Great timing by the Republican National Senatorial Committee, eh?
The RNSC began its official involvement in the 2006 Vermont U.S. Senate race by putting out a press release in early June painting Independent candidate Bernie Sanders, our eight-term congressman, as one of the most ineffective members of the U.S. House.
Since then, Ol' Bernardo has enjoyed what is arguably his most effective and successful month on Capitol Hill. Bernie of Burlington was lead sponsor and chief mover-and-shaker on three controversial anti-Bush floor amendments. That may not be unusual in itself, but the result was: The GOP-controlled House passed all three -- repeat, all three -- Sanders amendments, despite strong White House opposition!
The first was to remove Big Brother's nose from the personal, private, library reading habits of American citizens under the guise of fighting terrorism.
The second was to block the U.S. Export-Import Bank from guaranteeing a $5 billion loan to a foreign-owned company that will build nuclear reactors in China.
And the third was a successful, tri-partisan coalition-building effort by Sanders to stop the Bush administration's plans to close down 58 flight-service stations across the country, including the one in Burlington. The Bush team decided on its own to privatize the service, awarding a $1.9 billion contract to Lockheed-Martin. More than 1000 flight safety professionals would be out of work.
Sanders told "Inside Track" his amendment protecting personal library records was "the first effort to start to derail some of the unconstitutional provisions in the Patriot Act."
The second Sanders amendment blocking the U.S. Export-Import Bank offshore nuke loan was, in Bernie's view a "huge" win.
"It is a $5 billion loan to Westinghouse Electric, which is a wholly owned subsidiary of the British government," said Sanders. "It will build nuclear power plants in China for a state-owned Chinese company which is implicated in providing nuclear secrets to Pakistan and Iran. Other than that," said Bernie sarcastically, "I thought it was a very good project!"
Keep up the ineffectiveness, will ya?
No word from the RNSC on the Vermont Independent's three House victories in June. Even WGOP, er, WCAX-TV News took notice of Bernie's third one, and had their Washington intern get an interview that made their news. It even ran before sports!
Richie the Robot -- Old-timers will know this from the St. Michael's basketball glory days of the 1960s, but it'll be news for recent arrivals in the Green Mountains.
Richard Tarrant, IDX cofounder and chairman, and the Republican who quietly filed official papers on Friday announcing his candidacy for the U.S. Senate, was known during his all-star college basketball career as "Richie the Robot."
Funny. Mr. Tarrant did not mention his old jockster nickname in the Friday press release, which recounted his "all-American career" at St. Mike's that wrapped up with a Division II Final Four appearance in 1965.
Tarrant, as he proudly noted in his press release, was also top scorer. Had a deadly accurate shot. And the timing of his press release, on the Friday afternoon before the July 4th weekend, was as perfect as his ball release once was. Deadly accurate, too.
Tarrant's first official campaign press move received little media attention. The law required him to announce the formation of the "Tarrant '06 Exploratory Committee" because he has raised more than $5000 for the campaign.
Unfortunately for some -- but fortunately for Tarrant -- what little press the announcement did garner neglected to mention the juiciest part. That was Tarrant's letter to the Secretary of the Senate, as required by federal election law, in which he declares his intention to spend at least $500,000 of his own cash in the GOP primary period, and at least another $500,000 in the general election!
In the press release, Campaign Treasurer Mike Flynn states, "Rich Tarrant is not a politician. He's a different kind of community leader."
Yes, he certainly is.
So the spin is, we're supposed to send a robot to do a politician's job?
The Bush Speech -- Last week's edition went to press before our president addressed the nation, and a sitting-at-attention, non-cheering audience of troops from the 82nd Airborne, from a podium at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Incidentally, we incorrectly called them "Marines" last week. You'd have to go to Camp Lejeune to find Marines. Ft. Bragg is U.S. Army Airborne: "All the way, sir!"
Like many others, we were both surprised and relieved Tuesday night that Karl Rove did not turn it into a campaign-style event. Still, presidents traditionally give serious, "to the nation" speeches from the Oval Office. The Rovian touch was seen in the choice of American soldiers as visual props.
Mr. Bush went to the well -- six times. His first raising of the bloody flags of 9/11 came just 61 seconds in.
Interesting that the biggest chunk of the TV audience that night comprised people who call themselves Republicans. Democrats and Independents apparently couldn't take another dishonest speech by the president who tricked us into war.
Now many Republicans have heard enough, too.
Vietnam Flashback -- Last week, Democratic U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy compared the current Iraq War to America's earlier quagmire in Vietnam.
Republican Gov. Jim Douglas was asked the other day if he agreed. Our governor, as you know, has stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the president on this baby since Day One.
"I hope the military action is concluded as quickly as possible," said Vermont's governor.
Asked if he agreed with the popularly held and documented view that Mr. Bush flat-out lied to the American people about Saddam Hussein's nonexistent WMDs, Douglas replied, "The president based his decision on the information available at the time and what he believed was the best interest of our country. We've all learned some of the intelligence was flawed since then."
Flawed or cooked?
As for comparison to Vietnam, the Guv said we have learned two important lessons from that senseless war.
One: "We need to express our gratitude to our men and women in uniform when they get home." Vietnam vets, said Douglas, "didn't have a welcome at the airport with a band playing and thousands of fellow Vermonters cheering. They took a cab home," he said.
Second, noted Douglas, we must be prepared to address the social and psychological problems some veterans come home with. Problems we were not prepared for during and following the Vietnam War.
We agree with the Guv on No. 2. Unfortunately, recent press reports suggest the current administration has not learned its Vietnam lesson on that one. Just last week the Bush administration revealed a $1 billion shortfall in providing current health-care needs for veterans in the system.
