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Governor Ruth Dwyer

Inside Track


Published August 23, 2000 at 8:34 p.m.

Just a couple weeks ago, it was absolutely unthinkable. Today, it’s acknowledged by insiders as a genuine possibility. Republican Ruth Dwyer really does have a shot — not just at holding Gov. Howard Dean under 50 percent and sending the race into the legislature, but of actually winning. Repeat, actually winning.

Hey, the times they are a-changing. Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield don’t even own Ben & Jerry’s anymore. A multinational monster does. Vermont “environmentalists” are driving gas-guzzling SUVs while sporting designer wildlife conservation license plates. Bernie Sanders, father of the Vermont Progressive movement, won’t go near the fledgling Vermont Progressive Party. And a conservative female populist is causing the political establishment in the most liberal state in America to gobble up the Excedrin. Maybe the Vermont pendulum has swung as far left as it can go? Time to wake up and smell the cappuccino!

“The issue here,” said one Vermont political professional, “is the dynamics of the race.” Democrat Howard Dean, Vermont’s four-term governor, he said, “has had a lot easier going in the past.” Indeed, Ho-Ho has won the last four elections by landslide margins. “But this one,” said the astute political operative, “is a horse of a different color.” (Yes, indeed, and it just so happens Ruthless Ruth is a horseback-riding instructor. What a coincidence!)

On one hand, he said, the civil-unions issue has “energized” Dwyer’s right-wing base. It’s made homosexuality a campaign issue. And we all know that makes Howard Dean and his conservative Catholic supporters “uncomfortable.” And on the other hand, said this astute political observer, is the Progressive Party candidate, Anthony Pollina, who’s whipping up the left and has more than enough money to effectively get his message out, thanks to public financing.

In fact, admitted this political pro, from Ruth Dwyer’s perspective, the 2000 Vermont governor’s race “is winnable.” Nobody was saying that publicly, even a couple weeks ago.

The reason a once-safe Democrat governor seat is now in play, said the political pro, is the fact that “the Republicans both locally and nationally smell blood.”

By the way, the political player saying Dwyer has a real shot and the Republicans smell blood is no Ruth Dwyer fan, by any means. He’s the executive director of the Vermont Democratic Party, Mark Michaud, and there’s no denying he’s worried.

After all, said Michaud, “There are a lot of folks out there who want to knock Howard Dean off.”

Yes, indeed. Howard Dean, doctor, governor and graduate of Yale University, the breeding ground of presidents, has made an impression on the national political radar screen. Dean chaired the National Governors Association. He chaired the Democratic Governors Association. Ho-Ho even toyed with the notion of taking over the Lincoln Bedroom from Bill Clinton come January 2001. Not a bad run.

“The national Republican Party sees Dean as a rising star,” said Michaud. They’d love to knock him off. And the “smallness” of Vermont works in Dwyer’s favor, he added, “because we’re a cheap state to dance in.”

He’s right. We are a cheap state to dance in, and now that the caps on campaign spending in Vermont have been flushed down the toilet by U.S. District Court Judge William K. Sessions Ill, this year’s governor’s race will easily break the million-dollar barrier. Hope you like the coming fall media blitz. It will be inescapable. In fact, the money and the TV commercials will flying so fast, you better get ready to duck.

Just a few weeks ago, Dr. Dean denied even noticing the “Take Back Vermont” and “Ruth Dwyer for Governor” lawn signs that have been blooming like spring flowers around the Green Mountains. We’ve even noticed Ruth Dwyer signs in Burlington’s blue-collar Old North End. And if Ho-Ho’s temper tantrum before the press last Friday is any indication, the governor is currently seeing way too many “Take Back Vermont” and “Ruth Dwyer for Governor” signs in his sleep. For Ho-Ho that spells nightmare!

As you know, Dr. Dean went positively ballistic before the TV cameras Friday. In the name of tolerance, he unloaded on Mrs. Dwyer for her comments in the morning paper. On a call-in radio show the previous day, Ruthless Ruth said the NEA promotes homosexuality, hate crime laws weren’t needed and state government shouldn’t waste time trying to reduce the retail price of legal drugs. Dwyer said the prescription drug remedy would have to come from Washington.

Dean went gonzo. Ho-Ho’s blood pressure rose as he condemned Ruthless Ruth for “fear-mongering” and running a campaign based on “anger” and “hate.” He angrily called her comments “hate-incited,” “fatuous,” “ridiculous” and “abject crap!” He accused her of “picking on minorities.” It was quite the show. Dean fights crap! But will it work?

So far, Howard Dean has made Ruth Dwyer center stage in his attempt to retain his job for a fifth term. He’s demonizing Dwyer at every turn. It’s a risky strategy. The guy who once enjoyed a squeaky-clean, boy-next-door image has slowly been turning nasty. Remember just a couple years ago when his campaign bumper sticker read: “Dean — I just like him”?

Those days are long gone.

On Monday, Mrs. Dwyer’s rather weak rival in the GOP primary echoed Dean’s sentiments. Bill Meub, the darling of the upper-crust, country-club, silk-stocking Republican wing, said he was embarrassed by Ruth’s “irresponsible remarks.” And under questioning, Mr. Meub even refused to pledge his support to the winner of the upcoming GOP primary. Look for the Meubmeister to appear at a “Republicans for Dean” press conference after the leaves turn.

Dwyer’s campaign manager, Kathie Summers, cockily dismissed Mr. Meub’s comments by noting Billy the Boob is only showing 8 percent support in their tracking polls. “We don’t absolutely need his support to win,” said Ms. Summers confidently.

