Dubie's in" was the two-word buzz phrase that shot late last week through hallowed political backrooms, from Montpelier to the District of Columbia. In some places, the response was a shrug of regret and disappointment. In others there were cries of "Oh, boy!"
The words "Dubie's in" mean that Brian Dubie, Vermont's Republican Lite-Gov -- currently on Hurricane Katrina duty with the Army Reserves -- has decided to seek Vermont's open U.S. Senate seat in 2006. That sets up an interesting GOP primary next September with IDX cofounder and gazillionaire Richie Tarrant. The winner will face off against Independent U.S. Rep. Bernie Sanders, Vermont's progressive firebrand.
Doobie-Do was not available for comment this week. Our Monday inquiry to the lieutenant governor's office drew a prompt return call from a Dubie pal and GOP political operative, Joe Sinagra. Big Joe is executive director of the Vermont Home Builders and Remodelers Association of Northern Vermont. We told him we'd heard, "Dubie's in."
"Like he said all along," Big Joe replied, "Brian's thinking about all his options. Is the Senate a possibility? Yes, it is. Nothing's ruled out."
But what about Richie Rich? Mr. Tarrant of IDX, they say, is prepared to spend $5 million from his own cookie jar. Can the Doobster match that?
"I think Brian wins a primary against anybody. That goes without saying," said Sinagra. "Against Bernie Sanders," conceded Big Joe, "that would be a tough race."
Once again this week, Candidate Tarrant could not be reached for comment. We're beginning to wonder if his heart is where his bankroll is. Last week, Richie was also "unavailable for comment" for a Boston Globe story on the Vermont U.S. Senate race.
Second thoughts, Mr. Tarrant? Don't want to part with the new Bentley?
Rainville Rises -- The head of the Vermont National Guard filed paperwork Monday to turn up the juice on her campaign for the U.S. House by formally launching an "exploratory committee."
Fact is, Adjutant Gen. Martha Rainville appears to have the Republican congressional nomination in the bag. Her only GOP opponent at the moment is 1970s leftist-turned-Republican Dennis Morrisseau, the founder of Leunig's Bistro on Church Street. He's good for maybe 5 percent. Denny sold Leunig's about 10 years ago and moved on. Needless to say, it's never been the same.
While Generalissima Martha has the Republican congressional nomination all locked up, most people don't know how she got there. According to insiders familiar with her journey, it was quite the roller-coaster ride.
According to sources who swim in the deepest, darkest political channels, and spoke on condition of anonymity, Vermont's first-in-the-nation female general of a state National Guard originally was planning to run as a Democrat.
Sources say Gen. Rainville let it be known to the powers that be in the Vermont Democratic Party she was a "John Kerry Democrat" and wanted a "clear track" to run for the U.S. House seat that Bernie Sanders is relinquishing to run for the Senate. No primary opposition was what she demanded, sources say.
Unfortunately, State Sen. Peter Welch (D-Windsor) was also planning to run for the open 2006 congressional seat. Vermont's Democratic Party, which gets its marching orders from U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, simply could not grant Rainville's request for a clear track. It is, after all, a democracy. C'est la vie.
Undeterred, sources say, Rainville took her political quest across the aisle and approached the Douglas team. We affectionately dubbed them the Nasty Boys back in the 2002 governor's race. Neale Lunderville and Jim Barnett formed the dynamic campaign duo (a trio, actually, with press spokesman Jason Gibbs) that got Jim Douglas elected governor in the liberal-progressive enclave called Vermont.
Today Lunderville keeps a low profile on the governor's Fifth Floor staff. Mad Dog Barnett is the young chairman of the Vermont Republican Party, constantly snapping at the heels of leftist "extremists" like Bernie Sanders. More on that later.
When Rainville approached the Nasty Boys, we're told, she first had her eyes on a U.S. Senate bid. But the Nasty Boys already had Rich Tarrant and his $5 million in the Senate circle. Besides, like everyone else, they know that Sanders will be a toughie, especially for someone who's never run a statewide campaign before.