"Putting veterans in this position happened either through intentional deception or incredible bumbling," said Sen. Patrick Leahy. "Neither is good, and creating this mess shows callous disregard for the medical needs of veterans. It's all the worse that it comes at a time when new veterans are entering the system from service and from injuries in Iraq and Afghanistan."
As for Jimbo's No. 1 Vietnam lesson, we have to wonder, just what was our governor smoking?
There were no bands and public welcomes because military units went to Vietnam and stayed there. Soldiers returned individually when their 12-month in-country tours were up. They came home sooner when they were wounded or killed. They were replaced by the next draftee in line.
And the tens of thousands of returning Vietnam vets who joined the national antiwar movement provided truth serum that the Nixon White House had no antidote for.
Yours truly was a little surprised our Guv had not responded with the real lesson of Vietnam, i.e., that sometimes U.S. presidents lie. And that a democracy always depends on the vigilance of its citizens.
The temptations of being in power are simply too great for some, and genuine national interests too often take a back seat to helping political allies get rich while carving one's place in the stone of history.
Presidents Lyndon Johnson, a Democrat, and Richard Nixon, a Republican, once gave rosy Vietnam War speeches like the one President Bush gave last week. They always reported we were "making progress," despite the on-the-scene news Americans saw on TV. They said that our troops were not dying in vain; that the despicable, evil enemy was out to destroy us; that if we didn't stop them on that side of the Pacific Ocean, our enemies would be landing on the beaches of southern California next year.
Of course, we now know the Johnson and Nixon administrations lied to us. It's a terrible trait to have in a president, isn't it?
So far, 14 Vermont soldiers have died carrying out Bush's Folly in the Iraq desert.
During the Vietnam War, 100 Vermonters were killed.
Looks like we're playing a little catch-up, eh?
People's Waterfront -- Main Street Landing Inc., the Queen City's lakefront development company, officially added a very big jewel to its crown Sunday with the grand opening of Lake and College.
Built into the side of the Battery Street bank, Lake and College is longer than a football field at 365 feet, and its combination of brick, stone, copper roofing and tons of windows makes for a structure that looks like it was always meant to be on the Burlington waterfront. It's new, but thanks to the brilliant touches of Burlington architect Colin Lindberg, the building conveys a sense of old.
It was a wonderful surprise to discover the very inviting, people-friendly space Lindberg tucked in along the hillside. Check it out yourself. Enter from Battery Street.
"We've come a long way," remarked former mayor Bernie Sanders (1981-89), who was one of the speakers.
Ol' Bernardo described Lake and College as "a building that invites people down to enjoy this tremendous treasure that we call Lake Champlain."
And the Queen City's mayor of 20 years ago spoke with authority when he said, "I know how much hard work has taken place over the last generation making sure this waterfront will be a waterfront that can be enjoyed by all of the people, regardless of income."
"Sounds just like his 1981 stump speech," said one longtime Burlington waterfront watcher.
Candidate Sighting -- Attending Sunday's waterfront grand opening was the 2006 Democratic Party challenger to Gov. Jim Douglas: Scudder Parker of Middlesex. He tells "Inside Track" he'll make an official announcement by the end of the month.
Not a household name, you say?
Scudder was state chairman of the Democrat Party a couple years ago and recently has appeared under the golden dome as policy director-lobbyist for Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility. Parker grew up on a dairy farm in Danville.
When we first met Scudder in the 1980s, he was a state senator from Caledonia County, and a man of the cloth, too. As Rev. Parker, he had been pastor of two small Congregational churches in St. Johnsbury and Waterford.
Needless to say, Scudder's a very thoughtful and articulate man. But no one argues that Candidate Parker won't have a very steep mountain to climb. The key will be the quality of his campaign team.
The fact that Vermont currently has a Republican governor draws looks of disbelief from outsiders. Most Americans assume that Howard Scream's state is in solid Democratic hands.
Republican Jim Douglas and his GOP running mate, Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie, won the two post-Dean elections of 2002 and 2004. And they won in 2004 by landslide margins, defeating experienced, second-tier Democrats like Peter Clavelle, longtime mayor of Burlington, and former Windsor County State Sen. Cheryl Rivers.
At the moment, the Democrat Party talent pool appears rather low. The Dems will not even run a serious "official" candidate in the 2006 U.S. Senate race. Independent Rep. Bernie Sanders will be their horse.
Today, National Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean runs around the country screaming up support for Democrats in so-called red states. But since he left Vermont politics two election cycles ago, Dean's own state of Vermont has begun looking a little redder. And nobody's predicting a change any time soon.
Thank you, Howard!
Media Notes -- WPTZ-TV News has a new news director! Kyle Grimes takes over from Andy Wormser, who recently moved on to AP in Washington. Kyle grew up on Long Island and went to Syracuse University. He's been at Ch. 5 for the last two years as an "executive director." Prior to that he was a news producer at two TV stations in California, also owned by the Hearst-Argyle chain.
WCAX-TV's new news face belongs to Jessica Abo. The 24-year-old brunette hails from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. She graduated from Northwestern in Evanston, Illinois, and stuck around for journalism school. Jessica's first contribution locally was a five-part documentary on the Holocaust, part of a longer film on the Holocaust in Poland she was already producing.
While attending Northwestern, Ms. Abo started an Evanston chapter of "Jarrett's Joy Cart," a Kentucky-based charity that brings toys to hospitalized kids. She's hoping to get a chapter going here.
You can learn more about Jessica by visiting her website -- that's right, her website: http://www.hesaidshesaidyes.com.
After a little Vermont seasoning, one can almost picture a little network exposure in Ms. Abo's future, eh?