The charmed reign of Governor Howard Dean sustained a lot more than a bump in the political road Saturday as insurgent forces from the left got their act together enough to defeat Ho-Ho's choice for chair of the state Democratic Party. It was gut-check time for Vermont's Democrats. Despite Dean's endorsement, that of Patrick Leahy and the much publicized support of Bill Clinton, Maida Townsend still couldn't get enough votes on the Democratic State Committee to turn back the challenge of Steve Howard of Rutland. As members of the governor's staff sat long-faced in the back of the room, L'il Stevie Wonder handed Ho-Ho a rare political defeat, beating the governor's horse 23-16.
Quoting both John F. Kennedy and Madeleine Kunin, Stevie Wonder billed his candidacy as a choice between the establishment (a.k.a. Howard Dean) and the grassroots. The grassroots won, and the victory was a sharp rebuke to Dean who's been walking the Republican walk and talking the Republican talk since the day Dick Snelling died. Funny what being the big cheese will do to a person.
In her nominating speech, State Sen. Cheryl Rivers led the charge against the Army of Ho-Ho by declaring Democratic activists "have been marginalized not by Republicans, but by fellow Democrats." To those in the room who stood by Dr. Dean because they believed the governor has the right to pick his own party chair, Rivers said the race was really about "the sharing of power rather than the concentration of power." Former State Sen. Peter Welch, the last Democratic candidate for governor to have broad support in the party, popped out of the woodwork to second the nomination with a reminder of "the two bedrock commitments" that bind Democrats together: fairness and economic justice. Given the climate of Ho-Ho's cuts in state assistance for the disabled, and single mothers and their kids, and his adamant refusal to consider a return to the days of Dick Snelling's progressive income tax as one way to fill the gaps in federal programs, Welch's words struck a chord.
L'il Stevie's victory, said State Sen. Elizabeth Ready of Addison County, "is a clear message to the governor he'd better come home." Referring to the old Howard Dean — the liberal House member and lieutenant governor — Ready noted that Ho-Ho is a guy who "used to be with us. We need him back." Those sentiments were echoed by State Auditor Ed Flanagan. "I hope the governor is with us and on the team."
Don't hold your breath.
Dean explained his defeat Tuesday, telling Inside Track, "People wanted a young, fresh approach and they got one." Will Ho-Ho come home? Did he get the message?
"I've heard their message before," said Dean, "raise taxes and spend money."
The fact is, Howard Dean is not on the team. Not on the bus. Not on the train. There's the Democratic Party and then there's Howard Dean. St. Patrick showed up at the Ramada Saturday after the vote to make the pitch for unity. Ho-Ho was a no-show. He's a solo flier with a sharp mind, riding the glow of his charming, boy-next-door-with-a-stethoscope personality. But now he's finally tasted defeat as his opponents get a taste of victory — a taste they'll come back for again and again.
Time for Reflection — Pat Leahy had plenty of time to reflect on the future of the Vermont Democratic Party Saturday afternoon when he and his top aide, Luke Albee, got stuck in the elevator leaving Leahy's office in Courthouse Plaza on Main Street.
According to Albee, Vermont's senior senator was "calm, cool and totally in charge" during the 25-minute power outage. He told Inside Track that a couple caught in the adjacent elevator "showed quite a bit less interest in being rescued than we did." Hmmm.
The Glamour Ticket — The Vermont G.O.P. is about to formally unveil their ticket for 1996. Soon to announce their candidacies are Barbara Snelling for Governor, John Carron for Lieutenant Governor and Susan Sweetser for Congress. UVM political pundit Garrison Nelson gave Inside Track his early prognostications:
Snelling vs. Dean — "The contest local television stations have been dreaming about." Nelson predicts it'll be the highest spending race in Vermont history, even though everybody knows who these people are."It'll sound like a race between accountants, as each of them try to show they care the most about a balanced budget."
Sweetser vs. Sanders — "Bernie can't beat up on her like he can on others," said Nelson in an apparent gender reference. "Susan's made a career out of overwhelming those who underestimated her," he pointed out. On the other hand, Bernie is "The Terminator." Garrison noted that "no one who's ever lost to Bernie Sanders ever won an election again."
Carroll vs. Racine — Garrison predicts a victory for Doug Racine. "Doug is a lot more likable," he said. Really?
When he's not playing with his crystal ball these days, Garrison is hard at work on a biography Of the former Speaker of the U.S. House John W. McCormack, "the architect of the New Deal and the Great Society." It'll be called Promises Kept.