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Election Post-Mortem

Bernie wins big against Karen Kerin, garnering more than 70 percent of the vote.

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There was much to be happy about in Vermont the day after the election. For the nation, the message from Vermont was, it’s okay to support equal marriage rights for gay and lesbian citizens. It’s not a political death warrant after all. We’re better than that.

All the narrow-minded intolerance that some of our neighbors have been pitching wasn’t worth a hill of beans in the end. The people have spoken.

Vermont voters proved yet again that Vermont is still a state heavily populated by citizens who value fairness and open-mindedness. Vermont is still a state that respects individual freedom. The “Take Back Vermont” whiners took it on the chin. Their Joan of Arc, Ruthless Ruth Dwyer of Thetford, dropped like a stone under the weightlessness of her message. Gov. Howard Dean won reelection. Lt. Gov. Doug Racine did too — with ease.

There isn’t enough room for all the deserving winners and losers. Here’s a special select few:

Winners

Howard Dean — King of the Mountains! It was the toughest fight of his very remarkable political career, and Howard Brush Dean III M.D. passed with flying colors. The guy is simply amazing.

Same-sex marriage wasn’t his issue. Like piping-hot tomato soup, it was dumped into his lap, but except for a little clumsy “uncomfortableness” at the start, he never once flinched. Ruth Dwyer hit him with everything she had, never letting the facts get in the way. And as if that weren’t enough, along came Anthony Pollina with a well-financed third-party effort to whack him from the crunchy-granola left.

Ho-Ho can be governor as long as he wants to be governor. He’s got the political game down pat — centrism is the winning ism. Hail to the chief!

Rep. Bernie Sanders — We had to ask. Did Ol’ Bernardo, our all-time favorite left-wing commie pinko socialist with a Brooklyn accent, ever in his wildest dreams imagine that one day he would win a statewide election in Vermont with 70 percent of the popular vote?

“You want the honest heart-wrenching answer?” he answered with a shy grin. “No, it’s quite incredible,” said The Bern with a chuckle. “It’s very gratifying.”

And well-deserved.

Mr. Sanders will return for the 107th Congress as ranking member on one of four Banking subcommittees. Look out, IMF and World Bank! Vermont’s representative is rested and primed. He’s an insider now. A deal-maker. A leader. A guy who gets things done. And as he enters his sixth term on Capitol Hill he’s a recognized force to be dealt with as he blazes an independent trail into 21st-century American politics. Destiny becomes him.

Anthony Pollina — The Progressive Party standard-bearer performed quite admirably. Nice guy. The only people he ticked off were Dean supporters, who considered him a spoiler who might throw the outcome into the Legislature. Pollyanna didn’t, but it wasn’t for lack of trying.

Intelligent, respectful and a good public speaker, Pollina said several voters dubbed him the “Polite Progressive,” as opposed to that other guy who shouts a lot.

Mr. Pollina spent $300,000 — $265,000 in public financing — on his campaign and still could not break the 10 percent barrier. It wasn’t the money. It was the fear of a Dwyer administration that locked him in the single digits.

If Tony the Prog had drained a few hundred more votes away from Dean, he would have held him under the 50 percent threshold. The outcome would have been postponed until January. Had that happened, we suggest Anthony would have made the “Loser” list for keeping the lawn signs up and the gay-bashers bashing through the 12 Days of Christmas. In that scenario, Tony the Prog just might have experienced an instant transformation from “Polite Progressive” to “Vermont’s Biggest Turd.”

The Vermont Press — The local press — with but one or two glaring exceptions — deserves a round of applause. From the weeklies to the dailies, from the car radio to the nightly news, this election received full-throttle coverage in the Vermont press. The Fourth Estate did its job and did it well. It told the public what was really going on.

The Rutland Herald/Times Argus published an outstanding “A Day in the Life of a Campaign” supplement section, putting a reporter and a photographer on the tail of each of the major gubernatorial candidates dawn until dusk. Great pictures. Brilliant writing.

