Who'd a-thunk it? That in this time of war, the point person on the foreign relations beat for Vermont isn't Sen. Patrick Leahy or Sen. Jim Jeffords, but rather Congressman Bernie Sanders?
And Bernie's in the thick of it. Today, Wednesday, he's meeting with Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. Joining him are the other members of the bipartisan congressional delegation that met with their Russian counterparts in Vienna a week and a half ago.
Also in attendance at that downtown Vienna pow-wow was Dragomir Karic, the "personal envoy" of Slobodan Milosevic. Mr. Kane, a Canadian national, sure sounds like a character out of a James Bond novel. He's described as "the wealthiest man in Yugoslavia," with financial interests worldwide. And one thing is clear — when Dragomir Kane talks, Slobodan Milosevic listens.
Bernie's delegation received kudos on the internet in Monday's "Drudge Report." Drudge's "exclusive" confirmed what Sanders told Seven Days last week, namely, that Bernie and the boys came within a whisker of flying on to Belgrade to personally take the three American POWs home. Instead, Jesse Jackson served as escort. But the deal that freed the POWs went down in the Radisson Hotel in Vienna, where 11 U.S. congressmen, three parliamentary leaders from Moscow and Dragomir Kane negotiated the first breakthrough on the road to ending the NATO war against Yugoslavia.
Sanders was "in the room," as they say, when Milosevic's man in Vienna rose from the table, whipped out his cell phone, walked to a quiet corner and advised Slobo that it was time to show a little good faith and let the GIs go.
The Yugoslavian president agreed and Mr. Kane conveyed Slobo's invitation to the Yanks to come to Belgrade at once and pick them up.
But the U.S. State Department refused permission for the delegation's Navy transport plane to fly into Belgrade. So, as Drudge puts it, "In a heroic moment, uncharacteristic of self-interested members of Congress, the delegation decided that it would be better to allow Jackson to get the credit than to keep American soldiers locked up in enemy territory."
The Vienna agreement calls for withdrawal of all Serbian forces from Kosovo and the introduction of an armed multinational military force. It has become the foundation of United Nations peace talks. Bernie the Statesman!
Meanwhile, Ol' Bernardo is in the thick of the 2000 U.S. Senate race, whether he wants to be or not. "Roll Call" reports this week that Sen. Robert Torricelli, chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC), says Sanders will take on Jeffords. "Torricelli, who talked to Sanders two weeks ago," reports "Roll Call," "believes the Independent will run."
But there's no sign yet that Sanders is about to decide any time soon on a Senate bid, though everybody keeps asking. The Associated Press report out of Washington last week had Bernie putting a June deadline on a decision. That was not accurate, according to Sanders' closest advisor, Jane Sanders. The source for that story was the DSCC, which dearly wants Bernie to run. In fact, she says, they finally had to tell the DSCC to "stop calling us every week!"
Fact is, Bernie is the big plug in the Vermont political dike. And behind the dike, a whole school of Vermont fish — Republicans and Democrats — are nervously swimming around, unsure of just which statewide office they'll seek.
"We have to be respectful and mindful of their time line," acknowledges Lady Jane, "and not be a barrier." But it appears the barrier could remain in place until Labor Day. After all, the guy's been pretty busy lately trying to end the War in Yugoslavia.
Meanwhile, Jim Jeffords hasn't exactly been loafing while Bernie's been handling high-level peace negotiations. Besides raising money for the 2000 campaign, Jeezum Jim's office keeps pumping out the press releases. Why, just this Monday came the fax announcing "JEFFORDS INTRODUCES BILL TO PROTECT GREAT APES." I'm not making this up.
Vermont's junior senator has introduced legislation "to assist in the conservation of great apes and attempt to halt the illegal trade in bushmeat — the meat of wild animals, including great apes." Last night, Sen. Jeffords hosted a Washington reception honoring Jane Goodall, world-famous ethnologist. They had chimpanzees as waiters.
Just kidding about the waiters.
But if you really wanted to observe a couple great apes in the wild, a Sanders-Jeffords U.S. Senate race in 2000 sure would constitute a showdown between two of Vermont's biggest political primates. The heck with bushmeat, pass the bananas.
Payback Time? — Closer to home under Montpeculiar's golden dome, a battle royal looms.
For eight years, Democrat Gov. Howard Dean has battled with the liberals of his own party, and he's won almost all of the battles. Ho-Ho is a very tough cookie. If it wasn't for the Supreme Court's Brigham decision, they'd still be going at it tooth and nail over property-tax reform. The animosity between the two sides is thinly veiled these days.
It's perfectly natural for the executive branch and the legislative branch to lock horns. They are separate branches of government with their own constitutionally defined responsibilities. But this year, it's gotten nasty because, for the first time, the chief executive has his own regiment making mischief within the House Democrat Caucus — the Blue Dogs. The Blue Dogs march to the governor's tune, and that really pisses a lot of other Democrats off.
The plan is to put Dean on the hotseat. Call his bluff. Dare him to veto the tax-cut bill and/or the state budget bill by including authorization for Powerball, the national lottery game. If the veto is sustained, the session is prolonged for weeks, and Dean will get the blame. If the veto is overridden by a two-thirds vote in both chambers, Ho-Ho will look foolish, his power forever diminished, and House Speaker Michael Obuchowski will host one very big victory soirée.
Such a Hot Race? — Should be quite the crowded field in the Democratic primary for auditor next year. Incumbent auditor Ed Flanagan is running for the U.S. Senate (unless Bernie jumps in, which means he'll run for the House). Steve Howard says he's running for auditor (oh, boy!), and so's former Rep. Howard Sinnott and, we're told, it is also one of the offices on Sen. Elizabeth Ready's list of possibilities. Now add John Howland Jr., currently deputy auditor, to the list. Ready says Howland's a Republican — he was Secretary of State Jim Milne's deputy for four years — and has no business in the Democrat primary. Howland's dad was a Republican state senator from Windsor County, but John Jr. says he hasn't been a Republican "for many, many years." Guess he's officially out of the closet now.