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Bernie Sanders

Brave Little Vermont Leads the Way!

Sanders voices his support for passage of the civil-unions bill, an issue that initially he didn't fully embrace.


April 25, 2000. A date to remember. A proud moment for Vermont and a big step forward in the never-ending struggle for freedom.

The word comes from the state capitol this sun-splashed Tuesday afternoon that the Vermont House has voted 79-68 to concur with the state Senate and send the civil-unions bill to Gov. Howard Dean for his signature.

All men and women are created equal — what a concept! And from this day forward, all men and women in Vermont will be treated as equals. At this moment, yours truly's thoughts are of family and the Emerald Isle. Of my namesake, my Uncle Peter, a teenage farm boy shot down on the streets of Dublin in 1921 by the forces of the Crown. A young freedom fighter who didn't live to taste it for himself, he died a second-class citizen in the mighty British Empire.

Today, freedom rings across our beautiful Green Mountains. No longer will our little state tolerate the second-class citizenship of those whose love is judged to be wrong by the self-proclaimed moral leaders of our society. Today, Vermont stands tall and proud.

If God is indeed love, as John writes in his gospel, then on this sunny April day, God’s smile is shining brightly on the Green Mountain State.

Editorial Page Update — Time marches on. We now know from yesterday’s edition of our local daily that the distinguished editorial board of The Burlington Free Press has “Mixed feelings on Elian.”


But Vermont’s largest daily, owned and operated by the Gannett Co., a multi-national media giant, continues to remain silent on the landmark civil-unions legislation that its new department reports is making history in Vermont.

We know that the Freeps took a position against “gay marriage” last year. But what of “civil unions,” the compromise position that lawmakers in both House and Senate have approved? The one that’s been praised on editorial pages across the nation from Arizona to Chicago to Washington, D.C.? The silence from 191 College Street has been positively deafening.

Over the weekend our Web surfing uncovered more published praise for Vermont’s forward-thinking approach to treating gay and lesbian relationships on par with heterosexual pairings. This one’s from the editorial page of the Hartford Courant in Connecticut, the home state of Ethan Allen.

“Vermont is heading in the right direction,” declared the Courant. “Its new law does not grant special rights to homosexuals. It gives equal treatment before the law with regard to family circumstances. It promotes stable, lasting relationships."

The list of pro-civil-unions editorials from out-of-state dailies grows. The Hartford Courant joins the Chicago Tribune, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, The Arizona Daily Star, the Miami Herald, The Washington Post, The New York Times, the Concord Monitor and The Herald of Rock Hill, South Carolina. But The Burlington Free Press has lost its voice when it comes to the number-one issue in Vermont.

Try gargling with salt water.

Rembering Francis — Too bad the floor debate in the Vermont Senate wasn’t covered by Vermont Public Television. It was a logistical problem, says VPT Producer Joe Merone. “We’re not as fast and flexible” as the news stations, he said.

Sen. Mark MacDonald (D-Orange), garnered rave reviews for his last-minute conversion to the “yes” side. He said he realized he’d have to explain his vote to his social studies students. And he realized he didn't warn to tell them he voted against his conscience because he wanted to get reelected. It was an act of political courage that will be long remembered in the senate's history.

Sen. Elizabeth Ready (D-Addison) surprised nobody with her "yes" vote on the civil-unions bill. Chainsaw Liz is a die-hard liberal. But her invocation of former state Sen. Francis Howrigan of Franklin County was a bit of a surprise. Francis, the conservative patriarch of the family dairy empire, caused ears to burn a few years back when he rose in opposition to legislation prohibiting discrimination against homosexuals. He uttered one sentence and one sentence only. “I don’t see,” said Francis, “why we have to be concerned about a bunch of disease-spreading cornholers.” Then he sat down.

When Ready rose on the senate floor last week to express her position, she quoted Howrigan, but not his crude “cornholer” remark. Instead, she recalled some Howrigan lines that are always near and dear to her heart — “Treat the land as if you’ll live on it forever. Treat your neighbors as if you’ll die tomorrow.”

“The gay and lesbian community are my neighbors,” said Elizabeth. “Vermont is my home. And I want to make sure that we will live on together, forever. And we will give each and every one of our neighbors the respect and kindness they deserve.”

The debate over equal rights for gay and lesbian couples has roused the passions of some to the boiling point. Some of our neighbors, caught inside a box of ignorance and fear, have, like Francis Howrigan, blindly made some very nasty and hurtful statements. But they’re still our neighbors, God bless ‘em, one and all.”

“Within each of us is the same hate,” Ready told Seven Days. “And within each of us is the same capacity for compassion and inclusion. This debate is about choosing," she said. "That's why I wanted to quote Francis, who's been so widely quoted in his unkind voice."

See, Francis Howrigan's got a kinder and gentler side, too. Thanks for the reminder, Senator.