The Valley News cast the first serious, documented suspicion over the credibility of Ruth Dwyer by uncovering all the falsehoods in one of her fictional, heart-wrenching campaign pitches. Great digging!

Many noticed equally outstanding local election coverage, from the Stowe Reporter to the Barton Chronicle and the Addison County Independent. All top-notch local Vermont weeklies that tell it like it is. All online, too.

On the boob tube, WCAX-TV was all over the election beat like a seagull on a Battery Park dish of French fries. Ch. 3 handled its responsibility as Vermont’s TV news of record well. And even Vermont Public Television kicked in this time with a little extra — a snappy documentary on the gubernatorial candidates.

Elizabeth Ready — She was only running for auditor, but everyone noticed the Ready campaign. That’s because Chainsaw Liz from Lincoln is the hardest campaigner to come down the Long Trail in a long time. She also had the best up-and-coming rookie campaign manger in Vermont — her son, Ethan Ready. Remember that name. Catchy.

Elizabeth survived the nasty Republican attack highlighting past financial travails without a scratch. It turned a lot of folks off. Ready’s got great rapport with ordinary people, a tough backbone and a love for the political arena that can’t be fenced in. Not even the editorial endorsements given to her opponent, John Hall, by such “influential” powers as The Burlington Free Press, the Rutland Herald and Emerson Lynn’s St. Albans Messenger could scratch this talented Rice Memorial High School graduate.

The day after the election we received the following e-mail from a Milton reader, a daily commuter, who works at the Mary Fanny hospital complex in Burlap. What motivated Monica Sullivan to write was the sight she beheld at Exit 14 the morning after the election.

“My most dreaded thing about election season,” wrote Sullivan, “is all the anonymous wavers who plant themselves in front of the Sheraton or Staples. I don’t know what they think they are accomplishing. I make it a point not to wave back or even make eye contact.

“I thought they would all have disappeared by November 8th,” she continued. “That morning I was amazed to see Elizabeth Ready standing alone in front of the Sheraton with a hand-lettered sign that read simply, ‘THANKS.’

“This time I waved.”

Nice touch.

Sara Branon Kittell — The Republicans salivated over the certain defeat of Democrat State Sen. Sara Branon Kittell of Franklin County. Sara, like every other female senator of both parties, voted in favor of Vermont’s landmark civil-unions law. Many outside of cow country considered her vote a political death warrant. The conservative Irish Catholics of Franklin County are legend when it comes to affixing colorful barnyard vulgarities to the subject of equal rights for homosexual citizens. But guess what?

Sen. Sara Kittell breezed to victory. She told Seven Days she expected to win because she’s a Franklin County girl and she knows her people.

“I’m from here,” she said proudly. “I grew up here. I sit in my father and grandfather’s seat in the Vermont Senate.”

Indeed, Sara is a dairy farmer’s daughter from Fairfield who grew up to become a nurse and a politician. Her roots go deep in the local soil. Her father, Robert J. Branon, was a State Senator in the 1970s. Her grandfather, E. Frank Branon, was there in the 1950s.

“Don’t underestimate the Branon name,” was an oft-heard warning in the hills of cow country this autumn.

“All along,” she said, “people kept telling me there was a silent majority that isn’t screaming and yelling. A silent majority that will be there on Election Day.”

They were right. Howard Dean didn’t even carry Franklin County, but Sara Branon Kittell did.

Losers

Ruth Dwyer — When she lost to Gov. Howard Dean two years ago, a defiant Ruth Dwyer promised she’d be back with the money, the time and the resources to win.

She kept her word. She had the money and resources. And she put in the time. She got her message out and, when most Vermonters heard it, they turned the other way. Didn’t want anything to do with her. Truthless Ruth did worse than two years ago and has now exited politics stage right.

We received three reports the day after the election that unidentified Vermonters, north and south, were heard singing the tune, “Ding-dong, the witch is dead,” at work that morning.

Enough said.

Gasoline Vallee — Despite the editorial endorsement of The Burlington Free Press, Republican millionaire Skip Vallee of Spear Street couldn’t break the top six. His political career is now on hold. Vallee broke all the spending records and will long be remembered as the guy who tried to buy a Chittenden County State Senate seat for $100,000. But he doesn’t see it that way.

