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Ambassador Vallee!

Inside Track


Published May 11, 2005 at 4:00 p.m.

It's always a delight to see a local boy make good, and it's even better when the dude is a regular character in a certain weekly political column!

Ladies and gentleman, President George W. Bush has, in his infinite wisdom, nominated one of Vermont's most colorful, articulate and wealthy Republicans -- our own Skip Vallee, a.k.a. Gasoline Vallee -- to be the next United States Ambassador to Slovakia!

No doubt, some will paint the Skipster's appointment as further proof of our president's insanity in the foreign-policy arena. Slovakia is, after all, in the center of a historically turbulent part of Eastern Europe. It's bordered by the Czech Republic, Poland, Ukraine, Hungary and Austria. The ambassador's residence in Bratislava, on the banks of the once Blue Danube River, is just 40 miles downstream from Vienna, Austria.

Perfect spot for a native Vermonter who built up the largest gas-station chain in the Green Mountains, eh?

At last count, Mr. Vallee owns 27 gas stations (including the recently purchased Spillane's on Williston Road, across from the Sheraton.) A dozen of them operate as Maplefields mini-marts, specializing in cleanliness and friendliness. There are always fresh flowers in the restrooms.

Regular readers are familiar with Gasoline Vallee's political history. Skip's an interesting and entertaining combination of wit, wisdom and wealth.

After graduation in 1983, the Williams College hockey player sought an entry-level position with Democratic U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy. He didn't get it. Instead, the post went to another young Vermont graduate named Luke Albee.

Albee rose through the ranks to become St. Patrick's chief of staff. He recently resigned to join a prominent Washington lobbying/PR firm.

Vallee ended up getting an internship with Republican U.S. Sen. Bob Stafford, and he's been a Republican ever since. Last week it finally paid off.

Unlike Albee, Vallee returned to Vermont in the 1980s, settled down, married and took over the family fuel business. R.L. Vallee tanker trucks are a fixture on the highways of northern Vermont. In the mid-1990s, Skip started popping up in GOP political circles. He was, for example, a strong supporter of Ruthless Ruth Dwyer in her two losing contests against Howard Dean.

In his only race for elective office, in 2000, Gasoline Vallee spent a record $134,000 -- at least $100,000 more than any of his rivals -- while losing his quest for one of the six Chittenden County State Senate seats. He then became Vermont's rep on the Republican National Committee.

But behind the scene, Gasoline Vallee demonstrated the one talent above all that won him the ambassadorship -- Skip raised a ton of campaign cash for George W. Bush and the Republican Party.

In 2000, Vermont's gift to Slovakia raised more than $100,000 for Dubya's campaign, and more than $200,000 in 2004, making him one of the elite -- a Bush Ranger!

Skip and his lovely wife Denise Vallee have also donated a ton of their own money to the Bush cause. In the 2004 cycle, the Vallees contributed at least $190,000 in personal funds to Bush and the GOP.

Your gasoline dollars at work, eh?

Unlike Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie, who leaked his ambassador quest and lost out, Vallee kept his mouth shut. The first word of the appointment came with the official White House announcement.

This week, the ambassador-to-be is in D.C. getting trained by the State Department for the task ahead.

Skip informed us via Blackberry that he won't be doing interviews prior to confirmation by the U.S. Senate.

"I am in seminars the next couple weeks," wrote Skip. "I would be honored to serve this country and president if confirmed."

Hello, Bratislava, the Vermont Gas Man cometh!

Political Briefs -- Looks like former state senator and party chairman Scudder Parker plans to be the Democrat's candidate for governor in 2006. Scudder says only, "I'm thinking about it."

We say, he's in!

And Major Gen. Martha Rainville came out of the closet last week as both a Republican and a candidate for the U.S. House. Insiders say she had her sights set on the Senate, but IDX gazillionaire Ritchie Tarrant was not going to get out of her way.

Gen. Rainville says she's a "Jim Douglas-style Republican."

Good at the ceremonial stuff like ribbon-cuttings, no doubt.

