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Back Track: 2001 in Review

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Almost time to snuff out the candle that is 2001 A.D. — a year that will be first and foremost remembered for that one frightening September morning in the grand city of New York.

Whether you live in Brooklyn or in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom, what you saw, what you did and the feelings that rushed through you that day will be passed on to your grandchildren.

Many declare the world “changed” on September 11, that the TV images of hijacked jet airliners crashing into the Pentagon and the World Trade Center’s gigantic Twin Towers obliterated American innocence, ending life as we knew it.

Others beg to disagree. They note that human history is, regrettably, already pockmarked with prior, untelevised Twin Tower-style horrors — many on an even grander scale.

For decades, some say, Americans have regularly watched “evil” on the nightly news. But in the good comfort of our La-Z-Boys, we managed to remain detached. The cold-blooded butchery of innocents far away in El Salvador, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Bosnia, Algeria, Kosovo, Uganda, Angola, Lebanon and Israel never chilled our blood like this did.

It could never happen here, right?

Wrong.

Immediately, cash registers stopped ringing. Malls became ghost towns. In Burlington, Vermont, motorists began stopping at the yellow lights instead of running the reds. People drove slower, and courtesy blossomed, however briefly, at the four-way-stop intersections.

Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda “air force” reminded everyone in the Land of Plenty that America’s sanctuary period is now officially over. It is one world.

Unfortunately, there is not as yet a government of world citizens to take responsibility for it. No democratic world body to outlaw world terrorism and hold perpetrators accountable. To ensure human rights all around the planet. To guarantee justice in order to keep the X-people, Y-people and Z-people from butchering each other with regularity.

In a world where all the holiest religions preach peace, religious sectarianism, extremism and barbarism are a dangerous global cancer.

As 2001 wraps up, America has enhanced its role as the world’s policeman. As President George W. Bush would proudly say, “We’ve smoked ’em out and we’ve got ’em running.” The ’60s folksinger Phil Ochs was right — “We’re the cops of the world, boys.” And it looks like we’ll be the cops of the world for a while.

But right now, let’s shift gears. This is, after all, supposed to be a Vermont year-in-review. And, yes, there was life before September 11. Let’s retrace our steps into that blurry past before it fades from memory.

Fact is, if Osama bin Laden had never been born, 2001 would have been unforgettable anyway.

Ready?


JANUARY

At the Statehouse in Montpeculiar, Republican Walter Freed stepped into the statewide political limelight as the new Speaker of the House. The “Take Back Vermont” backlash handed House Republicans a majority for the first time in 14 years. The Dorset millionaire, a “multi-state petroleum marketer,” as he describes himself, quickly proved that he who pays the piper calls the tune. Wally’s committee assignments were the most partisan in decades. Payback time!

The Squeaker, er, Speaker, even replaced Rep. Tom Little, the pro-civil unions Republican chair of the Judiciary Committee, with Peg Flory, an anti-civil unions Republican committed to getting something out of committee that would assuage the venom of the gay-bashers.

Princess Peg eventually did what she was put there to do. More on that later.

On the “Big Government” front, the case of Carol Ann Martin hit the fan. Her request for an “IRISH” vanity plate was denied by the DMV under its newly adopted “administrative rules.” We can’t refer to “ethnic heritage” anymore, at least not on Vermont license plates.

In January, John Ashcroft first popped up on Vermont’s radar screen. In an attempt to flex a little muscle, Rep. Nancy Sheltra and her right-wing, religious-wacko caucus introduced a resolution putting the House on record as supporting Ashcroft’s nomination as U.S. Attorney General. Yours truly wrote then:

The next day, the great floor debate ensued. But the majority Redcoats were caught in an awkward position when Gen. Sheltra couldn’t handle questions on Ashcroft’s position regarding important matters to Vermont, such as the Northeast Dairy Compact and the price of prescription drugs. The fight over Nancy’s shove-it-down-their-ungodly-throats resolution turned into a Republican Saratoga.

Even three GOP committee chairs voted against it, while two others “took a walk.”

FEBRUARY

Big news up at Camp Catamount, a.k.a. the University of Vermont. It was “Gong Show” time as President Judith Ramaley got the hook from the board of trustees. Power plays, backbiting, double crosses. You’ve just got to love the inner workings of academia!

Jolly Judy simply ran out of allies on the Hill. A faculty petition circulated calling for her head. The trustees voted “no confidence,” and it was bye-bye Judy.