What some may have missed under the smokescreen of Dean’s name-calling temper-tantrum was the fact that he also announced he was slipping out from under the rules of the public financing law he had signed and enthusiastically embraced. No more spending cap for Ho-Ho. The sky’s the limit now, and that’s got some folks using the “H” word — hypocrite!

Dwyer’s campaign finance director, Skip Vallee, told Seven Days this week he’s challenging Dean to show a little integrity in the wake of Judge Sessions’ decision. Dean, noted Vallee, has about $265,000 already in the bank that he raised before this year. That’s more than double what Dwyer has.

“If he’s really committed to campaign finance reform,” said Gasoline Vallee, “we call on him to give back all the money he’s raised that came in in contributions over $400. That would make it clearer he’s not a complete hypocrite on his position on campaign finance reform.”

Dean’s campaign manager, Kate O’Connor, told Seven Days Tuesday that Vallee’s challenge was news to her. She said she’d like to hear from Gasoline Vallee directly before responding. Stay tuned.

So is this what we can expect for the next two-and-a-half months? Is “Fear of Dwyer” the major weapon in the Howard Dean arsenal? Has Dr. Dean overstayed his welcome as Vermont’s chief executive? Is the anti-civil-unions backlash going to determine the election? Is Ho-Ho’s support really that thin?

There’s an old political axiom yours truly picked up years ago from the legendary, street-smart Chicago community organizer, Saul Alinsky, that the governor should pay heed to.

“The action is in the reaction,” said Mr. Alinsky. And he said it over and over until we got it through our thick skulls. The key for the underdog, said Saul, is to get the Big Dog to overreact, play the bully, and do something stupid or illegal that shifts public opinion and builds the base of the challenger. Dean’s name-calling approach to Mrs. Dwyer just might come back to haunt him.

In fact, on Tuesday, Ruth sure didn’t sound ruthless when she called on Dean “to consider a more civil tone.” And Anthony Pollina, the Progressive, told Seven Days, “The governor is just using Mrs. Dwyer as an excuse.”

Pollina charged Dean is trying to portray Dwyer “as the candidate of hate.” But in reality, he said, Ho-Ho’s just using that “as an excuse that allows him to let go of public financing and start raising money. Rather than talk about the real issues in the campaign,” said Mr. Pollina, “Howard Dean’s going to talk about what’s wrong with Ruth Dwyer. I’m going to talk about what’s wrong with Ruth Dwyer and what’s wrong with Howard Dean.”

What fun!

Kennebunkport Connection — With the federal court overturning the campaign spending caps, the spigots have been opened. And there’s no better proof of that than last Friday’s $5000-a-head ticket price on an upscale fundraiser for high rollers in the Vermont GOP. Money man Skip Vallee told Seven Days he sold 25 tickets at that price for a Fundraiser held in Kennebunkport, Maine, and attended by former President George Bush, father of Shrub.

Among the donors who flew to Maine for the event were Barbara Snelling, Rep. Connie Houston, Bobby and Holly Miller and IDX whiz Ritchie Tarrant.

“It was great,” Mr. Tarrant told Seven Days. “The guy is so real and down to earth,” he said of the former president.

Vallee said the money raised will go to the Republican National Committee, and the Vermont Republican Party He declined to reveal what the split is.

And by the way, Mr. Tarrant acknowledged he has in the past contributed to Howard Dean’s campaign war chest, too. Asked about this year’s race, Rich said he hasn’t made a choice as yet “I know Howard quite well,” said Tarrant, noting they worked together on a number of projects, including the Vermont Youth Conservation Corps. Mr. IDX said he didn’t know Mrs. Dwyer that well yet. Maybe they could do lunch?

Kennedy for Jeffords? — Republican U.S. Sen. Jim Jeffords was still chuckling this week over the surprise plug he received from the podium of the Democratic Convention in Los Angeles. Sen. Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts praised our Jeezum Jim for his bipartisan support for the disabled.

“It was a thrill,” said Jeffords this week. “It meant a lot to me,” he said of the kind remarks by his Democratic friend and colleague. But Jeezum wondered aloud if the praise from Kennedy might hurt his standing with the other three members of “The Singing Senators,” the GOP quartet that includes Trent Lott, the Republican senate leader.

“When I go back to Washington,” said Jeffords, “it might be a trio instead of a quartet.”

We suggested the Kennedy clip might make for a good campaign TV commercial this fall.

“I hadn’t thought of that,” said Jeffords.

Needless to say, Teddy’s largesse did not play well with Jeezum’s Democratic challengers Jan Backus and Ed Flanagan. And the Caledonian Record in Sr. Johnsbury editorially blasted Jeezum Jim over the Kennedy kudos, calling Sen. Jeffords “a bogus Republican.” The paper urged Republicans to send Jim a message and cast “a protest vote” for his Republican primary challenger Rick Hubbard.

You just can’t please everybody.

Media Notes — WCAX-TV reporter Anson Tebbetts tied the knot Saturday with Vicki Parra, an environmental lawyer. The ceremony was held under a large tent on the hillside Cabot farm of the cow-milking, bird-watching television reporter. The nuptials were presided over by none other than the chief justice of the Vermont Supreme Court, Jeffrey Amestoy. Recognizing “our common humanity,” Amestoy, a Republican, wrote the historic Baker decision that opened the door for legal same-sex unions in Vermont and turned up the heat under Vermont’s political frying pan.

Our sources say the joke of the day was Amestoy’s story of how his seven-year-old daughter became quite concerned when he announced he would be “marrying Anson Tebbetts.” The chief justice quickly clarified the matter by making it clear that he meant he’d be conducting the marriage ceremony. A traditional marriage all the way. Congratulations. Sources say Nova Scotia is the honeymoon destination.

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