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Bernie Sanders

Ah, Vergennes

Inside Track


Published June 2, 2004 at 4:00 p.m.

Vergennes is the election-year place to be for Memorial Day festivities and this year was no different. Where else could you see grown, fez-wearing men riding camel-butts on go-carts? Civil War cavalry and scruffy colonials firing muskets? Bernie Sanders in a coat and tie?

Plus, there was the jolt to the eardrums from the sudden low-level swoop by two F-16s from the Vermont Air Guard. It was a reminder of the current state of existence -- the state called war. It's actually the longest surviving state in the history of the human race.

In the war that created the United States of America, the Revolutionary War, the Addison County town of Vergennes was on the front line. And the victory won, as Congressman Sanders so eloquently described it in his post-parade speech on the Green, marked a giant step forward for "the radical idea that ordinary people could govern themselves." That human beings "did not need to be ruled by kings and queens."

It may seem long ago to us, but only a few grains have since fallen through the neck of the hourglass of history. And for most humans alive today, democracy as we know it is still not a part of their life experience.

Vergennes is also remembered as the place where a Vermont congressman once spent the campaign season in jail, but won reelection anyway.

Rep. Matthew Lyon won his first term in 1796. He did so without TV commercials or lawn signs. And he quickly got into the thick of things in Foggy Bottom.

Very interesting dude, Matthew Lyon. A native of County Wicklow, Ireland, Lyon emigrated to the then British Colonies as a 14-year-old indentured servant and landed on a Connecticut farm. Then he headed north to the New Hampshire Grants we now call Vermont.

Lt. Lyon served with the original Green Mountain Boys. Founded Fair Haven, he did. And published a newspaper and a twice-monthly periodical titled The Scourge of the Aristocracy and Repository of Important Political Truth.

Lyon's also remembered for spitting in the face of Connecticut Rep. Roger Griswold on the House floor. Two weeks later Griswold and "Spitting Lyon" engaged in fisticuffs. Griswold used his cane. Lyon grabbed the fireplace tongs.

Ah, the good old pre-C-Span days!

Lyon and Sanders do bear a wee resemblance, if not in hair styles, at least in their passionate championing of the underdog and the First Amendment. Instead of a Brooklyn accent, Lyon spoke with an Irish brogue. If only they had tape recorders in 1798, eh?

That was the year the right-wingers of the day, led by President John Adams, put a Patriot Act-style law in force called the Alien and Sedition Acts. It's the kind of legislation George W. Bush dreams about these days -- the abolition of free speech!

The law punished anyone who spoke or published anything that brought the President or Congress "into contempt or disrepute," or might excite against them "the hatred of the good people of the United States," thereby stirring up "sedition within the United States."

Virginia's Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence, called the Acts "an unconstitutional reign of terror."

Vermont's Lyon agreed wholeheartedly and volunteered to be the guinea pig. He quickly published a letter in a Vermont paper criticizing Adams.

In that letter to the Vermont Journal, Rep. Lyon attacked the Adams administration for its "unbounded thirst for ridiculous pomp, foolish adulation and selfish avarice."

Some things just never change in the White House, eh?

Lyon, a Revolutionary War veteran, was quickly arrested, tried and convicted. The congressman from Vermont got four months' jail time in Vergennes and a $1000 fine -- big bucks in 1798. He also won reelection from his jail cell.

Imagine a people electing a convict to Congress?

Damn Vermonters. Even back then, it appears Vermont was taking the point in the American experiment with democracy.

The Alien and Sedition Acts were declared unconstitutional by two states in 1799. And in the election of 1800, not only did his arch-enemy President John Adams lose, but it was Rep. Matthew Lyon of Vermont who cast the tie-breaking vote in the House to make Thomas Jefferson the new president of the United States.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Mr. Lyon is enjoying a bit of a historical comeback these days, in part thanks to Mr. Sanders.

Last month, Ol' Bernardo, along with 18 other House members, asked the Citizens' Stamp Advisory Committee to recommend to the postmaster general that a commemorative postage stamp be issued in honor of the Lyon from Vermont.

