moving on to the Burlington Free Press.

“I covered everything,” said Johnson. “It was a great experience for me.”

Johnson rightly noted that the loss of the Times is troubling because it means a part of the region’s journalistic “farm league” has been dismantled.

“Where are these young reporters going to get started? You just can’t start at the New York Times,” notes Johnson.

Dialing for Dollars — Gubernatorial hopeful and Secretary of State Deb Markowitz has bested her two Democratic challengers in the campaign fundraising department.

The full reports will be filed Wednesday, but sources told “Fair Game” that Markowitz raised $190,000 from 1046 donors throughout Vermont, while Chittenden County Sen. Doug Racine raised slightly more than $100,000 from at least 500 donors. Sen. Susan Bartlett of Lamoille County said she has yet to begin raising money in earnest.

Markowitz’s numbers are no surprise. She started lining up support for a gubernatorial bid as early as last fall. Her first campaign check was dated February 6. Racine, who announced before her, received his first contribution on February 10.

I’ll be parsing donor details this week on the Seven Days staff blog, Blurt, along with the totals from incumbent Gov. Douglas. Douglas had about $250,000 left over from last year’s campaign and has only issued one fundraising letter this year, back in March.

Clearly, the fact that two Dems have banked six-figure sums more than a year before the election spells trouble for Douglas. Word is both Markowitz and Racine have recruited plenty of “Democrats for Douglas,” those independent-minded citizens who voted overwhelmingly for “change” with Pres. Obama and “more of the same” with Gov. Douglas.

I guess those White House photo ops with the president haven’t caught fire with voters back home. Not yet, anyway.

A Friend in Need — Democratic state Senate hopeful Philip Baruth proved last week that Vermont’s online political activists are alive and well.

Last week, the blogger, novelist, University of Vermont prof and Burlington school-board member made a pitch on his blog, Daily Briefing. He asked 100 people — who would be dubbed “barnraisers” — to donate to his fledgling campaign. Did I mention Baruth is also a Vermont Public Radio commentator?

During the donor drive, an unexpected person helped put Baruth over the top. He recounted the tale in an email to “Fair Game” over the weekend. I’ll let him take over.

“I’m at 95 donors or so, sitting at my desk in the afternoon, and a friend of mine calls,” wrote Baruth. “She says, ‘Did you make 100?’ I say, ‘No, I need five more.’ She says, ‘I’m on it,’ and she hangs up.”

Within a half-hour, Baruth said his Act Blue donor number ticked up one, which was great, putting him four shy of the 100-donor mark. More importantly, the dollar amount clicked up $1000.

That was unexpected, to say the least, Baruth notes.

“I freak, and click through to the donor details to see who it is: Bob Kerrey.”

Yep, that Bob Kerrey: Ex-U.S. senator from Nebraska and now president of the New School in New York City.

“My friend knows the guy and had dropped him an email, making a real pitch about why we needed change here in Vt., too,” Baruth wrote.

The Democrat obviously liked what he saw.

Not only did Kerrey help Baruth hit 100 donors, he added, “but better, he helped us go over $10,000 total raised so far — not too shabby for a 7-week-old campaign.”

You Can Call Him Al — It was all backslaps, hugs and handshakes last week when the U.S. Senate finally seated its 100th member — U.S. Sen. Al Franken (D-MN).

The “Saturday Night Live” alum and former “Air America” radio-talk-show host bested incumbent Republican Sen. Norm Coleman by a few hundred votes after a long, drawn-out court battle. His ascension means the Dems now have a filibuster-proof 60 senators in the chamber.

Aside from Vermont’s senators Patrick Leahy and Bernie Sanders, another state politico was beaming at Franken’s swearing-in: Bill Lofy.


Lofy is a top-notch political strategist who came to Vermont several years after a long run as a staffer — and then biographer — of Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-MN). Wellstone was killed in a 2002 plane crash.

Lofy worked briefly with state Democrats as a communications director, and later for a legislative political action committee run by former House Speaker Gaye Symington and Senate President Pro Tem Peter Shumlin.

Lofy is now the deputy political director for the national Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee in D.C. In 2008, Lofy worked on Senate campaigns in New Hampshire, Maine, Mississippi, Georgia and Minnesota. By September, the Franken campaign had become his full-time job — and he stuck with it right through the recount and court challenge.

“It was quite an experience,” said Lofy.

Indeed. Mazel Tov!

Express Your “Outrage” — It seems those pols who are caught with their pants down, literally, are the ones who scream the loudest in defense of “family values” and against “homosexuals.”

A new movie, Outrage, examines that apparent contradiction. Publicity materials claim it “boldly reveals the hidden lives of some of our nation’s most powerful policymakers, details the harm they’ve inflicted on millions of Americans, and examines the media’s complicity in keeping their secrets.”


The flick will be screened at 6:30 p.m. this Sunday, July 19, at Burlington’s Roxy Cinema as a fundraiser for the Vermont Pride festival, which is coming up on Saturday, July 25. Tix are $10 and include access to a post-movie chat with press and politicians. I’ll be moderating the discussion, which is being organized by the gals from The League of Drag Queen Voters.

Former Idaho GOP Sen. Larry Craig, who was busted for soliciting sex in an airport restroom, will be featured in the film.

Who else will be outed?

Blurt Report — Between “Fair Game” columns, you can follow me on Blurt, the Seven Days staff blog, as well as on Twitter. I post column updates, previews and random political news tidbits. This past week’s Blurt highlights included “Peace Out,” detailing the push by Peace Corps advocates urging Sen. Leahy to boost the org’s funding. Leahy says the Corps needs an overhaul first, not more money.

Recent Blurt posts by Shay Totten

“Peace Out,” July 7

“Sotomayor’s Supreme Debut,” July 10

“Dispensing the News,” July 10

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Got a news tip? Email Shay at [email protected]

Click here to follow Shay on Twitter.

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