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Civil War Strikes Republican Party

Inside Track


GOP State Chairman Patrick Garahan has certainly tipped over the Statehouse Republican beehive with his recent punchy fundraising letter, which trashes the new state civil-unions law as “a universally bad and dangerous idea.”

“Dangerous,” Chairman Patsy?

If licensing loving and caring relationships between gay and lesbian adults is indeed “dangerous,” then that means Garahan’s got 17 “dangerous” Republicans under the golden dome who voted for it. And they may yet become even more dangerous, as far as Garahan’s reign as GOP state chairman goes.

According to sources, several Republican players have called for Garahan’s resignation. They say it’s politically stupid for the party to declare war on the civil-unions law. The new law extends marriage rights to gay couples without the marriage name. Word around the Statehouse is that Rep. Gary Richardson, a conservative who voted against civil unions, stormed into the GOP state headquarters across State Street last week and personally told Garahan to resign.

When asked about the incident this week, Richardson declined comment. Clearly he wasn’t pleased with Garahan's divisive stance.

Jeezum crow. We know the job of Republican state chairman isn’t an easy one in Vermont, by any means. The chairman Mr. Garahan replaced, after all, had to resign after being indicted. The current little spat within the party is nothing compared to being indicted. But it has sparked the outbreak of civil war within the ranks.

Fifteen Republicans in the House and two in the Senate voted in favor of the civil-unions bill. It wouldn’t have passed without them. And none of them have a kind word to say about their distinguished party chairman this week.

“It was a dumb letter and he shouldn’t have written it,” said Rep. Dick Marron. Marron, the popular Stowe Republican, is a member of Garahan’s “Dangerous 17.”

“It shouldn’t be a party issue,” argued Marron. The “demographics” indicate, he said, that “young people and better educated people” had no problem with extending equal marriage rights to gays. And Stowe’s overloaded, as everybody knows, with better educated folk. Kinda verifies the rather electric remark made early on by Democrat Sen. Peter Shumlin about anyone having a library card not having a problem with civil unions. Shummy got a spanking for saying so, but his assessment wasn’t off the mark by much.

Rep. Judy Livingston of Manchester, another Republican from Volvo-land, where both the schools and libraries are well stocked, said “no comment” when we asked if it was time for Patsy to go over the side.

“It’d be a mistake if the Republicans make civil unions a party issue,” said Judy. “I had a majority of support from the constituents that I heard from, both Republican and Democrat.”

Livingston, as far as we know, is not “dangerous.” Neither is Rep. Kathy Voyer, the Morrisville Republican. She told Seven Days it was “inappropriate” for Garahan “to shun what I consider good Republicans.” Voyer noted, “There’s a big enough fire out there as it is.” The extra heat from the GOP party chairman, she said, isn’t appreciated.

Asked if she’d call for Garahan’s resignation, Voyer replied, “I personally have not contacted him. I figure it’d be better if I cooled off a little bit before I did.”

Then there’s that “dangerous” Rep. Dick Mallary from Brookfield. Funny, he always seemed okay when he served as House Speaker and later as congressman. But he voted for civil unions, so that makes him part of Chairman Garahan’s “Dangerous 17.”

Rep. Mallary told Seven Days that if the party makes civil unions “a litmus test,” he’ll leave the party and run as an Independent.

Wouldn’t the Democrats love to read that headline?

As for “dangerous Republican senators,” we checked with Sen. John Bloomer of Rutland, the Republican leader. Bloomin’ Young Bloomer sits in the row right behind Sens. Helen Riehle and Peter Brownell. That pair proudly backed the civil-unions bill. But Bloomer, who did not, told Seven Days that, based on his observations, “I can verify, neither are dangerous.”

Gee whiz, that’s a relief.

The Bloomin’ Bloomer did not wish to discuss Mr. Garahan’s future as party chairman, noting he hadn’t had an opportunity to personally speak with Pat as yet. Interesting to note that during the civil-unions battle, there was a discrepancy between Garahan and Bloomer over just who deserved the credit for inviting Alan Keyes to the Statehouse. Patsy told us at the time that, as party chair, he made the phone call to Keyes, but only at Young Bloomer’s request.

Young Bloomer told us that that wasn’t the whole picture. The Rutland Rocket said he had indeed asked Garahan to contact the Keyes campaign, but only after Patsy asked Bloomer to ask Patsy to do it. Plausible deniability. After all, it was a dumb idea to begin with. Keyes and Radical Randall Terry were all kissy-huggy during the protest on the Statehouse steps, a protest GOP lawmakers other than Nancy Sheltra managed to ignore.

But not to worry. Chairman Garahan is hanging in there. Despite his Statehouse critics, Garahan’s not backing off one inch. In fact, he even denies receiving criticism from within the ranks over his incendiary fundraising letter.

Asked Monday if he had received requests to resign, Garahan replied with a smile, “Oh, no, no, not at all. In fact,” said Patsy, “I’ve probably received 50 to 75 communications and virtually every one was in support.”

And his political instincts tell him civil unions will be the big issue in November.

“Almost 80 percent of Republicans voted against civil unions,” said Chairman Patsy. “It’s clear it was the Democrats that passed the bill. The bottom line is the vast majority of Republicans aren’t happy with it.”

