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Bernie Sanders

A Papal Diversion

Inside Track


Published April 6, 2005 at 4:00 p.m.

Had Pope John Paul II not passed away last Saturday, the Sunday TV news shows would have focused on the latest government study showing that President George W. Bush's oil-driven invasion of Iraq was unequivocally based on lies and deception.

Instead, we got wall-to-wall pope. And all of it delivered as if the former Polish cardinal who became pope back in 1978 was a legitimate player on the world's current political stage.

Quite frankly, he wasn't.

Does anyone care that Pope John Paul II was one of the world's leading critics of Bush's immoral, illegal invasion of Iraq?

No matter. Dubya quickly ordered American flags to fly at half-staff. And our president is planning to attend the papal funeral. Can't pass up a photo-op like that, eh?

Does anyone care that President Bush currently owns the bloodiest hands on Earth? That his deceit on the national and international stage has led to the deaths of tens of thousands of innocent Iraqi civilians as well as thousands of soldiers on both sides?

Does anyone care that American soldiers and National Guard weekend warriors will continue to be maimed and killed because our president deceived Congress and the American people about Iraq's threat to our security?

Heck, no. We've got a pope to bury! Praise God! Hallelujah!

Four more American soldiers were reported killed in Iraq yesterday. Who cares? We've got a pope to bury!

But let's be real for just a moment.

After all, it's 2005, not 1505. Instead of building new cathedrals to worship almighty God, Roman Catholic churches are closing for lack of worshippers. Even in Holy Ireland, the Isle of Saints and Scholars, attendance at Sunday mass is half what it was just a decade ago.

Meanwhile, over the last 10 years hundreds of Catholic clergymen have been exposed and criminally charged as sexual predators of children. Some Catholic dioceses are on the brink of bankruptcy following multimillion-dollar payouts resulting from civil lawsuits.

Yes, John Paul II, the first Polish pope, was once a noble champion of democracy throughout the Iron Curtain countries of the former Soviet bloc. But that's yesterday's news. The Soviet Union has since collapsed. Communism, once a great threat to Catholicism, has crumbled as a political movement.

The fact is, the Catholic Church under John Paul II failed miserably at maintaining even a semblance of credibility in the modern world. Under John Paul II's leadership, its message remained locked in the Dark Ages.

Over the last three decades, it became a message so out of date that vocations to the priesthood and convent have dried up, mass attendance has dropped sharply, and increasing numbers of practicing Catholics publicly flaunt church teaching. The pope's rigid moral opposition to birth control, women's rights and gay rights has left the Holy Roman Catholic Church an anachronism in the modern world.

Even Jesus would surely be shaking his head at what the church founded on his teachings has become.

Of course, the warmonger in the White House was quick to seize on the passing of John Paul II as a cause celebre. With our country locked in a needless, endless war in Iraq, Mr. Bush is only too happy to see the attention shift elsewhere.

The news media has followed along like obedient, patriotic sheep, behaving like Pope John Paul's death at 84 is the most important news story on Planet Earth at the moment.

God help us all, eh?

Vermont's Loss -- Closer to home, Vermont lost two of its all-time best in the past week: UVM Professor Will Miller and WCAX-TV owner Stuart "Red" Martin.

Will and Red represented opposite extremes on the political spectrum. Will saw politics through the eyes of a leftist revolutionary. Red, through the eyes of a conservative Republican.

Tributes to Miller have been pouring in. You can check them out and find more on Prof. Miller's life at http://www.willmiller.org.

Martin, the man who brought television to Vermont, was a regular in "Inside Track," even though he hadn't spoken to us since 1996 when we asked him why his financial contribution to the opponet of Rep. Bernie Sanders had exceeded the legal limit.

The spry, then 83-year-old owner of WGOP-TV told us he considered getting rid of Congressman Sanders "a public service."

Funny that Ol' Bernardo made the Ch. 3 news report on Martin's death, saying nice things about Red.

Both Will and Red were remarkably independent souls. Vermont was a much better place for having them.

