Hes the King of the Hill, the Lord of the Manor, the Cock of the Rock. Were referring, of course, to Vermonts superstar Republican U.S. Sen. Jim Jeffords.
As everyone knows, in todays evenly-divided, 50-50 U.S. Senate, Jeezum Jim stood up to the White House and shot down Bush IIs plan to pay back the millionaires for his glorious election. Ever since, Jim Jeffords has been a newly discovered Capitol Hill media darling. The quietest member of the Vermont delegation is now a political legend in the making.
Like a David against Goliath, the Rutland High School grad put the breaks on the presidential tax cut for the rich. Stories abound in newspapers across the country about the quiet Vermonter who just did what he thought was the right thing to do.
But our Jeezum Jim has also been the target of right-wing columnists whod like to see him thrown into a dungeon for betraying the Republican Party.
In that vein Monday, Washington insider and Roll Call columnist Norm Ornstein warned the Bush II crew to be extra careful about messing with Mr. Jeffords. Ornstein noted Jeezum Jim has one mighty ace in the hole.
Push Jeffords far enough, wrote Ornstein, and he can use the nuclear weapon he has in his arsenal. In a nanosecond, he can go to Sen. Thomas Daschle (D-S.D.) and offer to switch parties if the Minority Leader will let him keep his chairmanship.
Instantly, the Democrats would hold the Senate majority. Sen. Patrick Leahy would take over as chairman of Judiciary, guaranteeing Bush IIs right-wing nominees for the federal bench and the U.S. Supreme Court wont get a rubber stamp.
Monday afternoon, we asked Independent Congressman Bernie Sanders if he had any advice for Jeffords about switching teams. Sanders eyes lit up at the implications of a Jeffords switcheroo.
The congressman noted his disappointment with the new President. Despite losing the popular vote, said Sanders, Mr. Bush had taken over the White House and immediately set a hard right agenda. Bernie said he thought Bush would have read the tea leaves better and taken a fairly moderate stance and moved a little bit more to the center.
Bernie was wrong.
If Jim Jeffords switches parties or even becomes an Independent like him, said Bernie, it would dramatically change the power structure in the Senate.
The Republicans would cease to control the United States Senate, said Sanders. Opposition to many of the Presidents proposals would be much, much stronger. We can slow them down. We would have a much stronger negotiating position.
Bernie was clearly digging it.
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 Bernies advice, Smulson called it a nice suggestion. He noted it isnt the first time weve 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 didnt sound like an absolute no, did it? After all, in Jeezum Jims world view, Democrats arent that weird hes married to one!
Minority Viewpoint Despite the great success of Congressman Bernie Sanders and the control of City Hall in Burlington, the Progressive Party remains a work in progress statewide. Anthony Pollina, the partys candidate for governor, got less than 10 percent of the vote last fall.
Out of 180 members in the Vermont Legislature, one can count the Progressive Party legislators on the fingers of one hand. The Fearsome Foursome of leftists from the Queen City are David Zuckerman, Steve Hingtgen, Carina Driscoll and Bob Kiss. Theyre widely regarded under the golden dome as hard-working, intelligent members and good communicators, too. Gone is the elitism of olden days when the infamous Self-Righteous Brothers former Reps. Dean Corren and Terrill Bouricius ruled the Prog caucus.
Had there been more Democrats and fewer Republicans elected to the House last fall, the Progressive caucus might have been in a powerful position with its four swing votes.
But with 83 Republicans, the Republican agenda has moved forward smoothly. Thats what majority rule is all about.
Last weeks Progressive Legislative Update provides a interesting angle on whats been going on in Montpeculiar this session. Fridays was written by Hingtgen, the old eagle Scout. As the clock winds down, he noted, important issues are put on the Houses back burner, as the GOP majority exercises its desire to make government the moral authority of the people.
Housing, child care, health care can wait. Nows the time for Vermonts religious right to flex its muscle and tackle its favorite issue sex! Abortion rights for minors and civil unions for homosexuals are the Republican targets in the final days. Hallelujah!
Back in January the new GOP majority stumbled badly on a couple of floor fights. Thats been corrected. According to Hingtgen, The rift between the Corporations-first Republicans and the Christianity-first Republicans is subsiding as both sides realize they can work together to accomplish both goals.
The Prog Report is no kinder to the other major party.
Democrats have been even more directionless this year than in the past. Clearly, the Democratic leadership in the Senate is consumed with posturing for the 2002 Governors race and will likely say yes to many of the bills coming out of the House rather than put up a fight that might hurt their chances in the next election. If this all seems both sad and comical, youre right. And its not going to get much better until a few more progressive legislators serve in Montpelier.
That may be a while. Dont wait up.
Press Matters No sign of a thaw, yet, in our relations with Speaker of the House Walter Freed. But there is one rude and disrespectful columnist he is talking to. The other day Freed was snuggled up in the Statehouse cafeteria with fellow traveler James Dwinell.
