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Doctor's Order: Tell It Like It Is

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Republican two-term Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie has been leading a pretty charmed life as a GOP candidate in the anti-George W. Bush Green Mountains, and there's no sign of his luck changing anytime soon.

In fact, same goes for that other guy on the GOP ticket, Gov. Jim Douglas. The Vermont Republican Party's electoral success at the top ranks of state government in the post-Howard Dean age is one of the GOP's greatest and most unheralded outside-the-Beltway success stories.

And many local pundits saw Doobie-Doo's Lite-Gov reelection odds improve significantly with the surprise entry into the race of a particularly articulate and well-educated Progressive Party candidate. In fact, Marvin Malek, M.D., is a real-life doctor on the front lines of health care. He wears the hat of director of Barre Internal Medicine.

A doctor running for lieutenant governor? Hmm. That's pretty rare. Let's see, it happened once before -- 20 years ago. A little guy from Burlington. Made house calls.

What ever became of him, anyway?

Seriously, folks, Candidate/Dr. Malek is not, like his medical predecessor, harboring secret dreams about one day calling 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue "home." He does, however, intend to be around long enough to see the universal health-care system he dreams of come into existence in the land he loves. And the straight talk Doc Malek offers just might be medicine to everyone's fears.

Look, yours truly has been writing about "health-care reform" since the 1980s. This "commission" here, that "task force" there.

But 20 years later, America still has the most bloated, expensive, complicated and wasteful health-care system on Earth. Only lately have a few brave souls decided they will no longer ignore the 800-pound gorilla in the corner of the room -- the private health insurance industry that simply has to take its cut.

David Sirota, one of the leaders of a new generation of straight-talking political writers with Capitol Hill experience (he served on Bernie Sanders' congressional staff), hit the ol' health-care nail on the head in a Monday column in the Washington Times.

"Here's an idea rarely discussed in our nation's capital," began David. "Health insurance should not be a for-profit industry."

Sirota noted that study after study shows government-run health-care systems such as Medicare and the Veterans Administration deliver "better, more cost-efficient health care" than does the for-profit health-care industry. The patients are happier and healthier, too.

And poll after poll shows that's the way Americans want to go. Everybody knows the for-profit insurance companies will always try to squeeze out the biggest profit possible. It's the nature of the beast. As Sirota put it, "Follow the money."

That explains why in the last six years the health insurance industry has donated more than $370 million to politicians. And Sirota points out that Pennsylvania Republican Sen. Rich Santorum was last year's No. 1 recipient. Guess who was No. 2?

New York Democrat Hillary Clinton!

Obviously, folks, Big Health Insurance has had this game wired for a long, long time. But Sirota, a brave new voice himself, cites other new voices such as Sen. Byron Dorgan of North Dakota and Physicians for a National Health Care Program -- http://www.pnhp.org.

"These and other leaders are breaking the silence and addressing the taboo subject of making health care off-limits to profiteers," writes Sirota. "And the louder their voices get, the closer this country will be to getting the not-for-profit health-care system its citizens want and deserve."

Dr. Malek, the rookie Progressive in the Gov-Lite contest, told us he is a member of Physicians for a National Health Care Program. Surprise, surprise! There are thousands more like him.

Malek is single and originally from the Buffalo, New York, area, a blue-collar kid who went to medical school. He moved to Vermont almost six years ago. Likes the people and the mountains. He calls it the "best decision of my whole life."

Turns out Doc Malek has been asking the Sirota Question for quite some time. Why do we need this useless layer of bureaucracy jamming things up so that Big Insurance can profit from healing the sick?

Legalizing booze, you may recall, put bootleggers out of business. Ending Prohibition in 1932 meant booze in America became available and affordable again.

Wouldn't legalizing universal health care, making it a right of citizenship, do the same for the health insurance bootleggers, while making health care available and affordable to all Americans?

"The biggest source of waste in the health-care system that you can get rid of without anybody missing a doctor visit or anything is the waste in the insurance companies," said Doc Malek. He mentioned all the "advertising" and "lobbying" they do.

