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It's Nine or Never?

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"Nine," as in 9 a.m. this Saturday at Hartford High School in White River Junction, Vermont. That's where and when Vermont's Democratic U.S. Congressman Peter Welch of nearby Hartland has agreed to spend one hour in a town-meeting setting listening to Vermonters express their support for the impeachment of President George "WMD" Bush and Vice President Dick "America" Cheney.

Organizers of the Vermont grassroots pro-impeachment campaign that emerged on March Town Meeting Day - and gained national attention courtesy of the "Doonesbury" cartoon strip - said Tuesday morning their members are unfortunately unable to make the meeting with Welch.

Liza Earle, the Richmond nanny/baker, says 9 a.m. is "too early" for a lot of folks to make the drive to White River Junction. She told "Inside Track" they've tried to negotiate with Welch's staff, suggesting to them "any time after 11 a.m. would work. And it doesn't have to be this Saturday," she said. "Any time in the next month to six weeks would be fine," she added. They'd like to be able to promote the meeting more to get a larger turnout.

"We want families to be able to go," said Ms. Earle.

Fellow impeachment organizer Jimmy Leas, a South Burlington attorney, told "Inside Track" Tuesday that Rep. Welch's chief of staff, Tricia Coates, had issued "an ultimatum" to them on Monday. They were told, he said, that the "only time" the congressman could make a meeting would be at 9 this Saturday morning at the Hartford location.

"The idea of an ultimatum," said Leas, "confirms the fact that they don't really want to do it."

Well, considering the fact that Welchie, like fellow Bush critics and Iraq war opponents U.S. Sens. Patrick Leahy and Bernie Sanders, does indeed oppose following the impeachment route, Mr. Leas may have a point.

"I'm not sure what their problem is," said Welch Press Secretary Andrew Savage on Tuesday. He noted Rep. Welch had met with representatives of the pro-impeachment group last Saturday and proposed a public meeting for this coming Saturday. They did not object.

Plus, Savage noted, Vermonters get up early. And the White River Jct. location "is geographically ideal. It's between populous Burlington and Chittenden County and the heart of the Town Meeting Day Impeachment effort in Windham County."

"The Congressman," he said, "is looking for a good turnout and looks forward to hearing from Vermonters who want to voice their opinion."

Well, what did you expect him to say?

On Monday, in fact, yours truly crossed paths with Vermont's congressman at the Professional Firefighters of Vermont gathering in Burlington. Welch said he was "glad to take time" to meet with Vermonters who were concerned about impeachment. (At the time, we were unaware of his inflexibility on scheduling.) He also made it perfectly clear he is not changing his opposition to it.

"For me the fundamental issue is, how do we end this war?" asked Welch. "I believe it's through the use of the power of the purse. And, in fact, I think impeachment would have the potential to prolong rather than to shorten the war. It raises a lot of different questions. I want to end the war. That's the fundamental goal I have," he said, "and my decision on what to do and how to do it is based on my judgment about whether that will shorten the war."

Good answer, eh?

But aren't George W. Bush and Cheney the Veep worthy of impeachment?

"This is not a philosophical question," replied Welch. "There are real lives of real people at stake here, so for me it's a very practical question about what's the best thing to do."

Vermont's rookie congressman, who just turned 60 on May 2, told us he's "very proud of the citizen tradition in Vermont of speaking out, and the folks who have been active in the impeachment effort are very much part of that tradition. My own town meeting voted for impeachment," he noted.

"It's clearly an expression of people's frustration and, in some cases, outrage at the direction this administration has taken," said Welchie. "But the bottom-line question for me, and I think most of us, is how do we end the war, and then it's a judgment call. Should you pursue impeachment? Will that help or not?"

But were high crimes and misdemeanors committed or not?

"George Bush is the worst president in my lifetime," answered Welch. "And if you look at what Clinton did, look at what Nixon did, and you compare some of the conduct here, you can make the argument [that impeachable offenses were committed], no question about it," he said. "But what is the fundamental issue that we face, that's necessary for us to protect lives [and] change the direction of this country on the war in Iraq?"

Welch insists the congressional oversight and investigation by the Democrat-controlled Congress over the last four months will prove effective.

"I'll follow the facts where they lead," said Welchie, a lawyer whose law-firm TV ads no doubt helped with the political name recognition. "But first we have to get the facts."

To that end, "Inside Track" has learned that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has changed her tune on the subpoena she received two weeks ago from the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, on which the lone Vermonter in the House sits.

The House Committee would like to hear Condi testify under oath about pre-Iraq war "intelligence" (assuming there was any - ha-ha!). Specifically, the committee, like most Americans, wants to know how the Bush White House managed to get it all so terribly, terribly wrong and get the country in this terrible, terrible mess.

Yes, concedes Leas, the Democrats on Capitol Hill are investigating a couple of the Bush administration's "underlings," as he called them. "But there are two people Congress is not investigating," he accurately observed, "and that's Bush and Cheney."

Good point.

