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The Left Gets Smart

Inside Track


Published October 27, 2004 at 4:00 p.m.
Updated November 7, 2017 at 12:33 p.m.

With just a few days to go until the big vote, the race for lieutenant governor of Vermont is fast becoming the race to watch. And Seven Days has detected a noticeable swing in favor of the Democratic challenger Cheryl Rivers as more and more Progressives wake up and smell the coffee.

Republican incumbent Brian Dubie is seeking a second term. He won two years ago with just 41 percent of the vote. That's because it was a three-way race. Democrat Peter Shumlin came in second with 32 percent. And Progressive Anthony Pollina finished third with 25 percent.

No one in Vermont appreciates the Progressive Party more than Brian Dubie.

This time former State Sen. Cheryl Rivers, a longtime champion of causes near and dear to Democrats and Progressives alike, is taking her first shot at statewide office. And much to Doobie-Doo's delight, Progressive State Rep. Steve Hingtgen is running, too.

The only media poll so far shows the 2004 lite-gov race shaping up like a repeat of 2002, with the Progressive and Democrat dividing the left and handing victory to the enemy.

But, stop the presses!

Seven Days has learned that the Progressive Party is in turmoil! Independent thinking has broken out! Leading Progs are jumping ship, folks, and coming out of the closet for Cheryl Rivers, the Democrat. And, according to sources, internal tracking polls at one party headquarters are showing Hingtgen's 15 percent support cut in half.

What's going on?

Ellen Oxfeld has been active in progressive politics since then-Mayor Bernie Sanders ran for Congress in 1988. She's worked for Bernie every two years since and also helped organize the Progressive Party in the late 1990s.

However, Oxfeld, the Prog Party's Addison County chair, is not going to be voting for the Progressive Party candidate this time. Instead, she has become a passionate Rivers supporter.

The Middlebury College anthropologist told Seven Days she firmly believes in the need for a third party in Vermont. She supported Pollina in his 2000 bid for governor and 2002 run for lite-gov because he was raising issues the Democrat wasn't.

She's right. Pollina took on the old Howard Dean, the one we often satirized as Vermont's "Republican" governor. And former Sen. Peter Shumlin had a gasoline-and-matches relationship with the far left.

This time, however, it's a horse of a different color.

Oxfeld told Seven Days that while she has "a high regard" for Hingtgen, "It doesn't make sense" for him to be in this race.

"Cheryl Rivers is doing exactly what we criticize Democrats for not doing," said Oxfeld. "She's advancing Progressive issues."

Oxfeld pointed out that Rivers is calling for publicly funded health care, livable wages and prescription drugs from Canada.

Similar sentiments are being expressed by a former colleague of Hingtgen who served with him in the General Assembly.

Former State Rep. Carina Driscoll (P-Burlington) told Seven Days that, unlike last time, she will be not be supporting her own party's candidate for lieutenant governor.

"I've served with Steve and I have a great deal of respect for his contribution," said Driscoll, "but I'm supporting Cheryl because she's the best candidate, hands down."

In Carina the Prog's mind, Rivers the Democrat is the candidate "who can win, bring the left together and make the difference we need for Vermont."

What the hell is going on? If the Progressives ever did anything right, it was marching in lockstep.

Now that dashing and handsome Tony the Prog has retired from running losing campaigns and taken up the perch of a WDEV talk-show host, a few seemingly normal, intelligent Proggies are starting to see the light.

Or maybe the impact of the Green Monster, Ralph Nader's 2000 presidential campaign and the spoiler role he played in key states like New Hampshire, has finally sunk in? Imagine waking up every day and not hearing the latest body count from Iraq? Not hearing George W. Bush's voice?

In a perfect world it'd be positively delightful to have Instant Runoff Voting, something Progs tout. Third-, even fourth- and fifth-party candidates could have a real shot and the voters would be exposed to a broader public debate than the one offered by the two Big Bad Major Parties.

But, in case you haven't noticed, we do not live in a perfect world.