Bernie Out of the Closet — You may recall that in the days following the Vermont Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage, we were unsuccessful in getting Independent Congressman Bernie Sanders to share his opinion on the gay-marriage issue. Like Gov. Howard Dean, who refused to be drawn into the Elian Gonzalez soap opera during a talk radio appearance Tuesday, Mr. Sanders knows that in politics one should choose one's battles carefully. Every position offends somebody and the wise politician doesn't go looking for new enemies.

Over the weekend, we ran into Ol’ Bernardo down at the Earth Day festivities on the Burlington Waterfront and popped the question one more time.

"I think the legislature handled this issue with a lot of dignity," said Sanders. "I know there are a lot of very different points of view on this issue. People feel very strongly. But I think the legislators handled themselves with a great deal of dignity, and I agree with what came out of the legislature."

There you go. Thar wasn't so painful, now, was it?

By the way, U.S. Sen. Jim Jeffords was also at the Earth Day event, and a curious Rep. Sanders leaned in to hear just what Jeezum Jim was telling the TV cameras about global warming. When Sanders' turn came, we couldn't help but ask if he's had any second thoughts about his decision to stay in the House and not challenge Jeffords for the U.S. Senate.

Bernie recounted the laundry list of front-burner issues he's championed in the House, from prescription drugs to pensions to the IMF and global trade policy. The House, he said, is "where the action is," and he has no regrets.

"So," we asked, "you like your job?"

"I love my job," replied Bernie from the heart.

You know, it shows.

Adelphia Beats Burlington 7-1 — In politics, like in sports, you win some and you lose some. Last week Adelphia Cable TV mogul John Rigas won one in Vermont, but lost one in Philadelphia.

Vermont's John LeClair and the Philadelphia Flyers bumped the Rigas-owned Buffalo Sabres from the Stanley Cup playoffs, winning the series 4-1. Nice.

But closer to home, the Almighty House Local Government Committee carried Rigas' water and shot down the Burlington charter change that would let the Queen City do what a solid majority of citizens voted to do. On a 7-1 vote, the committee gave the ol’ thumbs down to Burlap’s plan to establish a public-private partnership that would wire the city with a new state-of-the-art fiber optic network. That would provide needed competition for Burlington consumers on the information highway in the areas of telephone, Internet access and cable television service.

House Republican Leader Walter Freed of Dorset is adamantly opposed to the Burlington plan, plan, as are a number of other conservative mischief-makers in the House. When City Attorney Joe McNeil testified on the matter before the Commerce Committee last week, Rep. Connie Houston (R-Vergennes) suggested Burlington spend its money upgrading its sewage treatment facility instead. She just doesn't get it.

If you think it's a bit cuckoo to have Walter and Connie telling Burlingtonians how to run their city, you're not alone. But that's the way it works. State government has the legislative might to stifle any and all good ideas municipal governments come up with. In this case, The People's Republic of Republic of Burlington wants to inject a healthy dose of old-fashioned capitalist competition into the technology marketplace. It's a notion that clearly does not sit well with Adelphia Cable, the greedy cable TV monopoly.

"Competition is better for consumers than a deregulated monopoly. The present situa-tion," said Joltin' Joe, "is the worst of all worlds."

But John Rigas better not pop the champagne just yet. Assistant City Attorney Jessica Oski tells Seven Days. "The city will find a way. This is not the end. The people have spoken."

Cool. That puts the pressure on the Burlington House delegation to deliver. We hear Rep. Karen Lafayette from the South End is taking the point, And then there's what's-his-name —yes, the House Democratic leader, Rep. John Patrick Tracy, from the Old North End. Talk about clout! Piece of cake, eh?

Media Notes — Kudos to WCAX for sending reporter Kristin Kelley and photographer Andy Goodrich out to the IBM stockholders' meeting in Cleveland. Likewise to the Freeps for sending Business Editor Aki Soga along, too. The competition, WPTZ and WVNY, relied on coverage from their network affiliates in the "City of Light."

Ch. 3 News Director Marselis Parsons said they sent their own crew because the IBM pension story is important to many viewers in the metro area. “That’s why more Vermonters watch us,” boasted Marsillyiss, “than the other stations combined.”

Also, you have caught the new face of the weekend weather at WCAX. No, that’s not Bambi in the headlights, that’s the reigning PAC-10 10,000 meters champion, Brooke Murphy. Ms. Murphy graduated from the University of Arizona last year with a degree in meteorology. Brooke did an internship at the CBS affiliate in her home town of Columbus, Ohio. She told Seven Days she sent audition tapes to stations with warm climates. WCAX was the exception, but WCAX liked what they saw, and the rest is history. Over at WPTZ's Colchester bureau, reporter Jason Howe has left to return to his roots on the West Coast. And assignment editor Laura Peterson is departing shortly for a new gig at Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility. News Director Andy Wormser tells Seven Days Graham "Cracker" Johnson has already arrived from the NBC affiliate in Medford, Oregon, to fill Howe's spot. "He's a terrific reporter," says Andy, "who's going to give Ch. 3 a run for their money."

We checked with News Director Ken Schreiner over at Ch. 22, but there's nothing new to report from the New Kids on the Block. No additions or subtractions. "We're getting ready for the May sweeps," says Ken.

Can't wait.