One of our favorite quotes of the year came from the lips of Bruce Lisman, the chairman of the board of trustees. When we asked what impact the faculty petition had, Lisman quickly replied, “Nothing. It had nothing to do with it. Zero. Less than nothing. We had already made plans to be here this week.”

The petition “had nothing to do with it,” he insisted again. “Absolutely, categorically, positively nothing to do with it,” emphasized Lisman. “It played no part. No part. I want it to be clear that it had nothing to do with it.”

Okay, okay. We get the point. But one might suggest Cousin Brucie doth protest too much?


MARCH

Gov. Howard Dean got out the old passport for the first time in 2001. Ho-Ho went south on a Chamber of Commerce trade junket to Brazil and Argentina. While many were assuming he’d seek a sixth term, yours truly was writing him off. Dr. Dean had much bigger game in sight, as everyone would realize by fall.

Meanwhile, at the Statehouse, the Ides of March proved a very dark day as Chairman Flory did her duty and the GOP appeased its anti-equality wing.

On an 84-55 vote, the bigoted anti-gay backlashers rammed through Rep. Peg Flory’s ridiculous little piece of vengeance — a bill defining in statute not what marriage “is,” but what it “is not.” With a Clintonesque twist of her tongue, Princess Peg proved it doesn’t matter what the meaning of “is” is. What really counts is the meaning of what “is not.”

“Spite” was the Republican mission last Thursday — nothing more or less than an expression of their petty ill will. The party that is so quick to rise in opposition to flag burning enthusiastically engaged in “fag” burning. Their dirty deed of March 15 was payback for losing the civil-unions battle last year, in which homosexual couples were granted the same rights and benefits as straight couples. Princess Peg’s bill was a bigoted insult to the thousands of gay and lesbian Vermonters who are our neighbors and our friends. For one dark evening, with Speaker Freed keeping the House in session after dinner, the Republican majority sold its soul and took Vermont backwards.


APRIL

Rookie Speaker Freed continued to make his mark. On April 4, we wrote about Wally’s latest stroke of genius: He ordered the capitol police to seize VPIRG’s video camera. The Freedmeister banned the organization’s taping of the House in session. Paranoia filled the air. Actually, those who knew Walter weren’t at all surprised. What good is being in power if you can’t flaunt it?

Concerned about the secrecy demonstrated by the new Freed regime, VPIRG had stepped up its videotaping of the official, public activity of the House. That, apparently, got under Walter’s skin. The Speaker doesn’t like being watched. Even in his days as House minority leader, Rep. Freed would, on occasion, convene the Republican House caucus at a restaurant outside the Statehouse so his troops could speak freely and avoid the prying eyes of the press.

Then, to make matters worse, Speaker Freed’s local daily newspaper, the Rutland Herald, was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for its editorials on the hot Vermont topic of 2000 — gay marriage. The Herald strongly supported civil unions for same-sex couples. Mr. Freed, an unsuccessful civil-unions opponent, must have choked at the picture of the glowing editorial writer, David Moats, clutching the bottle of champagne.

For David Moats of the Rutland Herald, Monday’s Pulitzer Prize for editorials supporting Vermont’s landmark civil-unions law was “the affirmation of a career,” a career toiling in the journalism trenches of small-town America.

For the rest of us, it was the affirmation of the courage of so many and the “common humanity” of the Vermont family we cherish.

The Pulitzer was a slap in the face to the House Squeaker and his petulant right-wing God squad. Unable to conceal their anger and resentment, several opposed the House resolution honoring the Vermont paper.

As everyone in Vermont knows, the dominant daily in northern Vermont, The Burlington Free Press, never took a stand on civil unions. Freeps publisher Jim Carey rules the editorial page with an iron fist. And as regular readers know, he hasn’t returned our calls in years. But in April, he did return a call from The New York Times.

The Times’ article, by Felicity Barringer — love that byline — also mentioned the stand not taken by our distinguished local daily. “Editorials in The Burlington Free Press, the state’s largest newspaper,” wrote Barringer, “said little about the core of the issue. A few days after the court ruling, the paper called for ‘Leadership. Civility. Open Debate.’ It did not say in which direction the leaders should lead.”

Curiosity got the best of us. Did Jim Carey take the call from The New York Times?

According to reliable sources, when Carey did not return Barringer’s first phone call, she called again. Lo and behold, his secretary must have been away from her desk. Mr. Carey personally answered Ms. Barringer’s call and informed her he was “in a meeting.”