Barnett's Star Rises -- The Vermont Republican Party's 28-year-old chairman Jim Barnett is finally becoming a household word on the state's political scene. It appears Mad Dog's GOP fundraising letter trashing Vermont "turncoat" Jim Jeffords was the key.

The young Mr. Barnett, a Vermont native, along with the young Mr. Neale Lunderville, were the campaign whizzes that got Jim Douglas elected governor in 2002. They repeated their performance in 2004.

Jeffords' supporters, including many Democrats, quickly cried foul over the Barnett letter. How could anyone slime a Vermont political legend like Jeezum Jim and call him such a vile name?

On Monday, the state's largest daily ran an op-ed piece by a Republican calling for Chairman Barnett's removal.

"The Vermont GOP Chairman Needs to Go," by Bruce Post, a former aide to U.S. Sen. Robert Stafford and Gov. Richard Snelling, called on Gov. Douglas to "show [Barnett] the door."

Fat chance.

Post compared Barnett to Karl Rove, Bush's "political hit man, who made his fame and fortune in perfecting and implementing dirty tricks and character assassination."

Doesn't Post realize that such comparisons make Barnett's head swell?

"I have never known Douglas to believe the ends justify the means," wrote Post. "Now is not the time to start. In publicly repudiating Barnett and showing him the door, Douglas might cost the Vermont GOP some money, but he may indeed help save its political soul."

What Mr. Post and most Vermonters apparently don't realize is that Gov. Scissorhands has no problem whatsoever with Chairman Barnett's performance to date, or with his "Turncoat" fundraising letter. In fact, when asked about it the other day, Douglas sang Mad Dog's praises!

"Chairman Barnett," said Douglas, "will do what he feels is in the best interest of the Republican Party, and he's been a very successful chairman. He's raised a lot of money. He's restored the financial base of the party in a very positive way."


As for Mad Dog's response to the op-ed attack, the GOP chairman had a short and sweet one: "The First Amendment is a wonderful thing!"

The fact is, in the liberal/progressive paradise called Vermont, the GOP holds some pretty impressive real estate: the governor's office, the lieutenant governor's office and the state auditor's office.

In politics as in life, talent rises to the top. And at the moment, the GOP talent is winning.

P.S. One sign of Barnett's increased stature is that he was able to get White House Chief of Staff Andy Card to come to little Vermont for a Burlington fundraiser on April 15 at the Wyndham Hotel.

Should be fun!

Veto Backfire -- It's not that the Democrats aren't trying. But last week's attempt by the state party to overturn Douglas' first veto of the legislative session blew up in their faces.

The bill would have consolidated investments of several state pension systems. The Guv objected to a technicality in the bill.

The Democrats hold a veto-proof majority in the state Senate. But in the House, the GOP has 57 out of 150 seats. A two-thirds veto override would require Republican "turncoats."

The Democratic Party rose to the veto bait, deciding to make it the session's first public test of strength. The Ds sent out postcards to voters in selected Republican legislative districts urging them to contact their rep and urge a veto override.

The mailing, however, only served to stiffen the spine of the Republicans.

When the showdown came, only one Republican, Rep. Mary Morrissey of Bennington, pulled a Jeezum Jim and voted with the Democrats and Progressives. The vote was 87-57, leaving the Ds nine votes short of the required two-thirds.

It was a very sweet victory for Gov. Douglas.

"I was very disappointed that this became such a political undertaking," said Douglas. "The Demo-cratic Party spending money to affect the outcome of a veto vote in the General Assembly is unprecedented," he added.

Did the Democrat Party strategy backfire?

"That's a tactical question," replied Democratic State Chairman Peter Mallary. "We'll all learn from one piece of it or another. Basically, I ask you to look at what we sent out. All we sent out," said Mallary, "was a postcard with some facts which stated the Democratic Party position on this."

Damn facts.

Progressive State Rep. David Zuckerman, like his fellow Progs, voted to override. However, Zuckerman wasn't shy about suggesting the Democratic mailing made the difference.

"There were other groups out there," said Farmer Dave, "trying to get folks to call their representatives and get Republicans to consider the merits of the bill over the politics of the situation."