But this week Mad Martha says she may well campaign in uniform. No need to resign from the Vermont Guard. In fact, she told the Rutland Herald on Monday that she thinks she can both run for and serve in Congress while also serving as Guard commander.


Some are questioning Rookie Rainville's political sanity. But, hey, there is a precedent -- Spain's Generalissimo Francisco Franco!

Unfortunately, Generalissimo Rainville was not available for comment on Tuesday.

Campaign Flashback -- The restaurant tables are back out on the bricks on the Church Street Marketplace. Spring is finally in the air. And occupying one of those tables outside The Red Onion on Monday were two women from Howard Dean's past: Kate O'Connor and Zephyr Teachout.

Ah, the memories!

Kate was Dean's longest-serving aide. And she stuck to him like glue on the campaign trail. Zephyr was one of the stars of the dynamic Dean Campaign inner circle that tapped the Internet like it had never been tapped before.

Ms. O'Connor is back living in beautiful Winooski. No details on current employment. Ms. Teachout, recently rumored to be considering a bid for Vermont's open congressional seat, told us she's looking for a lecture position at UVM. She deflected the suggestion of congressional aspirations, but, hey, it's a wide open race. Stay tuned.

Seeing Kate and Zephyr sparked thoughts of their former boss, Howard Dean.

Currently serving as Democratic National Committee Chairman, Ho-Ho will be speaking at the Massachusetts Democratic Party convention in Lowell on Saturday.

The hot item on the agenda is a platform amendment supporting gay marriage. As you know, one year ago the Bay State became the first state to allow same-sex marriage, topping Vermont's civil-unions legislation of 2000. Nonetheless, a few Massachusetts Ds are opposed to adding it to the party platform. Sen. John Kerry has called it a "mistake."


Some might expect the man who signed Vermont's landmark civil-unions law to give the amendment a boost. After all, Dean's support in the gay community for signing civil unions actually helped launch his presidential quest.

Think again.

Dr. Dean has already told the Boston press he has no intention of telling Massachusetts Dems what to do. "States can work these issues out for themselves," he told the Globe.

Sounds like the old Howard Dean, eh? The one we knew in Vermont through the 1980s and '90s. The play-to-the-middle Howard Dean who signed the civil-unions bill in private so there would be no photos or footage that might come back and bite his presidential butt.

Instead, speaking invitations from out-of-state gay-rights organizations started pouring in. Howard Dean became a familiar dinner speaker in places like California. He won "Human Rights" awards for his "courage."

In fact, it was Dean's concealment of those out-of-state public appearances that sparked the battle over the accuracy of the Guv's "Weekly Public Appearance Schedule," a battle that eventually went all the way to the Vermont Supreme Court.

Fortunately, thanks to the Internet, Gov. Dean's attempts to hide his political travels in 2001 and 2002 were both foolish and unsuccessful.

How ironic that, instead of dooming Dean's presidential candidacy, marriage rights for gays helped launch it. How quickly he forgets!

These days, DNC Chairman Howard Dean sounds a lot more like the Republicanesque governor we knew before he became a national liberal/progressive political flash in the pan. In his speech to the California Democratic Convention last month, Ho-Ho made the pitch that the party needs to target the middle and go after the Red states.

Ho-Ho told the California delegates, "We need to change the way we talk to folks ... we need to talk about abortion differently."

Instead, said Dean, the Democrats must focus on "real" moral values like a balanced budget (vintage Dean, eh?), Social Security and environmental protection.

Surprisingly, in his half-hour speech, the chairman of America's "opposition" political party did not mention the Iraq War. Not once. It was as if it doesn't exist.

But we all know it does. And we all know it because our president successfully deceived us, lied to us and fabricated a security threat coming from a tinhorn Middle Eastern dictatorship with an economy in tatters.

Wasn't it Howard Dean's opposition to the October 2002 resolution that first put him on the radar screen?

Three years later, the U.S. is bogged down in an interminable bloodbath in Iraq. The occupation is not going well. As was said about Vietnam 35 years ago, there is "no light at the end of the tunnel."