Dwinells an interesting political animal. On the national stage he was a top aide to Democratic presidential candidate Gary Hart in the 1984 race. Donna Rice put him and Hart out of a job. Later James bought a little unknown political rag, spiffed it up and sold it for a nice profit. Campaigns & Elections magazine is a hardware store for politicians big and small.
After returning to his homeland a few years ago, James ran unsuccessfully for auditor against Ed Flanagan (who we hear is eyeing a comeback in 2002 as state treasurer). Then Mr. Dwinell became executive director of the Vermont Republican Party. James started up a weekly Vermont GOP Update that zinged the Democrats and zinged the liberal Vermont media, too.
Dwinell can be a bit prickly, as many who know him will attest. A year ago he was sacked by Pat Garahan, the state GOP chairman (Patsy said yesterday hes moving to San Diego. Hey, thats one cherry of a Spear Street hacienda going on the market!)
Next, Dwinell surfaced as an online political journalist with the weekly Dwinell-Sternberg Report. And recently James popped up writing editorials for the Addison Eagle, a free weekly broadsheet. Over the winter he hosted a one-hour afternoon talk show on WKDR. Recently, however, he was bumped off the dial by the return of Louie Manno and Jim Condon.
Dwinells kind of like John McClaughry with a sense of humor. Hes predictably pro everything Republican and anti- everything that isnt. Personally, yours truly prefers not to discriminate. Whack em all, we say, regardless of party label. James, however, chooses to preach to a right-wing choir and, make no mistake, he has every right to do so.
The question of the day is, does Gov. Howard Dean have to take Dwinells questions?
Last week, James the Journalist attended the governors weekly press conference and asked a few questions. At first, Ho-Ho was a consummate professional and handled Dwinells inquiries about farm signs in the right of way without blinking. The hot topic that day was the continued non-appearance of Deans secret plan to fix Act 60 and its treacherous shark pool.
As in recent weeks, Ho-Ho took the heat, kept his cool and stuck to his guns. Hes in charge and hell do whats best. After about 40 minutes, just as it looked like everyone had run out of questions, Dwinell popped up again with a couple more.
The expression on Ho-Hos face indicated his patience with Dwinell had just left his body. When Dwinell mentioned Act 60 again, Dean stiffened. He rubbed his nose like a boxer and gave Dwinell a couple good shots.
In all due respect, said the Guv to the journalist, since you do work for the Republican Party, I really dont think this is the appropriate place to answer these questions. What you do in your publication that you put out from time to time is take what I say and parody them and ridicule them. And thats fine to do, said Dean, but Im afraid Im not going to give you the time to do it at my press conferences. Youve asked several questions. Youve gotten the answers. Youre welcome to go back to write your newsletter, but I dont think Im going to pursue this with you. Thank you very much.
With that, Dean asked for other questions, and hearing none, quickly departed stage left.
Thats an incorrect statement, shouted Dwinell as Dean walked out of the palatial Statehouse ceremonial office.
Dwinell was absolutely right about that. He does not work for the Republican Party anymore, and Ho-Ho knows it.
As Seven Days hits the street this Wednesday, another weekly press conference is on the schedule. And Dwinell told Seven Days on Tuesday hes hoping to be there.
And if the remarks of the governors press secretary are any indication, it ought to be a good show. Susan W. Allen told Seven Days Ho-Hos weekly press conferences are held for the benefit of credible, non-agenda-driven media outlets. Dwinell writes for an agenda-driven newsletter, she said. The Dwinell-Sternberg Report, said Allen, has a bitter, mean-spirited edge.
Sounds like you guys dont like James writing? we inquired.
Its not like we dont like it, replied Sweet Sue. Its that the weekly press conference is for legitimate journalists.
In fact, theyve been broadcast for years on public access TV channels across the state. Theyve been so popular, Vermont Public Television now airs them, too.
As you may recall, our buddy, the East Dorset millionaire and Speaker of House recently made a big deal over the fact hed allowed yours truly to attend his recent Statehouse press conference. Bless his little heart. Speaker Walt Freed noted we were deliberately not invited. However, Mr. Sports Car bit his lip and answered our questions politely and professionally.
If the Speaker can do it when he has to, the Governor should, too. Ho-Ho may not like Dwinells writing, his point of view or the way he parts his hair, but its not for Ho-Ho to define who is and who isnt a legitimate journalist. Ultimately, readers, and in the case of the weekly televised press conferences, viewers decide that one.
Meanwhile, Dwinell told Seven Days Tuesday the governors press secretary has never returned his calls. He said he had asked Addison Eagle publisher Dan Laberge to call her and verify Dwinells press credentials. Dwinell said the publisher called four times and hadnt heard back as yet.
Asked about the unreturned calls, Allen replied, Im not going to comment on that silliness.
As for a potential showdown at this weeks press conference, Allen said, Were respectful of [Dwinell]. The governor is respectful of him and will continue to be.