The first call came early Monday morning. Concord, New Hampshire, radio talk-show host Arne Arnesen wanted to get us on the air to talk about the big story in that morning's Boston Globe: "Vermont governor wants troops home" was the headline. "Amid serious casualties, he urges pullout."
Globe reporter Scott Helman led his piece with the fact that Vermont has suffered the highest per-capita death rate among U.S. soldiers in Iraq. Then he quoted Vermont Gov. Jim Douglas:
"I certainly hope and pray that the Congress and the administration will work together to design an exit strategy and bring our troops home as soon as possible," Douglas said in a telephone interview Friday."
From there, Helman mentioned Rep. John Murtha, a Democratic war critic, leaving readers with the feeling that Gov. Scissorhands has been keeping "bad" company lately.
In fact, according to a reliable source, the Globe article was read very carefully in Washington, and that very day, Vermont's governor got a phone call from the Bush White House inquiring about a possible Republican turncoat!
Nothing, my friends, could be further from the truth.
Gubernatorial spokesman Jason Gibbs would not confirm the White House phone call, but he did tell "Inside Track" he was "amazed" by the Globe article and the reaction it caused.
Gov. Douglas, he insisted, "has been saying the very same thing for months, that he hopes Congress and the president come up with an exit strategy and bring the troops home as soon as possible."
He's right. In fact, nowhere in the Boston Globe story does our Guv criticize the Bush war policy. Nowhere does he have a bad word to say about the president who fabricated phony reasons for this war, which so far has killed more than 2100 Americans and tens of thousands of innocent Iraqi civilians.
Because Gov. Douglas has never criticized George W. Bush for the Iraq War, or anything else, for that matter. Douglas is a loyal Bush Republican -- White House, please, take note!
The Boston Globe article deserves some sort of fiction prize. Sure makes you wonder what you can trust in the rest of the Beantown rag. After all, it is owned by The New York Times, the paper that printed Judith Miller's Iraq fiction for years!
Mayoral Matters -- Very quiet on the Burlington mayoral front. At least on the surface. The next shoe drops on January 5, when perhaps around 1000 registered voters will show up at the Burlington High School Auditorium to pick the Democratic candidate for mayor. It's a choice between veteran Ward 6 city councilor Andy Montroll and that Canadian who just got her U.S. citizenship a couple years ago -- what's her name?
Oh, yes. State Sen. Hinda Miller! If the ol' Jogbra cofounder can lift the city of Burlington the way she lifted the hopes and aspirations of female athletes, then the Queen City will be much the better for it.
And thank you, Howard Dean, for getting her to change her mind a couple years ago and run for the State Senate as a Democrat. Plenty of Statehouse stories are floating around that suggest Hinda behaves like a Republican sometimes, but that's another matter.
Ol' Andy Montroll had a much bigger and better campaign kick-off, that's for sure. We counted 108 citizens at his event this month in City Hall Auditorium, which offered great homemade snacks and free day care. And the Man Who Would Be Mayor was introduced by a man who once desperately wanted to be Burlington's next mayor himself, but dropped out: Rep. John Tracy. Tracy has his own established constituency in the city's Old North End. Let's see how many he can get to the caucus.
Montroll is what he is, and he knows it. He is steady, reasonable, cautious, fair and, unlike his opponent, very low-key. Were he to win the nomination and win the seat in March, his "Inside Track" nickname might be something like "Mayor Who?"
By the way, did anyone else catch Republican mayoral candidate Kevin Curley, the city councilor from the New North End, on Ch. 17's "Live at 5:25" last week?
Kevin was hosting and had two new, inexperienced GOP city council candidates with him. Let's just say it was a program that would make the original "Moe, Larry and Curly" proud.
Candidate Curley kept saying the city needed "out-of-the-box thinking." The only example he gave besides a proposal to beef up Burlington's shrinking school enrollment was to increase "quality time" between parents and children as well. Curley the Stooge, er, the candidate, suggested getting commuters from surrounding towns to bring their kids with them when they come to work in Vermont's largest city. He said they could drop 'em off at a Burlington public school and not only help end Burlington school closings, but also enjoy an extra 15 minutes of quality time with their kid in traffic!
"I'm talking public-school choice," said the GOP candidate for mayor. "How much easier is it for someone in Milton to work in Burlington, or for a company to locate in Burlington, when they know that that's where their children are going to school?" he asked.
"So you're bringing them in. You're riding in with them in the morning," said Curley. "You're dropping them off at school and you're riding home with them. People talk about how hard it is to connect with your kid. If you have 15 minutes of quality time with your kid you're doing well. It just makes sense, and it makes business sense."
No mention of what other towns might think about his plan, nor about what the kids will do while waiting for their parents to get out of work.
Wonder which box Curley is thinking out of, eh?
Meanwhile, as far as the Democratic nomination goes, you can be sure there's a little buzzing behind the scenes that doesn't make the local news. For example, Montroll supporters want folks to know Hinda sends her kids to "private schools outside Burlington." So much for supporting local public education, eh?
"Each parent," Hinda told us, "makes decisions about what's best for their circumstance and their children and supporting their children's dreams."
Her daughter goes to a private school in Shelburne. But her son went to Edmunds Middle School, she said, and did his freshman year at Burlington High School before transferring to a boarding school in Connecticut. She declined to name it.
You can just say it's a prep school in Connecticut," candidate Miller informed us. "I didn't want him to go. I wanted him to stay in town, but he had dreams that couldn't be fulfilled in our town, and what am I going to do as a parent? I'm going to support him."
