Badge of Courage | Inside Track | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

Published December 5, 2001 at 4:00 a.m.

High Noon” on Capitol Hill will hit this Thursday when Attorney General John Ashcroft finally appears in the witness chair before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Mr. Ashcroft will, after weeks of dodging an appearance, finally be eyeball-to-eyeball with the senior senator from Vermont, Patrick Leahy.

For weeks, the attorney general and the chairman have sparred through the press over the administration’s constitutional belt-tightening of liberties that have long defined America.

Make no mistake, these two guys know each other well. Ashcroft used to have a seat on the committee. Sen. Leahy, a former prosecutor himself, voted against Ashcroft’s confirmation as the nation’s chief law enforcement officer.

Gen. Ashcroft, a darling of the Christian right and the gun lobby, gives many the frightening impression that his work won’t be complete until the Bill of Rights, the first 10 amendments to the Constitution, is replaced with the Ten Com-mandments from the Book of Genesis.

Mr. Ashcroft is proud of the fact that as a senator he voted against prohibiting job discrimination because of sexual orientation, against setting aside 10 percent of federal highway funds for minorities and women, against appointment to the federal bench of a black judge from his own state of Missouri and against a ban on chemical weapons.

Mr. Ashcroft also boasts that restricting abortion has been a hallmark of his career, and he’s always been a zealous proponent of the failed War on Drugs.

In 1999 he gave the commencement address at ultra-conservative Bob Jones University, the South Carolina version of a scripture-based Taliban school in Afghanistan. His speech was titled, “We Have No King but Jesus.”

Obviously, God is on his side. Any monotheist worth his/her salt will tell you, that means Ol’ God cannot simultaneously be on the side of the committee chairman, right?

As the drumbeat leading up to Thursday’s mano a mano showdown grows louder, Vermont’s senior senator has become public enemy number one in the eyes of America’s fanatical right-wing.

This week, Human Events, “the national conservative weekly,” goes over the top, accusing St. Patrick of being “Osama’s Enabler in Congress.” And chatterbox Rush Limbaugh has been skewering Leahy for weeks in his coast-to-coast radio bombast. All because Pat Leahy dares to fulfill his responsibility to the people who elected him.

Limbaugh dubs Leahy “Senator Depends,” and on his Web site posts a gross (and factually inaccurate) “Leaky Leahy” page with a picture of St. Pat in underwear.

Not surprisingly, Rush’s whipped-up Ditto Heads have been flooding Leahy’s Capitol Hill office like anthrax with their virulent spew.

St. Patrick’s chief of staff, Luke Albee, tells Seven Days he occasionally picks up the line himself just to personally catch the flavor of the incoming.

“Some of the crudest calls I’ve seen in 15 years,” says Luke.

When Limbaugh’s Taliban aren’t busy “cursing on the phone at young Vermonters,” said Mr. Albee, “they’re probably pulling the wings off flies.”

Incidentally, calls from Vermonters to Leahy’s office are running overwhelmingly in support of St. Patrick’s cautious, patriotic approach to the Bush administration’s attempt to override the U.S. Constitution.

Those are the calls that count. The ugly calls from the Limbaugh Ditto Heads are, quite simply, a badge of courage. Vermont, once again, is called on to lead the nation. Wouldn’t have it any other way, would we?

Greasing the Skids? — The big political buzz echoing through Montpeculiar this week is that lame-duck Gov. Howard Dean will grease the election skids to make sure fellow Democrat and Lite-Gov Douglas Racine is his successor.

Sources tells Seven Days that Ho-Ho will shortly announce he intends to take his cost-cutting knife to Vermont’s campaign finance law and eliminate public financing of campaigns.

In the last election, Progressive Anthony Pollina scooped up $265,000 in public funds. Tony the Prog ran a third-party campaign that nearly gave Dean heart failure. In the end, Ho-Ho just squeaked above the 50 percent threshold.

A Pollina rerun in 2002 would surely toss the outcome of the anticipated duke-out between Racine and Republican Jim Douglas into the Legis-lature. But send Pollina’s cash cow to the slaughterhouse and the Proggie is more likely to seek a less expensive race — say, lieutenant governor?

Seven Days contacted

Commissioner of Finance & Management Sean Campbell. Asked if the Dean administration has such a plan in the works, Mr. Campbell said “no decision” has been made so far. But, he pointed out, “There are two ways to make ends meet: cut costs, which we have been doing, or affect revenues. As we weigh deeper cuts in programs, we will obviously weigh looking for alternative sources of revenue. So we will look under lots of carpets.”

Sounds like they are about to pull the rug out from under Anthony Pollina, doesn’t it?

Sneaky Dean Update — Still no written response from the governor’s office by Tuesday’s deadline concerning our formal request for back copies of the governor’s real work schedule. Perhaps he considers himelf above the law?

Sneaky Dean himself gave us a jingle last week on his car phone. He acknowledged such a document does exist. It’s kept on a computer. He told us three copies are printed out daily: one for him, one for his top political aide, Kate O’Connor, and one for his Vermont State Police security detail.

The Guv asked if we just wanted him to tell us about his recent out-of-state trips, or if we wanted to “litigate.”

We told our favorite presidential hopeful that it’s time to test Vermont’s public documents statute. As far as we can tell, there’s no special exemption for the governor’s office in the law.

On Tuesday, the Rutland Herald, following our lead, also filed a written request for the governor’s schedule. Stay tuned.

