It was the hot presidential campaign item in Newsweek Monday. It was also "The Big Story" on Fox News Monday afternoon. What embarrassing political dirt is Dr. Howard Dean hiding in his sealed gubernatorial records?
Yours truly knew something was coming down the pike a week ago when Newsweek's top scandal scribe Michael Isikoff called. What did we think of Dean sealing his records for 10 years? What did we think was in there?
Isikoff himself made news with his coverage of President Bill Clinton's Peckergate Scandal. To be a talking to a man who's talked to Monica Lewinsky and Linda Tripp gave yours truly a titillating chill.
Isikoff had heard of our ongoing battle with Gov. Dean over releasing his daily schedule. It was a fight that went all the way to the Vermont Supreme Court. Unfortunately, the Black Robes of Montpeculiar upheld a governor's right to keep private meetings private. Executive privilege won the day.
Under Vermont law, "The official correspondence of the governor is the property of the state." Accordingly, after leaving the Fifth Floor, the Dean team turned over 310 cardboard boxes containing administration records to the Secretary of State. Of that total, 170 boxes are currently available for public inspection. You don't even have to give your name to paw through them.
Another 140 Dean boxes have been sealed for a decade, i.e., removed from public view. No can see.
Ho-Ho caught a lot of flak when he announced the 10-year seal, since his predecessors sealed their documents for only six years. But Govs. Madeleine Kunin and Richard Snelling were not soon-to-be presidential candidates. Hardly anyone cared what Kunin and Snelling sealed. And when they became public, there was still little interest.
Dean obviously agreed on 10 years since, if all goes well, that's when he'll be stepping down from his second term as President of the United States. The word from Dean Land is that Ho-Ho went for a decade not to protect himself from embarrassment, but rather to protect members of his cabinet and ordinary citizens from embarrassment. Ho-Ho realized long before anyone else did that, unlike Dick and Madeleine's "official correspondence," his would be gone over with dozens of fine-tooth combs.
Issikoff said he had heard that there was some dirt in Dean's sealed boxes. Stuff about sweetheart business deals for cronies, etc., he said.
It is, after all, prime time for Howard Dean of Vermont. He's currently the newest product in America's political shopping basket, and the Isikoffs of this world are supposed to take the microscope to him.
Since yours truly is constantly on a quest for Dean info, we asked Isikoff where he was hearing what he was hearing. Was it from John McClaughry, we asked?
"Who's John McClaughry?" asked Isikoff.
McClaughry is the Republican Ho-Ho crushed in 1992 with 75 percent of the vote. Don't think Johnny Think-Tanker's gotten over it.
It turned out Isikoff had been feeding on the Ruth Dwyer political chow line instead!
The Newsweek reporter didn't know much about Ruthless Ruth's past. Mrs. Dwyer was the Republican opponent Dean twice beat handily, in 1998 and 2000. She then landed a stint as a TV "investigative" reporter. That career ended last summer when WVNY (ABC) dropped its entire news operation.
Mr. Isikoff had never heard the story about the explanation Ruth once gave for Dr. Dean's favorable press coverage. According to published reports, fellow Republican Bernie Rome claimed Truthless Ruth told him in 1997 it was due to the fact that Dean and the state's top political reporters had something very special in common -- they were all Jews!
It wasn't true, of course, but Mrs. Dwyer always had a talent for seeing conspiracies that no one else could envision. And it's no surprise she imagines deep, dark secrets locked away in Ho-Ho's sealed records.
By press time, Isikoff was unable to come up with anything substantial. Instead, Newsweek went with the suspicious sounding headline, "What's in Howard Dean's Secret Files?"
Think big, folks.
How about a secret plan for the Vermont National Guard to invade New Hampshire? Why did the Old Man in the Mountain collapse? He was fine until Dean started running for president.
And does anyone know for certain we wouldn't find Monica Lewinsky's phone number in Dean's sealed gubernatorial records? After all, he frequently visited Washington during the Clinton years and is a known heterosexual.