The reporter informed Carey he was actually in a phone interview with The New York Times.

Carey then replied that the Free Press does not comment on editorials. End of interview.

Jimmy’s such a charmer, isn’t he!

Also in April, we heard the first rumblings of what would later become the political play of the year. As the new Republican President from Texas attempted to leverage a skinny victory into an obese mandate, a certain soft-spoken senator from Vermont gave the first wave of his big stick.

U.S. Sen. Jim Jeffords got his first 2001 splash of national attention as he pulled the rug out from under Dubya’s obscene $1.6 billion “tax cut.” In reality, it was little more than a payback to the Bush campaign’s millionaire corporate donors.

The Vermont Republican State Committee debated, and then tabled, a resolution blasting Jeezum Jim for opposing the President.

If they only knew what was coming, eh?

In a 50-50 senate, every vote counts. Jeezum Jim realized that. Soon everyone would.


MAY

Speaker Freed was no longer speaking to yours truly. Pity. Some egos are too big, even for politics. We appropriately dubbed Wally of Dorset the “Baby of the House.”

Chairman Flory fired the second barrel of the GOP’s anti-equality shotgun in May. Princess Peg’s committee spit out a bill repealing civil unions and allowing parents to marry their children.

When Peg’s “reciprocal partners” bill hit the floor for “second reading,” Speaker Freed personally cast the tie-breaking vote to keep bigotry alive.

Meanwhile, another Vermont Republican in Washington, D.C. was about to become a household word.

In the May 16th edition, Seven Days reported Jeezum Jim Jeffords just might jump off the Republican ship and hand the keys to the U.S. Senate to Democrat leader Tom Daschle. The list of people who considered us “crazy” is too long to print here.

That Monday afternoon, out of the blue, yours truly asked Independent Congressman Bernie Sanders if he had any advice for Jeffords about switching teams. Sanders’ eyes lit up. He encouraged Jeffords to become an Independent.

“To the degree that Sen. Jeffords considers himself a moderate,” argued Sanders, “I think it would be a very positive thing for this country and this state if he would give thought to leaving what is now a very right-wing party.”

Attempts to reach Sen. Jeffords for comment Tuesday were unsuccessful. His press secretary, Erik Smulson, said the boss had a very busy schedule. As for Bernie’s advice, Smulson called it a “nice suggestion.” He noted it “isn’t the first time we’ve heard it over the years.” Sen. Jeffords, he said, “is comfortable as the most conservative member of the Vermont delegation, and regardless of party label, will continue to do what he thinks is right for Vermont and the nation.”

That didn’t sound like an absolute “no,” did it? After all, in Jeezum Jim’s worldview, Democrats aren’t that weird — he’s married to one!

Nine days later, on May 24, 16 TV satellite trucks surrounded Burlington’s Radisson Hotel. Inside, Jim Jeffords, Rutland High-School grad and former attorney general, took the most courageous step of his life.

“In order to best represent my state of Vermont, my own conscience, and the principles I have stood for my whole life,” said Jeezum, “I will leave the Republican Party and become an Independent. Control of the Senate will soon be changed by my decision.”

Hundreds streamed to the downtown hotel that morning to catch a glimpse of history and express their support for Jeezum. Republican Party big shots like Skip Vallee and Pat Garahan bounced from interview to interview like corn in a popper, repeating their accusations that Jim Jeffords was a traitor of Benedict Arnold proportions.

Six months later, in his book My Declaration of Independence, Ol’ Jeezum gave yours truly credit for being the first to break the news.

Thanks, Jim.


JUNE

The afterglow from Jim Jeffords’ courageous declaration continued. Magic Hat brewery in South Burlington put out a special batch of Jeezum Jim ale. Vermont’s Democrat senator, Patrick Leahy, was in seventh heaven as the new chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee — what a year lay ahead of him.

Inside Track broke the story of Vermont’s Tiger Woods… well, sort of. The Republicans held a golfing fundraiser in Killington. A Montpeculiar lobbying form, William Shouldice & Associates, sponsored a long-putting contest. The prize was $10,000. Nobody, however was supposed to sink the putt. But one did — Rep. Mike Quaid of Williston.

The insurance company never paid, because GOP organizer George McNeill hadn’t run the contest properly. There were supposed to have been qualifying rounds.

Gorgeous George apologized profusely, but Quaid never got his prize money.

Oh, well.