DeanWatch 2004 — Better sit down. Yet another editorial in a major metropolitan daily touting Howard Dean for President. Good grief! This time it was the Providence Journal:

“While success in this endeavor is unlikely, it is not a sign of insanity in the former medical doctor…

“Howard Dean, the wealthy son of a New York bond trader, can talk and walk, as they say. He’s comfortable raising money, is willing to travel and gives a good stump speech. He’s energetic and telegenic… And look where the last two Democratic presidents hailed from, Georgia and Arkansas, not exactly electoral gold mines…

“The Green Mountain State also has a pretty high visibility nationally these days, what with Sen. Patrick Leahy (almost!) receiving an anthrax letter and fighting the Bush administration on military justice for aliens; Sen. James Jeffords’s defection from the GOP and consequent tipping of Senate control to the Democrats; and Bernard Sanders growing reputation as a populist nudge in the U.S. House.

“Like Bill Clinton before him, Dr. Dean knows that President Bush’s 85 percent war-time approval rating will fade before the next election. In any event, perhaps there’s a vice presidential slot, or chairmanship of the Democratic Party, or some other job for him for his efforts after he leaves his current job in January 2003.”

Media Notes — Still haven’t heard back from the powers that be at the local ABC-TV affiliate about the station’s reported plans to put Ruth Dwyer on the air as a news person. But the story has gone national, as they say, in TV land. One TV insider Internet Web site with the catchy address — www.f** — posted this last week:

WVNY’s (Burlington, VT) ratings suck and GM Larry Delia appears to be getting desperate. After a new set didn’t bring in more ratings (shocking!) he is now looking to a sharp-tongued right winger. Twice failed gubernatorial candidate Ruth Dwyer is interviewing with the station about an investigative reporter’s job. Needless to say some staffers are not happy, but look on the bright side. Having a staunch Republican on staff might help get rid of that ‘liberal media’ tag everybody throws around. Plus… if she’s any good she’d be on FOX News inside a year.”

This week, Burlington Free Press columnist Sam Hemingway is taking heat in his own paper for breaking the news that Ruthless Ruth was being considered for TV news stardom.

First, distinguished Burlington attorney Ritchie Berger gave Sam the Sham a couple of shots in the ribs in a letter to the editor. Sam, as everyone knows, dismissed Dwyer as unqualified for the high standards of journalism. Berger noted that, based on a sworn deposition Mr. Hemingway gave in the Paul Teetor lawsuit a few years ago, he’d flunk his own journalism litmus test for honesty and accuracy.

Then WVNY-TV general manager Larry Delia blasted Sambo in a Tuesday “It’s My Turn.” Delia accused Hemingway of “prejudice,” which, he wrote, “is unattractive in any context, but particularly in the pages of Vermont’s dominant newspaper.”

The station, wrote Mr. Delia, is indeed considering establishing an “investigative unit,” and Mrs. Dwyer is indeed under consideration, as are others.

Hey, go for it! We’re pulling for Ruth!

Story of the Week — Sometimes the best comes last. That was the case on last Thursday’s Ch. 3 Evening News. The final story was on Northfield, Vermont, native Maud George. It was Maud’s 100th birthday.

Maud’s mobile home is outside town. She lives alone and looks as fit as any Vermont fiddle could possibly be. She told reporter Darren Perron she simply loves her independence. It keeps her going.

“If I want to do something I can do it,” she said, with the wisdom of experience twinkling in her eyes. “Nobody can tell me what I should or shouldn’t do. I do just as I please. I’m independent.”

Asked for advice for the younger set, Maud did something she doesn’t usually do — she gave some.

“Be proud of yourself,” she answered. “Do what you think is honorable and other people will appreciate it.”

Then she laughed at herself for giving the advice.

“That’s the first sermon I ever gave,” said Maud. She was just telling it like it is.

Ch. 3 noted there are 100 Vermonters who have reached the century mark. Many more are on the way.

Speaking of Independents — Compared to Independent Maud, Independent Jim Jeffords is just a kid. And he’s exemplified Maud’s advice about doing the honorable thing.

This Saturday afternoon at 4 p.m. at the Book Rack in the Essex Outlet Fair, Vermont’s junior United States Senator will be reading from his very own “Declaration of Independence.” Nothing like getting it from the horse’s mouth. So how’s Jeezum Jim’s new book selling?

“Fantastic!” said the Book Rack’s Elaine Sopchak. “It’s the best-selling title so far this season.”

Speaker Sourpuss — There’s simply no one under Montpeculiar’s golden dome who can match House Speaker Walter Freed’s sour, smug, elitist personality.

At the end of Sunday afternoon’s House GOP caucus, majority leader Rep. John Labarge invited the Speaker to speak to the troops.

The Republicans were preparing for the tough legislative battle ahead. But rather than give a pep talk or a call for team unity, the Dorset multi-millionaire used the occasion to launch a spiteful, personal attack on the Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial page of the Rutland Herald.

Most people didn’t know what the hell Walter was talking about. Few had read that morning’s “Barney Fife” editorial on the police detention of a Brattleboro Reformer photographer for taking a picture of Vermont Yankee. The Herald noted the antique law dates back to the World War I era. To emphasize its absurdity, the Herald ran a photo of power lines on the Barre-Montpelier Road — also a violation of the same law.

Walt failed to see the humor. Speaker Freed accused the Rutterdam daily of a “double standard.” He pointed out the same paper had previously scorned gold towns like Dover that thumbed their noses at the state’s education financing law and initially refused to abide by it. Freed opposed Act 60 and has so far been inept at improving it.

And, noted Sir Smug, the Herald condemned town clerks who refused to abide by the civil-unions law and issue licenses to gay couples. Freed also opposed the civil-unions law and last year voted to repeal it. Such a sourpuss!

C’mon, Walt. You’re the Speaker of the House, fer chrissakes. Get the chips off your shoulder. Lead!