Plus, everybody knows Monica had a thing for powerful, important men who have what it takes to run the world. What's Howard Dean hiding? I mean, now everybody knows about the bad back, right? John F. Kennedy had a bad back, too, but that didn't keep Hollywood starlets out of his West Wing.
Seriously folks, what the journalism stars of Washington have missed here is what other governors, including Gov. George W. Bush of Texas, did with their secret files. Only Dean's, however, appear to matter.
According to a 2002 study by Professor Charles Schultz, 28 states have a law requiring governors' records go to the state archives. Only 20 states, however, actually make it a practice. In Colorado they're sealed for 25 years. In Maryland it's 30 years.
How did George W. Bush deal with his gubernatorial records in Texas?
Our research indicates Dubya's done a better job than Dean of keeping his from public view.
When Dubya left office in Texas in 2000, he shipped his gubernatorial records to his daddy's presidential library on the campus of Texas A&M. According to Texas State Archivist Chris LaPlante, they were totally inaccessible to the public. There was no staff to catalogue them, said Laplante. And since "They were physically in a federal facility, they were subject to federal, rather than Texas, public-records law."
After complaints were made, said LaPlante, the attorney general ruled they should be shipped to the state archive for cataloguing. The Bush records arrived in Austin in August 2002. According to LaPlante, it's going to take another three years to complete the cataloguing. Then they'll be shipped back to daddy's library.
By Tuesday everybody, including two of Dean's Democratic rivals, was piling on. The New York Times' Jodi Wilgoren reported that "Mr. Bush's Texas records were moved back to state custody after a ruling from the attorney general, and an archivist for the state said the Bush records were available for viewing."
Archivist LaPlante called the above statement in the Times story "deceiving." While the Bush records are officially "viewable," said LaPlante, actually viewing them is another matter.
"They're technically accessible," said LaPlante, "but you might not get everything you ask for, even if we can find it."
In Montpelier, Vermont, opposition researchers have been able to look through most of Gov. Dean's records box by box. But in Texas, said LaPlante, a member of the public is not allowed to do so.
Instead, a written request for a "specific document" is the required procedure under Texas Public Records Act. He estimated 40 to 50 such requests have been made since the documents arrived in Austin. He was not aware how many requests had actually been approved.
And while Texas does not have a specific "executive privilege" exemption for gubernatorial records, Laplante noted Texas law grants 29 exemptions that can be claimed to prevent disclosure, including "memoranda that includes personal advice or opinion."
A check with the Associated Press bureau in Austin revealed the wire service hasn't carried a story on Gov. Bush's records since the transfer from College Station.
In fact, there's no record of one news story reporting on the contents of Gov. Bush's records since they became "technically" available.
Lucky George, eh?
Complaint File -- Yours truly got blindsided this week by a double-barrel blast of criticism over recent political coverage.
The first shot came from an elected official who snapped at us for devoting too much attention to the presidential campaign of former Gov. Howard Dean. The official suggested we devote more attention to state politics and the deeds and actions of our current governor Jim Douglas.
Within hours, we were accosted by a Montpelier lobbyist who was in a tizzy over the lackluster performance of Gov. Douglas. The lobbyist noted U.S. Sens. Patrick Leahy and Jim Jeffords, as well as Congressman Bernie Sanders, enjoy approval ratings around 70 percent while the current governor's approval rating was just 40 percent in a recent WCAX poll.
"The reason Leahy, Jeffords and Sanders get high ratings," suggested the lobbyist, "is because they take stands on issues. Gov. Douglas," he said, "plays patty cake. He won't take a stand on anything!"
Indeed, Jimmy D's reign has so far been marked by endless sanctimonious speeches, ribbon-cuttings and groundbreakings. It's as if the Guv is in constant photo-op mode.
The latest example of the bold Douglas agenda just hit our inbox. It's a press release from the Fifth Floor with the shocking news that the Guv and his wife support reading!