If successful, Matthew Lyon, Vermont patriot, will finally enjoy the pleasure of a good licking.

Debate Season? -- In 2002, Republican Jim Douglas and Democrat Doug Racine appeared at countless forums and debates to help voters distinguish between the men who wished to succeed Gov. Howard Dean.

It was an example of Vermont's grassroots, up-close-and-personal style of political campaigning. Don't expect a repeat in 2004.

That's because this time we have an incumbent. And, as incumbents often do, the current one does not appear as eager in 2004 to debate his Democrat opponent as he was in 2002.

One example is this Friday's scheduled gubernatorial forum sponsored by the Snelling Center for Government moderated by WCAX anchorman Marselis Parsons. Peter Clavelle the Democrat will be there. Douglas the Republican will not.


Clavelle told Seven Days he's "disappointed Douglas refuses to engage in a dialogue," especially, said Mayor Moonie, since the incumbent "criticized Racine two years ago for not participating in enough debates."

Last week, Clavelle wrote Douglas asking for "40 joint appearances for forums and debates in the next 161 days."

The Guv's scheduler thanked him for writing and replied that she'd forward the request to the Douglas Campaign.

Don't expect a quick answer, Moonie.

Governors, you see, are very busy people.

According to the "Weekly Public Appearance Schedule" issued to the media, Douglas is going to make brief remarks Friday at the Eastern Star Conference at the Sheraton at 12:30 p.m. Then there's nothing scheduled until a 6 p.m. dinner in Highgate Falls.

Nap time?

Linda Wheatley at the Snelling Center was told Gov. Douglas was just not able to fit Friday's 3 p.m. Basin Harbor event with Clavelle and Parsons into his schedule.

The Snelling Center's gubernatorial forum will go on, said Wheatley, even without the current governor.

Ah, sure, half a loaf's better than none.

Missing in Action? -- Gov. Douglas was joined by a host of legislators, business lobbyists and other officials the other day at UVM to sign the new stormwater bill.

The law is the result of intense negotiations between business interests and environmentalists. Surprisingly, none of the environmentalists from the Vermont Natural Resources Council and the Conservation Law Foundation who participated were present at the signing.

Press Secretary Jason Gibbs said he thought that at least one, the VNRC, had been notified.

Indeed, VNRC Executive Director Elizabeth Courtney told Seven Days she had received an email from the administration the day before the event. Unfor-tunately, she wasn't at work that day. CLF, it turns out, wasn't contacted at all.

You'd think someone in the Douglas administration might have made a phone call?

VNRC's point man on the stormwater negotiations, Policy Director Patrick Berry, responded to inquiries about his absence with the following email:

"Many of you have called or emailed me to inquire about my absence at yesterday's bill-signing ceremony. Did VNRC not support the stormwater bill? Were we being petulant? Political? Were we cranking out a lawsuit, as Anson Tebbets (WCAX-TV reporter) apparently suggested? Was I rearranging my sock drawer? The answer is no to all questions.

"Quite simply, I was not invited and was never informed that the event was taking place. The first I heard about it was late yesterday afternoon when a reporter called me at home to ask why I was absent. Apparently, Elizabeth was notified via bulk email, but she has been out of the office.

"So, I appreciate the concern that many of you have raised. I really wanted to be there -- and absolutely would have been -- had I known about it."

Over at CLF, Mark Sinclair just chuckled when asked if he had received an invitation to attend. It's common knowledge the Douglas administration despises CLF. Among other reasons, CLF was one of the environmental groups that just defeated Gov. Scissorhands in federal court over the Circ Highway to Heaven.

Sinclair took his non-inivitation like a gentleman. And, surprisingly, he told Seven Days, "We're not that unhappy with the legislation."

"The problem," he said, "will be in the implementation," i.e., getting Big Box developers to actually pay for "offsets" in the watershed that will reduce pollution discharges into already impaired streams, then measuring the results.

Everyone will be watching.

That's 'cause the water in those streams belongs to everyone, not just the Big Box developers.