On the academic front, UVM announced that former Catamount hockey star John LeClair would be inducted into the university’s Athletic Hall of Fame. Only problem was, Big John didn’t graduate from the University of Vermont.

LeClair, an NHL star earning $9 million a year with the Philadelphia Flyers, is, as we reported, 15 credits short of his degree.

Athletic Director Rick Farnham defended the selection of Big John.

“What do you do with a $50 million success story?” he asked. With just 15 credits to go, noted Farnham, Mr. LeClair was clearly right on track to graduate on time. He assured us the Hall of Fame would not accept into its esteemed ranks “someone who was a donkey in school.”

Agreed, no donkeys allowed. Not now, not ever.


JULY

Yes, Virginia, there was a summer. Lots of sunshine — but not on that fateful Saturday when yours truly came face-to-face with Hillary Clinton for the first time. The New York senator and Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy were joined by hundreds on a journey to raise a Revolutionary War cannon from the murky depths of Lake Champlain.

Shortly after the sunken Spitfire cannon was raised and the speeches delivered, a mean and rather spooky thunderstorm closed in quickly. Lightning bolts zapped the water, too close for comfort. Visibility shrank to 50 yards. Yours truly was leaning against the railing on the promenade deck, eavesdropping on Hillary’s one-on-one interview with Vermont Public Radio reporter Beth Schmidt.

The New York senator noted it was her first time ever on Lake Champlain. Yours truly casually reached into a pants pocket to slide out a notebook and, instead, out flew the tape recorder like a projectile. It hit the deck with a crack and, as the boat rocked gently to the left, the recorder slid over the side quicker than you could say, “Give me liberty or give me death.”

“Oh, well,” exclaimed Hillary, as she watched it all happen. “Maybe they’ll find it in 100 years.”

The storm got stronger and the lightning bolts closer. And we got the foggy feeling that tape recorder went into the drink in order to pay back the ghosts of the Battle of Valcour Island for taking away their cannon.

Even-Steven, eh?

Meanwhile, the anticipation was growing over Howard Dean’s future.

Lately, sources indicate Dr. Dean has been doing a stellar job of planting reelection hints wherever he goes. Calls have been coming in from around the state with a uniform message: “He’s talking like he’s running.”

We’re not buying it. Ho-Ho is one savvy dude. These repeated hints sound more like an orchestrated attempt to avoid lame-duckness as much as possible. Disinformation, doctor?

“Dean fatigue” is breaking out all over. The longer Ho-Ho sticks around, the worse he does. In 1992 Dean got just under 75 percent of the vote. That dropped to 55.6 percent by 1998 and 50.4 percent last year.

Why would Ho-Ho risk his unblemished political resume on a reckless three-way race in 2002?


AUGUST

You know it’s the dog days of summer when we’re writing about marijuana busts. The failed 30-year War on Drugs is a favorite target. Seven Days had the exclusive on two big drug “busts.”

One occurred in Burlington’s City Hall Park in broad daylight as the gendarmes swooped down on a bunch of scruff-hounds smoking something sweet.

It turned out to be sage. No law against smoking that… yet.

The other “bust” occurred in the Burlington Intervale. Burlington police “eradicated” a couple hundred “marijuana” plants. They even photographed themselves posing like safari hunters, and fed the picture to the local daily.

Turns out the coppers have been ripping up ditch weed from that location every summer. It’s just hemp, a vestige of the days in the early 20th century when hemp was grown there to aid the war effort.

Meanwhile, other enlightened democracies appeared to be getting real about reefer madness. Canada legalized marijuana for medical use, and Great Britain decriminalized simple possession. What’s that tell ya?

On the political front, yours truly took heat for writing a positive column, thanking Howard Dean for his service to Vermont on the occasion of his upcoming 10th anniversary.

We asked our Guv the other day if he’d ever imagined, back in August 1991, that 10 years later he’d still be Vermont’s undisputed heavyweight champ.

“I don’t think like that,” Dean replied. “I don’t have a personal political 10-year plan, so I never have thought about how long I’d been in office or any of that kind of stuff.”

And what does the Guv think of the 10th anniversary reviews he’s received in the local press over the past few days?

“I think some of them are good and some of them are bad,” answered Dean. “It’s about the way it’s been for the last 10 years.”

With all the hoopla over his 10th anniversary as governor of Vermont, had anyone, we asked, said “thank you” for the years of service to our Green Mountain State?

“No,” replied Dean.

Well, in that case, allow us to be the first.

Thank you, Howard. Thank you very much, indeed!