"First Lady to Launch Read for 2004 Initiative," states the release. "Vermont's First Lady Dorothy Douglas will read with first- and second-grade students at the Beeman Elementary School in New Haven and launch her new reading initiative, dubbed Read for 2004.
"Helping Vermont's children become motivated readers for their entire lives is a priority for her and her husband, Governor Jim Douglas, who issued a proclamation declaring December 2003 as Read for 2004 Month' in Vermont."
The lobbyist, a former supporter of Candidate Douglas, shocked us further by suggesting Burling-ton Mayor Peter Clavelle, the only announced Democratic challenger to date, will make "mincemeat" of Jim Douglas next November.
With Howard Dean, Patrick Leahy and Bernie Sanders drawing their supporters to the polls, he predicted, Gov. Douglas is in big trouble.
On another matter, sources say Democratic State Auditor Eliza-beth Ready was steaming after The Burlington Free Press editorial page edited the "best line" from her Sunday op-ed on Jimmy D's recently negotiated Vermont Yankee deal.
The Douglas administration has decided to give Vermont's lone, aging nuke the green light to boost its output by 110 megawatts in return for a $20 million payoff to Montpelier. The Guv says the money will go to cleaning up Lake Champlain algae, among other things.
In her op-ed that went statewide, Chainsaw Liz noted it's a matter for the legislature to decide. "State law," she wrote, "says it's the general assembly that must decide whether the proceeds of such a deal should be accepted."
What got under Chainsaw's skin, we're told, was the appearance of her piece in Sunday's Freeps with the following line missing:
"But there is at least one tough question for the Department to answer. Who will represent the public interest if the Department whispers the message: Our support is up for negotiation. Show us the money!?'"
Chainsaw was not available for comment Tuesday on the Freeps' editing job. She went in for a little surgery to repair bone damage caused by her horrible bicycle accident at Perkins Pier last summer. She was pedaling to a Howard Dean fundraiser at the time.
Brennan on the Moor! -- Howard Dean isn't the only Vermonter getting national attention of late. On Friday The New York Times put UVM basketball Coach Tom Brennan in the national spotlight.
"In Burlington, a town of 38,889 known best as the home of Ben & Jerry's ice cream and the birthplace of the jam band Phish, Vermont basketball is now chic Given the economy and the situation in Iraq, there was much to be distressed about, and the Cata-mounts gave us something to cheer about,' Mayor Peter Clavelle of Burlington said."
The Times article hit the day before the big David & Goliath showdown Saturday evening at UCLA's Pauley Pavilion, where Brennan led the Cats against a legendary basketball powerhouse.
As a teenager, yours truly once witnessed UCLA blow out Notre Dame by 52 points at Pauley. The Bruins had an All-American squad anchored by a tall, skinny center named Lew Alcindor. (Lew's high school, Power Memorial, annually shellacked yours truly's high school team.) Never saw anything like Lew before or since. When Alcindor turned pro he changed his name to Kareem Abdul Jabbar, and the rest is history.
Ah, memory lane! But what was UVM doing on the court with mighty UCLA?
Scaring UCLA to death, that's what.
With 30 seconds to go, the game was tied 57-57. A nail-biter. With just 4.8 seconds left, UCLA went to the line on a one-and-one. The Bruin made the first shot but missed the second. UVM got the rebound. T. J. Sorrentine got the ball across half-court and threw up a desperate Hail Mary shot as time expired.
As the Los Angeles Times put it:
"Spoilsports will point out that referee Bill Kennedy turned a blind eye to a fairly obvious foul on a frantic last-second shot by Vermont guard T.J. Sorrentine and took an earful of abuse from losing Coach Tom Brennan on his way off the court.
"Brennan refused to discuss the play with reporters, but he surely will comment on his popular Vermont radio show this week."
That would be "Corm & the Coach" on WCPV-FM. The New York Times even posted three sound bites from the show on the paper's Web site.
Coach Brennan is definitely ready for prime time. Hello, ESPN?
As the Irish tune goes, "Bold, brave and undaunted is Brennan on the Moor!"