She said she was aware opponents were spreading the dirt about her kids.
"I know," she told "Inside Track." "It's being spread like brown stuff. Speaking of brown stuff . . ."
Miller then told us a story from her recent three-week trip to India -- her first. The trip, with a group of women, had been planned for two years, said Hinda, who has been practicing yoga since her twenties. Bill Gates and Ted Turner were there, too, but that's another story.
The people of India, she said, have a "renewable headset." They "revere" the cow, she said, "because the cow gives them milk, and milk gives them ghee and yogurt. And the urine of a cow is antiseptic and it's used as a medicine."
Didn't know that, did you?
Also didn't know, until Hinda told us, that women in Indian villages, unlike in Vermont villages, make patties out of cow dung!
"It's dried by the sun and it's used for fuel, and it's used to make their huts," said the mayoral hopeful. "It's just an amazing view of the world. Everything that the cow provides for the villagers is revered and respected."
She said it made her "think of Vermont, where we're doing biomass."
It also gives new meaning to the expression "Holy shit," we told her.
"That's right," replied Candidate Miller. "Exactly!"
And if she wins the Democratic nomination and the March election, will Burlington be getting a new sister city in India?
"I do have part of my heart in India," said Hinda, "and I know Peter [retiring Mayor Peter Clavelle] had a lot of his heart in Central America, so each of us has a place in our heart, and we'll see about the sister cities."
P.S. This just in: Progressive City Councilor Tim Ashe is considering running for mayor. The Progs may have a savior at last!
Democrats Gets Serious -- The credit goes to Gov. Jim Douglas for having the wisdom in his first term to insert one of his top two political aides, Jim Barnett, into the chairmanship of the Vermont Republican Party and to make it a salaried position.
The proof was in the pudding: the 2004 election. Douglas positively crushed a very likable Democrat named Peter Clavelle (60 percent to 37 percent). And his running mate, Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie, easily won re-election, too!
But hold on a minute. Isn't this the State of Vermont? Home to DNC Chairman Howard Dean and left-wing congressmen like Sens. Patrick J. Leahy and Jeezum Jim Jeffords and that screaming socialist Bernie Sanders?
Yes, but. And the "but" is all about the fact that our in-state Republican Party organization has been out-muscling our in-state Democratic Party organization for the last few years.
In Mad Dog Barnett the GOP has had a young, energetic, passionate, smart flame-thrower of a party leader. He's kept Democrats looking over their shoulders for quite some time. In a state where President George W. Bush is held in the lowest esteem in the nation, Mad Dog protects the beachhead. In the 2004 election, he helped expand it, as the GOP picked up a third statewide office. And freshman auditor Randy Brock looks like he may be there for a while.
The news this week is that finally -- finally -- the Vermont Democratic Party is getting real. Two new full-time staffers will join Executive Director Jon Copans at state headquarters next month. The state committee has made the necessary rule changes to give a centrist party candidate a leg up well before the September primary by allowing early party endorsement. In addition, "Inside Track" has learned that the Democratic State Committee is also considering a proposal to pay its own party chairman, for the first time, an annual stipend of $12,000.
Where's the money coming from all of a sudden, you ask?
Answer: Howard Dean.
"Our executive director used to be part-time and was the only person in the office," said Billi Gosh, state committee member and the party's national committeewoman. "The beefing up of the staff goes right back to Howard Dean. He's doing this all over the country." The national party under Ho-Ho, she said, "has sent hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars to the states to give them what they need and fill in the holes."
Gosh just returned from a big DNC meeting in Arizona. "Howard came and talked to every single caucus," she said. "The focus of everything was this beefing up of the party, from school boards right on up to candidates for governor and congress."
As for changing party rules to allow endorsements before the primary, not everyone liked the idea. Veteran state committee member Margaret Lucenti of Montpelier, one of four who opposed the change, told "Inside Track," "The whole idea of a primary is to allow people to run and let the chips fall where they may." Her motion to table the rules change was defeated.
They're shooting themselves in the foot," said Margaret.
Ginny Burgess, longtime state committee member from Lamoille County, agreed.
"I think that the idea of pre-primary endorsements is contrary to everything that the party has tried to achieve in terms of evenhanded treatment of all candidates," said Burgess. "It sets up a situation where one candidate has the potential of access to the voter file and other candidates do not. It bestows the imprimatur of the party on one candidate and gives that candidate the right to use the endorsement in his advertising, conveying thereby that he/she is the candidate of choice of the entire party."
Ian Carleton of Burlington, the new Democratic State Chairman, said the changes (which passed 30-4) "gives the state party guidance well in advance of September 2006 about where to place its resources."
Carleton told "Inside Track," "The state committee was feeling as though its participation in the party's operations was largely symbolic, and that it was a state party chair and executive director making decisions and having the state committee sign off on them. This totally changes that calculus."
Statewide candidates seeking an early, pre-primary party endorsement must get a two-thirds vote of the state committee members present at the time the vote is taken.
Congressional hopeful Peter Welch shouldn't have any problem.
Douglas Consultant? -- Remember when Gov. Jim Douglas mocked House Speaker Gaye Symington and the Democrats for hiring an expensive consultant to help them get their health care reform plan rolling?
"Inside Track" has learned that the Douglas administration recently hired its own health-care consultant to help put together the health-care proposal the governor will announce on Thursday.
According to Press Secretary Jason Gibbs, the administration hired a Boston-based international health-care consulting firm called John Snow, Inc. "to provide technical assistance with the development of the governor's plan." The price tag: $40,000. More on the consultant at http://www.jsi.com.