SEPTEMBER

Nothing out of the ordinary as we rolled through Labor Day. In our first column of the month we reported Republican State Sen. Vince Illuzzi became a daddy for the first time. That week, Howard Dean did what we long expected — announced he would not seek reelection. The following Monday, Democrats Doug Racine and Peter Shumlin mended their fences and announced they would be a ticket.

The following morning, we’d just sat down to bang out the weekly edition when things took a dramatic turn for the worse.

Ten minutes ago we noticed the flash bulletin atop the Washington Post home page — a plane had crashed into one of the twin towers of the World Trade Center (WTC) in lower Manhattan. Quickly, we turn on the TV. One tower is afire. A moment later an “Instant Message” arrives on the desktop from a friend on Capitol Hill. “Can you believe it?” he asks.

Yes, we reply. We believe it. Faith is not the issue.

Moments later, a second jet airliner slams full speed into the other tower. We watch, numbed by the images. And we realize that somewhere at this very moment, there is cheering and celebration. Fists are being raised in triumph. Toasts are being made to the memory of the hijackers who so bravely gave their lives as holy martyrs for the kamikaze cause of their almighty God. The end, after all, always justifies the means. Doesn’t it?

On the tape player in the kitchen, we hear a Leonard Cohen song playing: “The wars, they will be fought again. And the holy dove, she will be cut again.” And again. And again. Welcome to the new millennium.


OCTOBER

Things got a little testy between yours truly and the governor’s office. Our attempts to ascertain the whereabouts of our governor became a challenge. Turned out he was traveling all over, getting awards from prominent gay-rights groups for the civil-unions law he signed in private. Problem was, Ho-Ho didn’t want Vermonters to know. What a sneak!

Hey, with the Internet and all, it’s pretty damn hard to hide nowadays, as Ho-Ho found out the hard way.

Many good people left us in 2001. Way too many to mention. But one stood out. That’s because, many years ago, she gave us a name we’ve held dear ever since.

Former State Rep. Mary Evelti (D-Burlington) passed away Sunday. She was 81. Mary was certainly a proud Democrat and served in the Legislature with former Gov. Madeleine Kunin. In 1997, she became the University of Vermont’s oldest graduate. As her obit said, “Mary lived a full life.”

Mrs. Evelti’s wit was as sharp as they come. And yours truly will always remember her as the first person to call a certain young and energetic New York doctor “Ho-Ho.”

Thanks, Mary.


NOVEMBER

It was becoming clear to everyone — Howard Dean is running for President. At times we’ve felt it was our duty to get him in shape for the national press hounds. In November, we had the opportunity to give Ho-Ho a precious lesson in straight talk.

At his weekly press conference last week we asked Gov. Howard Dean why there hasn’t been any talk of tapping the state’s rainy-day funds to soften the effects of the current economic downturn. We noted the governor had boasted in a recent CNN interview that his fiscal leadership had been so outstanding, Vermont would be left with $100 million in the bank when he leaves office.

“I never said that,” replied Ho-Ho.

“Yes, you did.”

“No, I didn’t. I want to see the tape,” said the Guv.

Fortunately, we still had the tape. It was a live interview via satellite with CNN’s White House correspondent John King. It was broadcast on September 5, the day Ho-Ho announced on the Statehouse lawn he would not seek reelection.

Monday, prior to a “media event” at Burlington’s main post office, yours truly had the pleasure of playing the audio portion for Dr. Dean.

Ho-Ho was bragging to a national audience about what a wonderful job he’d done for Vermont as a combination “fiscal conservative” and “social liberal.”

“I’m going to leave office with $100 million in the bank,” he boasted to reporter King.

As Dean listened to the sound of his own voice coming out of yours truly’s tape recorder, his eyes widened. He realized he’d been caught. He smiled sheepishly and quipped, “Well, it won’t be $100 million anymore!”

We hope Ho-Ho learns his lesson like a good boy.


DECEMBER

At this writing it’s only mid-December, but it’s already been packed with high drama. Sen. Leahy and John Ashcroft tangled over civil liberties. Gov. Dean took his third major foreign trip of the fall. Let’s see now, Ho-Ho’s passport indicates travel in Latin America, Europe and Africa. A world leader in the making?

As the year wraps up, people are returning to their pre-September 11 style. The cash registers are ringing again. Drivers are back to running red lights and contesting the right-of-way at four-way-stop intersections.

What a relief, eh?

Happy New Year!

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