Editors From Mars? -- Last week's "Vermont This Week" on VPT featured editorial writers, the folks locked away in windowless offices who produce moral sermons for the newspaper-reading public.

David Awbrey of The Burlington Free Press was joined by Emerson Lynn of The St. Albans Messenger and Dickey Drysdale, publisher/editor of the weekly Herald in Randolph.

Their faces are rarely if ever seen under the golden dome, but their politics are revealed in black-and-white editorials. It's fair to say these distinguished Three Musketeers of Editorial Land have never been called liberals. Never will be, either.

Packed together on one show, they reflected en masse the viewpoint of Republican Vermont. That may explain the astonishing high grades they gave the legislature for its "accomplishments" in 2004.

Mr. Awbrey gave the session a B. Mr. Lynn, like Awbrey a Kansas native, made it a B-plus. And Drysdale nearly jumped out of his seat to award the 2004 Legislature an A!

Smelling salts, please!

With Republicans holding the Gov's office and controlling the House, the GOP was able to checkmate any progressive move by the Democratic State Senate. The recently completed five-month session stands out, we'd suggest, for the roads not taken in addressing major policy challenges facing Vermont.

The out-of-control Health Care Monster continues to gobble up more and more financial resources at an alarming rate. Hospitals in Burlington and Plattsburgh are waging a media war to attract heart patients. Costs are out of control for prescription drugs, and the price of health insurance is in the stratosphere.

Energy planning? Are you kidding?

The Douglas administration's official state Energy Plan was laughed out of the building. Can you say energy "joke"?

As for an administration policy on emerging wind energy, well, it's blowing in the wind somewhere.

And our Guv is so nuclear-power-friendly, he never supported a safety assessment of Vermont Yankee until the Public Service Board ordered it!

Corrections policy?

Key legislative leaders had to pressure the Douglas administration into conducting an investigation of suspicious deaths in Vermont prisons. The results were alarming. The fix is a long way off. It's not a topic the Guv mentions much. And have you noticed how often Corrections Commissioner Steve Gold is unavailable for comment in news articles?

Then there's the little problem of the smelly 800-pound gorilla sitting in the corner: George W. Bush's War of Choice in Iraq. A war whose merits and causes Vermont's Republican Gov. Jim Douglas has publicly defended and supported from the get-go. Last week's combat deaths of two Vermont Guardsmen -- Sgt. Kevin Sheehan and Spc. Alan Bean, Jr. -- brought it all home, big time.

When asked about his pro-Bush War position during his press conference at the opening of the Business Expo the other day, Gov. Douglas brushed the question aside, saying it was a time to mourn the loss of two brave Vermonters and not a time to talk about policy.

Sooner or later, Gov. Jimmy Scissorhands, chairman of the Vermont Bush-Cheney Reelection Committee, will have to. It's perfectly understandable that he's not looking forward to it.

Copy Cats? -- Sure looks like it. Seven Days has learned that the Vermont Republican Party is taking a page out of the Vermont Demo-cratic Party's playbook. GOP State Chairman Jim Barnett told Seven Days that this time Republicans will organize their campaign effort much like Democrats have for years. Like the Ds, said Barnett, the Rs will operate a "coordinated campaign" out of Republican Party Headquar-ters in Montpeculiar.

As for borrowing from the Democrats, Mad Dog Barnett said he had no problem "giving credit where credit's due."

Much like the Democrats, the Republicans will run statewide and legislative campaign operations out of one central hub. Candidates for federal office, however, will not be included, said Barnett.

Also, as election season gears up, some members of the Douglas gubernatorial staff will be sliding over to campaign duties. Neale Lunderville, the boy-wonder campaign manager of 2002, will be moving across the street shortly, though Barnett told Seven Days another as yet unnamed individual will serve as Douglas' campaign manager this time.

And Barnett, Neale's sabre-rattling assistant in 2002, will do his part playing bad cop to Jim's good cop, while wearing the hat of state GOP chairman.

If Jim Douglas wins a second term as governor in the most liberal state in the nation, Jim Barnett's political star will shine bright in national Republican circles. Very bright, indeed.