“I didn’t try to buy a Senate seat,” countered Skip Tuesday. He told Seven Days he was “just trying to match” what the Democrats were spending. Sure you were, Skip.

The results indicate that the only Republican to win a Senate seat in the county was also the only Republican who accepted an invitation to appear on “The Cherie & Yolanda Show” on public-access TV. Barbara Snelling’s appearance drew the wrath of Rev. David Stertzbach, the mean-spirited right-wing preacher from Williston. Mrs. Snelling used her appearance to promote adult literacy as well as tolerance. Rev. Sleazebag, who is clueless on both subjects, put out negative mailings condemning Babs for appearing with drag queens.

Looks like Stertzbach’s condemnation may have helped her.

Skip Vallee was also invited to appear on “The Cherie & Yolanda Show.” He declined.

Dumb.

The Burlington Free Press — It’s the largest daily newspaper in Vermont, but no media outlet appears more out-of-synch with its audience. To this day, Vermont’s largest paper has yet to do what newspapers across the state and across the nation have done — taken a clear editorial stand on civil unions. It’s the major political story of the year, and perhaps the decade, and Vermont’s Gannett-chain paper has completely ducked it on the editorial page. Disgraceful. And recently, editorial page editor Stephen Kiernan won the Free Press “Employee of the Year” award.

Well, not “completely” ducked. The Freeps did publish the picture of the vulgar, homophobic sign in Huntington — not once, but twice. Remember? Our “anus governor” right there in the local family newspaper, not once, but twice.

And there’s more.

Vermonters are clearly sick of all the money that pollutes the election process, but The Burlington Free Press proudly endorsed the most obscene big spender of all — Republican candidate Skip Vallee. And in a bizarre move, the paper asked readers to “write in” Republican Brian Dubie on the Chittenden Senate ballot. Doobie Doobie Do was already on the ballot as a candidate for lieutenant governor. He got creamed. What planet are these people from? What are they smoking?

And it gets worse.

The Free Press chose not to report one of the important stories of the campaign battle — allegations of anti-Semitism raised against Ruth Dwyer by Bernie Rome. Editor Mickey Hirten said the story did not meet their high standards. Standards, eh?

When a University of Vermont faculty member called Hirten to complain of the news blackout, Hirten inquired if the man was complaining because he was Jewish?

And it gets worse.

Last month, the Free Press doctored a front-page photo of the gubernatorial candidates in a story of their Free Press/Ch. 5 election poll results to white out the Ch. 3. logo on the coffee cups in the shot. How professional.

And it gets worse.

The paper’s premier “state news columnist,” Sam Hemingway, wrote up a whole bunch of stupid and wrong election predictions that he never owned up to when the votes were counted. Instead, Sam the Sham published the most bizarre list of winners and losers we’ve ever seen in a Vermont election. Hemingway’s #1 winner was Republican Treasurer Jim Douglas, the Dagwood Bumstead of Vermont politics. I’m not making this up.

Mr. Hemingway wrote that Douglas is the big winner in Election 2000 because he “looms as the guy most likely to succeed” Gov. Howard Dean. And Sam put Congressman Bernie Sanders, who won with a 70 percent landslide, atop his list of losers. I am not making this up.

And there’s more.

Sam the Sham put “the media” on his list of losers for becoming, in his view, “part of the story” in the gubernatorial race. Ruthless Ruth, he noted, blamed “the media” for her poor showing.

So? Losers always do, Sam. Listen, you really need to get out of the office more. Visit Vermont. Talk to people who are not relatives or Gannett employees for a change. It’ll blow your mind.

The Burlington Free Press is one of 99 daily newspapers in the Gannett chain. It’s Gannett’s New England flagship and a cash cow, one of many in a transnational media empire. Every single edition of the Vermont-based paper is designed to win the approval of the powers that be — in Alexandria, Virginia. That’s why it always reads like an out-of-town newspaper. And you know what?

It always will.

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