Progressives Oxfeld and Driscoll are not alone. Though Congressman Bernie Sanders runs as an Independent, free of party labels, it was the Progressive Coalition he spawned in Burlap 20 years ago -- when stepdaughter Carina was but a little tyke -- that became what is the Progressive Party today. For years Anthony Pollina ran the congressman's Vermont office. And Ol' Bernardo, long a Rivers ally, is also urging Progs to back the horsewoman from Windsor County.

Stevie Wonderful was not pleased to hear how fellow Progs Oxfeld and Driscoll view his candidacy.

"I'm sick of this spoiler stuff," said Hingtgen. "It's a joke. They're trying to marginalize me."

Damn Progressives, eh? You just can't trust them.

Actually, it's not a joke, Steve. Republican Brian Dubie winning a second term with just 41 percent of the vote would be a joke. A sick joke, too, in the eyes of Vermonters who will vote overwhelmingly for Sanders, as well as for Democrats Patrick Leahy and John Kerry.

As they'd say in Vegas, there's a lot of last-second movement in this race among the Vermont left -- movement toward Rivers the Democrat. An upset is brewing. Looks live Ma Rivers not only can lead a horse to water, she can also make it think.

Crystal Ball: Rivers upsets Dubie. Hingtgen doesn't break 10 percent. The Vermont left finally gets its act together on the Montpeculiar stage.

P.S. Howard Dean is scheduled to endorse Auditor Elizabeth Ready on Wednesday. In the wake of stories about her bogus academic claims, Ready is in the fight of her life against GOP newcomer Randy Brock.

Trust me, the Republicans haven't counted Chainsaw Liz out.

Prediction: Brock wins a squeaker.

Overlooked Official -- A few weeks back we made our first predictions: Leahy for U.S. Senate. Bernie for Congress. Deb Markowitz for secretary of state, Jeb Spaulding for treasurer.

Easy calls.

But one reader called us concerned we might know something he didn't. You see, we'd left out one state official who in the minds of many should win easily on November 2.

The reader was Democratic Attorney General Bill Sorrell. He sounded nervous when he called.

We assured him it was just an oversight. We'd discovered no ghosts in his closet.

Glad to know our top law enforcement officer is so vigilant, eh?

Speaking of Sorrell -- It sounds like a script for a sitcom. Our attorney general says the Republican Governors Association has been breaking Vermont law by flooding our TV airwaves with ads exhalting Jim Douglas as the greatest leader Vermont's ever seen. But General Wild Bill says there's not a damn thing he can do about it.

"The shame is," Sorrell told Seven Days, "our campaign-finance law was designed just to avoid these big-dollar contribution organizations coming in here and having a dramatic impact on our elections."

The RGA, fueled by $50,000 from the big insurance companies, defense contractors and drug companies, has dumped $300,000 on TV ads exhalting our beloved Republican Gov. Jim Douglas. It's not supposed to happen, but it did.

Gen. Sorrell, however, won't charge the RGA because of a legal principle called estoppel.

The gist of it is that, since RGA attorneys claim they called the secretary of state's office in advance and got the green light, Sorrell has to let them off the hook.

"The folks at the elections division say they get all kinds of these calls," Sorrell told us. "They can't say that it didn't happen. And they have no recollection of an attorney calling on behalf of the RGA."

Noting the RGA is represented by "high-priced counsel from out of state," Gen. Billy said, "We assume that the conversation took place. We don't think they identified themselves very clearly and we're not sure exactly what they said about their organization, but we're accepting it as what they say."

Yes, I know. Very weird.

It sounds a little like: "Officer, I know that's marijuana in the little plastic bag, but I swear I called the criminal division of the attorney general's office and was told by someone whose name I don't remember that it's OK in Vermont to possess less than an ounce of pot."

Fat chance, eh?

The Democrats and the Clavelle Campaign are trying to get the matter before a judge, but the damage has been done.

Meanwhile, the beneficiary, Gov. Scissorhands, says he knew nothing in advance about the illegal RGA TV blitz. Under the law, he points out, he's not allowed to know or communicate with outside soft-money groups.

When asked by Ch. 3's Anson Tebbetts if the ads violated Vermont's campaign-finance law, Douglas ducked the question. Instead, he claimed Vermont's Democratic Party gets big-bucks out-of-state contributions, too.