As for the “Dangerous 17,” fasten your seat belts, folks. Your ride’s only just begun.

“This is what elections are all about,” warned Garahan, “and people will have a chance to say in November how they feel about the bill.” In Pat’s mind, it’s “pretty clear this is going to be the defining issue. Both of our candidates for governor have said this is going to be a central issue in that campaign. More than anything, the 2000 election will be defined by how the people of Vermont view the candidates in the context of this bill. And it’s entirely appropriate for the party who voted in opposition to it to point that out to people who might make political contributions.”

In recent times, the political civil wars in Vermont have been among the Democrats. It’s so bloody refreshing to see Republicans eat their own for a change.

Speaking of Eating

Good to know you can drive into your local Maplefields mini-mart whenever nature calls, gas up, and visit what certainly has to be the finest public toilet in the Green Mountains.

Have you caught the super-smooth and Hollywood-slick 30-second Maplefields TV commercial that hit the airwaves last month? It promises fresh-cut flowers in the restrooms. A place you could take your grandmother! In fact, that’s owner Skip Vallee himself on camera, holding a flower and looking and sounding awfully like somebody who dearly wants to run for statewide office. Maybe lieutenant governor?

Gasoline Vallee, the GOP national committeeman, said this week he hasn’t made up his mind yet about taking a shot at Democrat Lt. Gov. Doug Racine. But he is obviously thinking about it with great intensity.

You see, Skip’s clean toilets TV commercial was produced by a well-known political consulting firm based in San Francisco. Over the years Dresner Wickets has run media campaigns for everyone from Jim Jeffords to Boris Yeltsin. And now the famous political media miracle workers are turning Skip Vallee, the GOP national committeeman, into a statewide political contender with clean toilets and fresh-cut flowers.

Gasoline Vallee told Seven Days this week, “Vermonters need to know we have the freshest, cleanest bathrooms.” According to marketing theory, said Skippy, “the appearance of the bathroom says a lot about the rest of the operation.” Brilliant! He may have his head in the toilet, but it’s placed there for damn good reason.

Vallee confirmed that he has recently done statewide polling, not about clean toilets, but about his political future. He said he piggybacked on the recent Jeffords’ poll to test his dime recognition. You can bet he’ll take another sampling after his two-month TV blitz inviting Vermonters to come down to his mini-marts and smell the bathrooms.

By the way, Gasoline Vallee’s TV commercial is a business expense, not a campaign expense. That’s because he isn’t officially in a campaign at the moment. Cute.

P.S. Keeping the flowers fresh isn’t easy, but Skip says it’s a priority at his Maplefields chain. Unfortunately, people steal ‘em. And guess when the flower theft rate peaks? Yep. Valentine’s Day. That’s so touching. After all, a stolen bouquet from a gas station lavatory is better than no bouquet at all. It’s the thought that counts.

Lafayette Delivers

It’s looking good now for the Burlington charter change that will give competition in Vermont’s technology marketplace a huge boost. Burlap voters passed it, but Montpelier’s blessing is required. With that blessing, the city will partner with a private-sector company to offer a citywide, state-of-the-art fiber-optic network to any and all corners. Cable TV, internet access, telephone. Yo! Let’s really get wired.

Despite a 7-1 vote against the idea in the House Local Government Committee, Rep. Karen Lafayette, a Democrat from Burlington’s South End, turned it around on the House floor. Karen was the floor manager. She spoke eloquently in support of it and lined up a solid majority that hung in there on a sunny and warm Friday afternoon. Some only half-jokingly remarked they were afraid to leave for fear of getting on Ms. Lafayette’s bad side.

“The Blue Dogs were excellent,” said Karen in reference to the “moderate” Democrat dog pack led by Rep. Michael Flaherty of South Burlington. Good doggies they were, on this one, said Lafayette.

Over the past seven winters in Montpeculiar, Rep. Lafayette has quietly, and without fanfare, become a solid player on the Democrat team under the golden dome. A Burlington native, Karen’s got impressive political genes — mayoral bloodlines. Definitely pointing toward bigger stakes races ahead. And this is one filly who can definitely handle the big boys. Don’t think the Progs and Mayor Peter Clavelle don’t know it, as she currently tops their chart of toughest mayoral opponents.

At the Statehouse, it looked like the Queen City (known as such since way before civil unions were a gleam in anyone’s eye) was in for tough sledding in the Senate. Indeed, Sen. Peter Brownell was dead set against it. The former Republican mayor (1993-1995) — the one cloudy period in the 20-year Progressive reign in Vermont’s largest city — told Seven Days last week, if he were still a Queen City resident, he’d have voted against it at the ballot box. Brownell was a key swing vote in the Government Operations Committee. For a while, it wasn’t looking good.

This week is different. Brownell, now a Richmond resident, has seen the light. He likes the notion of the city having a private-sector partner. Heck, he loves it! “It spreads out the risk,” said Brownell. “They should be allowed to have 10 partners,” suggested the ex-mayor.

Condolences to Adelphia Cable Television, the local cable TV monopoly that has fought the city on this one. Can’t win them all.