So with Tarrant, their prized "self-funder" already on the hook, the Nasty Boys steered the general's ambition from the U.S. Senate to the U.S. House. There she would have a clear track, at least as far as the Vermont Republican Party was concerned.
Martha obviously bought the deal, and since then Gov. Jim Douglas has repeatedly thrown public bouquets her way, discouraging any other serious GOP challengers.
This week, Rainville's "volunteer spokesperson" Judy Shailor disputed the idea that Martha had demanded a primary-free run for the House from Leahy and company.
"People from both sides of the aisle approached her," said Shailor, "and hoped she'd run in their party."
Shailor described Rainville as "a moderate middle-of-the-roader who could have fit in with either party." She really "soul-searched, took some time and didn't take it lightly," said Judy. "She made a decision she could fit in the Republican Party."
Hey, at least she's flexible.
Mayoral Matters -- Word is, The Burlington Free Press newsroom was in disbelief last Wednesday morning when the Associated Press wire service picked up the Seven Days scoop about Mayor Peter Clavelle's noontime announcement that he would not seek reelection.
Everybody knows the shrunken version of Vermont's Gannett-owned daily stopped covering City Hall years ago, as well as town government in Chittenden County, and local crime, and on and on. What can be said of its current non-informative Vermont "news" section, full of big pictures and tiny articles?
Clavelle told us this week he hadn't invited many people to his announcement outside of family and close friends, but as word spread through the Queen City, more than 125 Clavelle fans made their way to the Firehouse Gallery for the big speech. It was standing-room only. Ch. 3 and Ch. 5 had their satellite trucks outside. Mayor Moonie called the surprise turnout "heartwarming."
In an interview at his office on Monday, Clavelle said he was happy to have the announcement behind him. "It was a little hard to let go," he said.
Then our interview was interrupted by a return call from Mayor Xavier Bishop of Moss Point, Mississippi. The small, mostly black, Gulf Coast town of 18,000 was ravaged by Hurricane Katrina. Mayor Moonie of Burlap was reaching out to help, offering to establish a "sister-city relationship" so that Burlingtonians could not only assist now but "establish long-term relations."
As for which candidate the departing Democratic Mayor of Burlington will support in the coming mayor's race, Clavelle replied, "I think I'll be a spectator. I want to hear the candidates."
And it looks like there will be a bunch to hear from. Democrats Hinda Miller, John Tracy and Karen Lafayette already appear to be in campaign mode. So does Republican Kevin Curley. Progressive City Councilor Jane Knodell, a UVM professor, is said to be giving it serious consideration.
Over the weekend we heard Jim Douglas' administration secretary Charlie Smith (of the Burlington Savings Bank Smiths, and a resident of the prestigious Hill section) was giving a mayoral bid some consideration. What a feather in the Vermont Republican Party's hat that would be: First, the GOP takes back the governor's office after a dozen years of Democrat Howard Dean; then they take over Burlington City Hall 25 years after Bernie and the Sanderistas moved in.
However, Charlie, whose older brother, Rep. Peter Smith, lost to Sanders in the 1990 U.S. House race, sounded a bit startled Monday when we spoke to him about his mayoral prospects.
"Honestly, I really haven't given it any thought," he told yours truly. "I love what I'm doing," said the banker-by-trade.
Given the fact that next March's election will feature the very first implementation of Instant Runoff Voting, and the new requirement that the winning mayoral candidate receive more than 50 percent of the vote, almost anything can happen. The next mayor of Burlington will likely win because he or she was the top second choice on opponents' supporters.
Word of a "Smith for Mayor" possibility hit the mainstream press Tuesday morning via the Rutland Herald/Times Argus. By noon WGOP, er, WCAX-TV was reporting, "One of Governor Douglas' top aides is considering running for mayor of Vermont's largest city. Sources close to Charles Smith, who serves as administration secretary, say he is mulling a potential run to be Burlington's next mayor. The Republican says he plans to discuss his future political career with his family before making a final decision."
At the moment, our GOP sources say, don't bet on it.