Nice for Vermonters to know they've got a governor who coddles lawbreakers, eh?

There's no sign Mayor Moonie is going to make an issue of it. Instead, Mr. Clavelle is still promising to end the Iraq War and stop the draft from starting up.

Clavelle for Congress!

Speaking of the Draft -- Unfortunately, last week's riot by University of Vermont students was not related to the War in Iraq. Instead, it was about the Red Sox beating the New York Yankees.

Good clean fun.

At least, unlike in Beantown, no college student died after being shot by police during the victory celebration.

The midnight student riot -- caught on tape by an on-the-ball WCAX-TV crew -- is the biggest black eye Groovy UV's gotten since the scandalous Men's Ice Hockey Hazing Scandal.

Remember the "elephant walk," folks?

This was more like an out-of-control herd of chimpanzees. And unfortunately, the zookeepers, i.e., the UVM administration, didn't have a clue anything like it would erupt in their student section.

Burlington Police Lt. Emett Helrich was the shift supervisor that fateful night. Emmett's a Yankees fan, blessed with Detective Andy Sipowicz-like street smarts. He anticipated the last game of the American League pennant race might cause a little trouble around downtown's watering holes. Helrich alerted neighboring PDs of possible trouble and kept a few officers on overtime from the earlier shift.

When the game ended, said Lt. Helrich, "The bars emptied out and everybody was beautiful! They were bouncing up and down, being Red Sox fans." They chanted, "Who's your daddy?" and "Yankees suck."

"No one was unruly," said Helrich.

Hey, let's hear it for the owners and staff of our licensed establishments, eh?

"Then we get the call from UVM that they need help," said Lt. Helrich.

First he sent four cops. Then came a call for more help and he sent an additional six, along with himself.

He vividly remembers what he saw -- "an obscene mob."

"They acted like hooligans, running around in herds setting fires and knocking over lampposts."

UVM President Dan Fogel told Seven Days the administration had no idea a Red Sox victory might spark a full-blown campus riot.

"It was an unprecedented event," said UVM's Danny Boy. "We have never had a disturbance like this before around an athletic celebration."

Fogel was aware, however, that American society has seen an uptick of violent sports-related celebrations in recent years, like the one in Detroit following the Pistons NBA championship victory. Somebody call the psychology department!

"We're thankful no one was hurt," said Fogel. "We will be better prepared next time."

On Tuesday, UVM announced five students were criminally charged for their Red Sox monkey business. More arrests are expected.

Stop the Presses -- Local developers are pulling their hair out! Layoffs are just around the bend! The biggest unreported major story in Chittenden County is that the recent Water Resources Board decision on stormwater means there will be no -- repeat, no -- new significant commercial or residential development in the county for the next several years.

That's according to someone who ought to know -- Ernie Pomerleau of Pomerleau Real Estate, a major Vermont shopping center/big-box developer. It's Ernie's site in South Burlington where the construction of a new Lowe's Home Center was halted by the WRB.

Environmental groups, led by the Conservation Law Foundation -- -- are touting the Vermont decision as a landmark case with national implications. Local developers are now required to get permits under the Federal Clean Water Act.

Under federal requirements, said Pomerleau, not one drop of new pollution run-off will be allowed. It's an impossible standard, he said, and development has quietly come to a grinding halt in Vermont's wealthiest county.

"If you're totally against growth, this is the greatest thing since sliced bread," said Pomerleau. "We have to go nuclear!"

Stay tuned.

Correction -- Last week yours truly incorrectly identified Progressive Party lite-gov hopeful Steve Hingtgen as a "Republican." A typo... or was it?

You see, I've known Hingtgen for years and am very much aware of his party affiliation. And so are the two Seven Days editors and one proofreader who see this column every week, including the one with the Progressive Party housemate and the one with the progressive boyfriend.

Nonetheless, every single one of us missed the "Republican" label on Stevie.

A few Proggies who noticed were outraged.

How did it happen?

Best guess -- a political Freudian slip. A vote for Steve, after all, is a vote for Dubie the Republican. Everybody -- well, almost everybody -- knows it.

Sorry, Steve.

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