An override of the Douglas veto looked doable, said Zuckerman, but then the Democratic postcards hit the mail.

"The postcard created a clear political line," he said, "and it made people fall on one side or the other."

Live and learn.

Moonie's Last Hurrah? -- Burlington Mayor Peter Clavelle gave what many think was his final "State of the City" address Monday evening at City Hall. Clavelle was in top form -- relaxed, confident and justifiably proud of his long record of accomplishment.

Ah! If only he had been as skilled at running a statewide campaign for governor, eh?

If Clavelle had won the governor's race last November, the question surrounding health-care reform legislation under the golden dome wouldn't be "Will it pass?" but rather, "When does it take effect?"

As Clavelle noted back in 1989 when he first became mayor, the city and school department shelled out about $2 million to provide health-care coverage for employees. Today that number is $10 million. Who pays?

Property taxpayers, that's who.

And the future is not looking too bright at the moment. Presi-dent Bush's proposed federal budget, he said, "will undermine the ability of this city to thrive."

While the president wants $500 billion for the military in a world where we're the only superpower, Bush also wants big cuts in funding for the homeless, community development block grants and housing subsidies.

"These challenges will come home to roost this year," said Clavelle.

Listening intently to the mayor's speech were about a half-dozen politicians eager to replace him next spring.

Democratic State Rep. John Tracy, who announced his candidacy a few weeks ago in this column, sat in the front row.

Republican Councilor Kevin Curley's hat has also been tossed into the mayoral ring. And seated next to Curley was Ward 4's new Republican Councilor Kurt Wright, who may also have an eye on the mayor's office.

Progressive Councilor Jane Knodell all but took her name out of contention, telling yours truly she's pretty busy these days with her responsibilities as a dean at UVM. (Besides, she earns twice the mayor's salary at Groovy UV.) But fellow Prog Phil Fiermonte told us he "hasn't ruled out" a mayoral run next year.

Former Democratic State Rep. Karen Lafayette is also considering a mayoral shot. Her grandfather Ed Moran was once mayor. In fact, the Waterfront eyesore -- the abandoned Moran Generating Station -- was named after him.

Karen's currently a Statehouse lobbyist representing the city. It just wouldn't be appropriate to discuss future political plans, she said.

Ward 6 Democrat Andy Montroll told us he is "seriously considering" a mayoral bid, but noted the obvious: "It's still really early in the game."

In fact, Rep. Tracy's surprise announcement has created a little backlash. It's clear fellow Demo-crats are not anywhere close to conceding the nomination to John-John, and feel a little bit ignored by Tracy's early entrance.

Though Tracy has masterfully transformed a bartending career at Nectar's into success in the legislature, many question what he's ever accomplished for Burlington.

As for Clavelle, his crunching defeat last November appears to have left a bitter taste in his mouth for another gubernatorial shot.

That would be most unfortunate. There are few political leaders in Vermont who can match Clavelle's record of accomplishment, and a nicer guy you'll never meet. All Moonie lacked was the Democratic equivalent of Barnett and Lunderville on his campaign team.

Being in politics for any length of time means winning some and losing some. Mayor Moonie has had some recent defeats, but over the long haul the legacy he'll leave behind will be one for the history books.

New Voice -- Rep. Bernie Sanders has a new press secretary and, for a change, he's picked a woman!

Erin Campbell graduated from the University of Arizona in 1997 with a degree in English. Last fall she was communications director for Democrat Patsy Keever, unsuccessful candidate for Congress from the 11th District of North Carolina.

How did Erin get the job with Ol' Bernardo?

She applied!

According to Jeff Weaver, Sanders' chief of staff, "dozens and dozens" applied to be press secretary to the only Independent in the U.S. House of Represent-atives. Five applicants got interviews, and three of them got to sit down with Ol' Bernardo for a final screening.

Ms. Campbell is Sanders' third consecutive press secretary who lacks Vermont roots.

"The truth is," said Weaver, "we always like to hire folks with a Vermont connection." Unfortu-nately, he added, "many people who live in Vermont are not anxious to leave."

No kidding.