And when they do "strategic planning," the Progressive physician told us, "what they're really doing is figuring out which people they don't want to insure, which people they do want to insure because they're better health risks, and whether to have a $10-thousand deductible or a $3-thousand deductible."

Candidate Malek called the for-profit health insurance industry "a complete waste." He told us of the extra cost, staff-wise, it adds to his medical practice and that of every doctor out there. Each insurance company has different forms, requirements and procedures.

A great system, eh?

Incidentally, the two Ds in the race, House Health Care Committee Chairman John Patrick Tracy of Burlington and State Sen. Matt Dunne of Windsor County, are not conceding defeat.

Tracy scoffed at the suggestion that Malek the Prog would be good for at least 10 percent of the popular vote in November.

"If you want determination, look at what I've done!" said Tracy, referring to the Catamount Health legislation that Gov. Douglas signed. Tracy's "damn proud" of it, though he readily concedes, "It's not perfect."

"We could have walked away from the table," he said, "but it would have meant 20,000 uninsured Vermonters would not be getting insurance starting in October of next year."

Sen. Dunne acknowledged he voted for the bill Tracy calls "landmark" legislation on his website. But Dunne did not share John-John's enthusiasm.

"I don't think anyone believes it's a solution to the health-care crisis we have," said Dunne, "and I share many of Dr. Malek's concerns that it's not financially sustainable." Dunne added, "No one should be putting up a banner that says, 'Mission accomplished.'"

Interesting.

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Law & Order Race -- The race to succeed Chittenden County States Attorney Bob Simpson (a former reporter) looks to be the hot one for Primary Day. Three fine Burlington-area lawyers are vying for the Democratic Party nomination. The battle has been publicly waged for weeks with a spirited political lawn-sign competition in certain Burlington neighborhoods. And, this being the Internet Age, the candidates are also using their websites to show some muscle. Each has a page proudly listing their many supporters. Very interesting.

Candidate Rob Backus at http://www.robbackus.com posts the names of about 80 supporters. Local political "celebrities" among them include City Councilor Andy Montroll, who lost the mayoral primary to Hinda Miller, who lost the mayoral race to Progressive Bob Kiss.

Also backing Backus is Phil Fiermonte, former Progressive city councilor and longtime aide to Congressman and soon-to-be Sen. Bernie Sanders. So is Ward 5 Democratic City Councilor Joan Shannon. Librarian Trina Magi, nationally recognized for standing up to the Patriot Act, and Chapin Spencer, Local Motion bicycle guru and former Prog city councilor, are also on the Backus team.

Candidate Ted Kenney of Williston proudly lists more than 180 supporters on his website at http://www.tedkenney.com. The Williston selectman grew up in the political world. His dad was a top aide to Gov. Phil Hoff way back when. And, indeed, Vermont's first Democrat to hold the governor's chair tops Candidate Kenny's endorsement list. Former Gov-Lite and current comeback kid Doug Racine is there, too. As are Winooski Mayor Clem Bissonette and Elizabeth Skarie, a former Progressive state senate candidate with infamous premium ice-cream connections. Ben & who?

Candidate T.J. Donovan at http://www.donovanforstatesattorney.com has the longest web address and the most supporters' names posted -- more than 370 names and many local "celebrities" among them.

Former Burlington Mayor Peter Clavelle, the Prog who became a Democrat in order to get clobbered by Jim Douglas in the 2004 governor's race, tops Donovan's list. But T.J. didn't have to go far for political types. His uncle is State Sen. Jim Leddy. His mom is State Rep. Johannah Donovan.

State Sens. Dick Mazza and Hinda Miller are backing him. So is Chittenden County Sheriff-for-Life Kevin McLaughlin. And there are 68 names on T.J.'s list that are followed by "Esq.," which means the person named is a bloody lawyer!

But will the best website win?

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Crazy World, Eh? -- Politics does have its "Twilight Zone" moments, but we're sure there's a perfectly sound, rational and well-thought-out reason why the richest man in Vermont is running for the U.S. Senate this year. It's just that no one's uncovered it yet.