"We all want the war to end," said Leas. "And we don't want Peter [Welch] to be the kind of political figure people think is two-faced. We want to hold him to a higher standard. We want his words and deeds to be consistent."

As for a Vermont Congressional Town Meeting on Impeachment at a time other than 9 a.m. this Saturday, Leas expressed confidence there will be a public meeting with Rep. Welch at some point in the future despite his current take-it-or-leave-it position. Leas reminded us that Vermont Senate President Peter Shumlin and House Speaker Gaye Symington were initially quite firm in declaring "they had absolutely no legislative time whatsoever" to give to the impeachment issue.

But as impeachment support grew and it became a hot conversation topic among the politically observant, Shummy and the Speaker came to realize that elected officials don't look too good refusing to meet with the people they allegedly represent and serve.

We'll see if Peter Welch demonstrates similar flexibility with Vermonters who have a hard time stomaching Bush and Cheney living free as birds outside the impeachment spotlight they so richly deserve.

Stop the presses! The meeting is on!

Late word Tuesday afternoon: Welch's Chief of Staff Tricia Coates has just informed Ms. Earle the congressman has agreed to reschedule Saturday's meeting to 11 a.m.

"We're delighted!" said Earle.

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Historical Find! - It disappeared about 10 years ago - "it" being Volume 4 of the City of Burlington's official electoral register, the one that includes the historic election of March 1981 when U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders won the first election of his life.

Ol' Bernardo won by a whisker, but the length of that whisker has been an official mystery since around 1996-97, according to Jo LaMarche, longtime Burlington director of elections and records.

Volume 4 vanished during the big remodeling of the City Clerk's and Treasurer's offices, she told us. All the items in the vault were temporarily relocated to space in what was then called the Burlington Square Mall.

But on Monday afternoon, said LaMarche, her phone rang. It was the Fletcher Free Library. They'd found Volume 4!

So, let's set the record perfectly straight. The Election of 1981 was held on March 3. Incumbent Democrat Gordon Paquette was the heavy favorite - so heavy that Gordie didn't bother to campaign. However, on the first count of the ballots in the race for mayor the results were:

Bernard Sanders4035

Gordon Paquette 4013

Richard Bove 1090

Joe McGrath 138

The records include a copy of the restraining order that Superior Court Judge Edwin Amidon Jr. signed at his Charlotte home at 2:10 a.m. on March 4, 1981, that ordered County Sheriff Ronald Duell to "take possession and custody forthwith of all paper ballots."

Ten days later, a closely watched recount was held. Bernie's 22-vote margin of victory shrunk down to 10, but all he needed was one. Final results, as recorded in Volume 4:

Bernard Sanders 4030

Gordon Paquette 4020

Richard Bove 1091

Joe McGrath 139

And the rest, as they say, is history. Over the years we've met more than 10 old-time Burling- tonians who confessed they had not bothered to vote that March 3rd, because they thought Paquette had it comfortably locked up. They did not think the screaming Brooklyn voice had a chance.

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GOP Jim's Favorite Union? - One normally doesn't think of Republican Gov. Jim Douglas as a big fan of the union label, but there is one Vermont union he fancies a great deal: the Professional Firefighters of Vermont. It represents about 200 full-time professional firefighters from 11 Vermont locals. South Burlington Fire Captain Matt Vinci, for 10 years the union vice president, ascended to the presidency at Monday's gathering at the new Burlington Marriot.

"I feel proud to represent guys and ladies who put the uniform on every day to protect the state of Vermont," President Vinci told "Inside Track."

Vinci and the "guys and ladies" also got some very good news from Gov. Scissorhands. The guv told them that, despite some earlier misgivings and objections from the Vermont League of Cities and Towns, he will sign S.194 into law when it reaches his gubernatorial desk late this week or next week. That's the new law that will provide health insurance coverage for retired firefighters who get cancer. Currently, they have to prove the cancer cause was job-related. After Jimbo put ink to paper, the state would have to prove it wasn't.

"We have a high incidence of cancer in the fire service due to carcinogen exposure," Vinci told "Track." More than 20 international studies have proven that, he noted.

"The VLCT has expressed concern about their workers' comp rates [rising]," said Gov. Douglas, "but we believe the number of claims on an annual basis is likely to be very minimal. We've had a year's experience now with the heart attack presumption law, and it hasn't seemed to make any significant difference in terms of premiums, so I believe it's a reasonable proposal."

Did the Firefighters Union endorsement of Douglas over Democrat Scudder Parker have anything to do with his support?

"No one gets everything he or she wants based on political endorsements," replied the lifelong politician. "I do what's right for the people of our state."

The bill covers every firefighter in Vermont, noted Vinci, not just professional firefighters.

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Blog Update - If you haven't dropped in yet, please do. We're talking "

Let's face it, a whole lot more is going on out there than we can squeeze into the weekly "Inside Track" space - such as House Speaker Gaye Symington suddenly getting two haircuts!

And "Free Hugs" on Church Street!

Read "Freyne Land," Peter's blog, online, sponsored by Coldwell Banker Hickok & Boardman Realty.

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