Mayoral Endorsement? -- Incidentally, as the free-for-all that will be the 2006 Burlington mayoral race begins, we should note that the incumbent does not feel bound to support the nominee of his current party.
Peter Clavelle was born and raised a Democrat in Winooski. But when he joined Mayor Sanders' administration in 1983, he became a Progressive. Then, two years ago, he switched back to Democrat before his successful mayoral reelection and subsequent unsuccessful gubernatorial campaign.
"In the end," said da mayor, "I'll support the candidate who I believe is best suited and most competent."
Right now there's one candidate he most likely will not support: fellow Democrat State Rep. John Tracy. In fact, in his speech last Wednesday, Mayor Clavelle included a one-line, barbed slap at John-John.
"Some potential candidates have deferred to me and my decision," said Clavelle, "and for that I am thankful."
Tracy, as everyone knows, declared for mayor last March.
Rep. Tracy did not respond this week to our messages requesting comment. But sources say he has long had an ambition to become mayor of Burlington. Not a bad dream for a househusband who worked part-time at Nectar's, eh? Maybe Tracy will go on to run FEMA one day?
We asked House Speaker Gaye Symington last week if she thought Tracy, chairman of her special Committee on Health Care, would have to step down to run for and/or serve as mayor of Burlington.
Symington said she would leave that decision up to Tracy.
"I trust John's judgment," said the Speaker.
Next week city Dems will meet to schedule their caucus, probably sometime in early December. Whichever candidate turns out the most bodies wins the nomination.
Bad Cop, Good Cop -- They're the perfect tag teams: Abbott & Costello, Dean Martin & Jerry Lewis and Jim Douglas & Jim Barnett. They all work off their differences.
In the case of the first two teams, it's smart vs. stupid.
In the case of Douglas & Barnett, it's more like tennis player vs. flame-thrower.
In a Boston Globe story last week about Ol' Bernardo's quest for the U.S. Senate, Mad Dog Barnett unloaded this little nicety:
"This man [Sanders] is proven to be an ineffective extremist," said Jim Barnett, chairman of the Vermont Republican Party. "We're no longer talking about one out of 435. We're talking about a very powerful position, as one of 100 in the United States Senate."
An "ineffective extremist," eh?
We contacted Mad Dog to get his definition of "extremist," since for us it conjures up images of suicide bombers and religious fanatics.
Barnett defended his "extremist" label, saying the four-term mayor of Burlington and seven-term congressman from Vermont is an "extremist" because he "specifically advocates for a government takeover of private industry."
Indeed, Ol' Bernardo has advocated a single-payer approach to health care, but all that does is make him sound like any normal member of the British Parliament.
Asked if he agreed with his party chairman's "extremist" label, Gov. Douglas hit a perfect drop shot.
"There's a lot of rhetoric in political circles," said the Guv. "We've heard that from all different sides of the aisle, even national chairmen get carried away from time to time," he said in a veiled reference to Howard Dean's well-noted verbal outbursts. "So I think I'm going to maintain a more measured approach."
These guys are a good team, eh?
Media Notes -- As Ch. 5's Gus Rosendale reminded us this week, we told him almost five years ago, when he started at WPTZ-TV News, that he'd be moving on one day. That day has come. The talented weekend anchor and reporter is bound for WTAE-TV in Pittsburgh.
"It's a big promotion," said Gus, "but I'd be lying if I didn't tell you how sad I am to be leaving Vermont. As everyone who lives here knows, this is a special place. People around here welcomed me into their living rooms and made me a better journalist in the process. I've never taken that generosity for granted. And I will miss it."
Also, WPTZ will soon start up a new 5:30 p.m. news program called "5:30 Now." It debuts on Monday, September 19. Erin Connors will anchor, with Gib Brown replacing Tom Messner on weather. News Director Kyle Grimes says each show will feature news segments anchored from their Colchester, White River Junction and Plattsburgh bureaus.
Since WPTZ already does a half-hour local news at 5 o'clock and another at 6 o'clock, the new news program will give WPTZ-TV 90 minutes of early-evening local news, versus 60 minutes over at WCAX-TV.
Sounds like overkill, doesn't it?