Rich Tarrant has had a great ride in life, starting from scratch in New Jersey and working his way to the top of the corporate ladder at IDX in Vermont. He's got a new Bentley at his new $8.9 million hacienda right on the ocean in Florida.

Nice.

But Richie Rich has yet to articulate why he wants to be Vermont's voice in the United States Senate. What's the political cause he's dying to lead at this late stage in the game?

Tarrant and his campaign pro Tim Lennon showed up at the Bristol Town Green Sunday evening, hoping to steal a little of the media spotlight from the congressional candidates. Democrat Peter Welch and Republican Mark Shepard had organized a one-hour "Conversation on the Green." Two independents joined them in Bristol: Denny Morrisseau and Keith Stern. The Conversations on the Green are a wonderful idea for bringing candidates and voters together and keeping candidates on their toes.

GOP U.S. House favorite Martha Rainville, the ex-general, has been strategically dodging them, as she carefully avoids political fire fights.

Surprisingly, Tarrant HQ put out a press release Friday announcing Tarrant would follow the 7 p.m. House "conversation" in Bristol with a Senate conversation at 8 p.m.

As Nancy Remsen of The Burlington Free Press politely described it, "As darkness started to settle on the green, Eric Davis, a Middlebury College professor and Sunday's moderator, called the event to a close. Rich Tarrant, a Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate seat, had arrived to continue the conversation with voters, but nobody stayed."

Nobody stayed?

Candidate Tarrant attempted to get an audience on his own. All we caught on tape was this brief exchange between Tarrant and an unidentified male.

Male: I want to see you go back to Florida where you belong, Rich.

Tarrant: You told me that once in Burlington.

Male: Twice! Once in Montpelier, too.

Tarrant: Oh, was that you in Montpelier? I don't forget.

Male: You're not a Vermont resident and you shouldn't be our senator, Rich. Your residence last year, according to your taxes, is in Florida.

Tarrant: We'll see how it sugars out.

Richie, why are you running? After taking a couple days off from his big-bucks, nonstop TV advertising, Tarrant was back on the air this week with a new TV spot that attempts to show his soft side. Apparently, Tarrant HQ has been hearing what we've been hearing about how his seven-month TV blitz has been turning viewers off and driving a few people batty. The former corporate CEO, they tell us, seems stiff, mean, impatient and one-dimensional.

In his newest ad, Richie Rich plays Ol' Grandpa and takes a question from his granddaughter: "What qualifies you to be a candidate?"

"Experience building a business," replies Tarrant. "Creating good jobs." Nice slow-motion shot of Richie smiling and laughing and playing with the grandkids on the couch at the end!

Tarrant's desperate need to develop a warmer and fuzzier image was highlighted this week with the release of the Rasmussen Poll on Vermont. While 52 percent said they had a "very favorable" impression of Independent Bernie Sanders, the prohibitive frontrunner in the U.S. Senate race, only a measly 16 percent have a similar "very favorable" impression of Rich Tarrant. Twice as many Vermonters had a "very unfavorable" impression of him!

This comes after the most expensive, longest-running TV campaign in Vermont political history. A campaign that's turned Rich Tarrant into a household word in Vermont!

Unfortunately, it's not the kind of household word one mentions at the dinner table.

P.S. The Rasmussen Poll also found only 15 percent of Vermonters "strongly approve" of President George W. Bush's job performance. Fifty-seven percent "strongly disapprove."

On the abortion-rights issue, 68 percent said they were "pro-choice," while 24 percent answered pro-life. Also, 22 percent of Vermonters polled said they take the Bible literally.

And is America's political system badly broken?

Would you believe 63 percent answered yes?

The number is rising.

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Fast Results -- Last week we noted Burlington Police Chief Tom Tremblay's pledge to get BPD a useful website was six months behind schedule. But in the last few days things have changed!

Deputy Chief Mike Schirling, the new Boy Wonder, directed us to the new BPD website at http://www.bpdvt.org. Lots of new info posted, including 30-day arrest records and weekly police logs. There's still a ways to go, but this marks a significant first step in informing the public about just what the cops do.

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