But Howard Dean, the new leader of the "opposition" Democratic Party, doesn't even mention the Iraq War at the California Democratic Convention?

Come to think of it, Ho-Ho ducked the Vietnam War, too. Dean has said he never joined the antiwar protests. He beat the draft with a bad back. Then he went skiing in Aspen.

There's a pattern here somewhere.

Jim & Fidel -- Now that Independent U.S. Sen. Jim Jeffords has decided to call it quits after this term, he just doesn't get the press attention he used to. For example, where are the news photos of Jeezum Jim and Fidel Castro from last week's get-together in Havana? You mean Ch. 3 didn't send a crew?

Sen. Jeffords and his wife Liz Jeffords spent five days in Cuba touring, meeting dignitaries, and signing trade agreements that will bring more Vermont products to the island. And on their last evening in Havana, the Vermonters met the big guy -- Fidel Castro.

As you may know, Sen. Jeffords did not take questions on April 20 when he announced at the Sheraton-Burlington that he will not be a candidate for reelection in 2006. He joked that, at 70, he wasn't quite as sharp as he used to be.

"My memory fails me on occasion," said Jeffords, "but Liz would argue that's been going on for the last 50 years."

In a Monday telephone interview, Jeezum Jim took questions from Inside Track. The senator was en route to the Burlington Airport to catch a flight back to Washington. Yours truly was interested in Cuba.

INSIDE TRACK: Have you met Castro before?


IT: How long ago was that?

JJ: Oh, wait a minute, I guess I didn't. I guess this was the first time. I thought there had been another time. I was sure I must have met him sometime.

IT: What was your impression of Castro?

JJ: Oh, he's an impressive man. There's no question about it. You can understand his successes, and he handles himself well. And he's a very wonderful man to talk to.

IT: Any particular message for you?

JJ: No. Not really. We just shared good times, and I really was happy to have that opportunity.

IT: He didn't ask about Bernie, did he?

JJ: No, he didn't ask about Bernie (laughter).

The interview moved along to current U.S. policy, which has clamped down on ordinary citizens visiting the island.

JJ: I think it should be more open. Of course, I was there with a mission talking about Vermont and our cows and apples, because we're trying to get a stronger relationship with reference to trade.

IT: How are you feeling now in light of two weeks ago?

JJ: What was two weeks ago?

IT: The announcement you will not seek reelection?

JJ: Oh, well. It was such a nonevent. I don't feel any differently.

IT: Still think it was the right move?

JJ: Yeah, I do. I would have had more flexibility, but I am still just the same guy.

IT: Any thoughts on President Bush's trip to Russia?

JJ: No. Other than you'd wish he stayed.

IT: Anything else you'd care to share with my readers?

JJ: No, I don't think so. I think I said enough.

Well said, eh?

Media Notes -- The bad news is, Bridget Barry Caswell's days as Ch. 3's Six O'Clock News co-anchor are numbered.

The good news is, she'll be replaced by a familiar face from the past -- Kristin Kelly. Kristin's been toiling for the last five years as a New England Cable News reporter covering her native Massachusetts.

Bridget, a mother of four, simply could not do the Six and the Eleven O'Clock broadcasts -- the female co-anchor, unlike her male counterparts, is required to do both. Bridget's been doing the Six since Sera Congi departed a month ago, and she's doing a great job.

Ms. Kelly is due to return to the WCAX airwaves in late May or early June. We know one Burlington police lieutenant who's a very happy man these days as a result, and it's not just because of all the money he'll save on gas for those frequent trips to Boston.

Welcome home, Kristin!

The other new face on the Ch. 3 News is former Boston College football/basketball cheerleader Nicole Oliverio. Nicole spent the last year and a half at WMDN-TV in Meridian, Mississippi.

As you may have already noticed, Nicole is one very sharp reporter. She'll be starting out at Ch. 3's one-reporter Upper Valley bureau in West Lebanon, New Hampshire.