Governor Howard Dean has had it up to here with his two favorite Democratic critics in the state Senate, and he's not pulling his punches.
The two in question are Senators Elizabeth Ready of Addison County and Cheryl Rivers of Windsor County. For eight years they've been the upper chamber's unabashed liberals. Along with Sen. Dick McCormack, they lined up with 14 Republicans a couple of weeks ago to throw a major kink into the state's deficit-reduction engine. The "usual suspects," as Dr. Dean has referred to them of late, helped tack an amendment onto the bill that would have wiped out Vermont's $15 million worth of 1995 red ink faster than you could say "presto change." The amendment called for a halt in the implementation of Ho-Ho's health care reform express. They won't succeed in stopping that train since the House won't buy it, but they have succeeded in mucking up the deficit-reduction timetable — the one Ho-Ho sold Wall Street on in November.
Is the Gov upset? Royally ticked off is more like it.
So when yours truly asked our beloved governor the other day for an assessment of Ready and Rivers, "no comment" was not in the range of possible answers.
"On critical issues like health care," replied Ho-Ho, "they vote with the Republicans. I don't consider Elizabeth to be a Democrat."
Say what? Does that apply to Sen. Rivers, Gov?
"Cheryl has a long, distinguished career of trying to do good things for other people," said Dean, "which unfortunately ended when she got into the state Senate."
Before being elected to the Senate in 1988, Rivers was a fixture under the golden dome as a lobbyist for the Vermont Low Income Advocacy Council. Queen Madeleine was in charge and Rivers was a force. Informed of Ho-Ho's warm and fuzzy comments, Rivers replied "I'm very proud of the work I did then and I'm very proud of the work I've done since I've been in the Senate. She said she's been Dean's "strongest supporter" in the Senate on transportation issues. "But do I agree with him on everything? No."
In an earlier interview Ready had taken the high road in discussing her relations with the state's chief Democrat. She noted she had a "lifelong commitment" to issues of social justice. "It's a very, very valid point of view that should be discussed here," she said. "I'm not at war with the Governor," insisted Ready. "These are important issues and they can't be allowed to be brought down to the level of personalities."
One hour later, after Ho-Ho had unofficially cast her out of the Democratic Party, Lizzie's sharp tongue came to the fore. "Some governors," she said, are like banty roosters running around in a barnyard. They make a lot of noise, but it doesn't amount to much."
With the scent of civil war hanging heavy in the Statehouse air, yours truly sought out a peacemaker in the person of Rep. Steve Howard of Rutland — the chairman of the Vermont Democratic Party. Informed of Ho-Ho's barbed comments, L'il Stevie took a deep breath and said, "The Governor made a mistake. Clearly senators Ready and Rivers care an awful lot about the issues they bring to the table." The best spin he could put on the mess was to declare "Rivers and Ready are very good Democrats and Governor Dean is a very good Democrat, too."
But just what Democratic Party do these characters belong to? Fact is, Mr. Party Chairman hasn't even met with the Big Cheese since he won his new title in November by defeating Dean's candidate.
It's clear that in Vermont, there's the Democratic Party, a basically left-leaning crowd that votes for Bernie Sanders, and then there's the Howard Dean Party. The Dems vote for him because there's nowhere else to go and Republicans like his breeding. As long as that's the way the state's political landscape stands, the head honcho of the Howard Dean Party can say what he damn well pleases.
He's Back — As you read here first a couple weeks back, John Carroll is back on his feet and ready for Round Two of the race for lieutenant governor. J.C. took out a second mortgage through the Landmark Bank Lebanon, New Hampshire (he says he also qualified for one from the Ledyard Bank of Norwich, but Landmark had better rates). And he's back at work at Banknorth in Burlap. Sure he got bloodied up a little on this one, but they say adversity builds character. Chances are his GOP rival, who jumped in at the first whiff of blood, will fumble and stumble along the trail, too. Don't you love primaries?
Media Notes — After years of crying, Vermont's boldest and brashest talk-radio host has made it onto the Chittenden County airwaves. "On the Air with Tim Philbin" was picked up Monday by WZBZ-AM. That's 1070 on the dial. He's doing the show 10 a.m.-noon Monday through Friday at the WSYB studios in Rutland. Philbin, who doesn't remember how many votes he did or didn't get in the 1992 congressional race against 0l' Bernardo, loves to come up with nicknames for celebrity pols and press types like Sam "Hemorrhoid" for "Burlington Freaky Press" columnist Sam Hemingway. Cover your ears, folks. The Vermont version of Rush Limbaugh is on the screech.
The Deal of the Decade? — According to reliable sources, a couple of local developers are in play with the grand scheme of bringing not only a badly needed civic center to Chittenden County, but a minor league ice-hockey franchise, too. The location — 1150 Hinesburg Road in South Burlington, just south of Lane Press. The 100 acre-plus parcel was purchased last month from the Marble Bank for $537,500. The buyer? "Summer Ice Joint Ventures," 82 Church St., Burlington. That's the HQ for the Mark Neagley Construction Company. Neagley didn't want to say much about the scheme Tuesday. "The deal," he told Inside Track, "is cloaked in all kinds of intrigue." His partner is Staige Davis, the realtor. The late word at deadline is that another unnamed developer is in play for the civic center crown. "It looks like somebody is beating us to the punch," said Davis. An announcement could come as early as Wednesday. This could be a hot one.