It's a precious four-letter word and, as many of us have realized in recent times, nothing crushes the human spirit more quickly than its absence. But last week, after six of the darkest years in American history, hope raised its little head in the form of a Connecticut Democrat named Ned Lamont.
In a U.S. Senate primary race watched closely by the entire nation, Lamont the unknown upset the Bush-friendly, Iraq War-supporting veteran Sen. Joe Lieberman. And the rest, still to be played out, will be history. Our history.
In fact, Lamont will be at Burlington's Union Station this Friday, August 18, at 6 p.m. for a $50-a-head fundraiser sponsored by Democracy for America. DFA, based in South Burlington, began in 2003 as Dean for America; Howard Dean's little brother Jim Dean runs it today.
DFA supported Lamont early on, and raised money for him through its highly regarded Internet operation. The newest face on America's political stage is coming to Vermont, we're told, to personally express his appreciation. And Ned Lamont brings with him that one little commodity that's been in such short supply on America's political landscape: hope. Hope that the days are numbered for the extremists who hijacked the U.S. government and put this country on a dark and dangerous path.
Most Americans had never heard of Ned Lamont before last week. But everyone knows what hope is -- and what not having it feels like.
So, Ned, welcome to Vermont!
The Biggest Danger -- It is truly frightening, but yours truly has learned that facing it is a whole lot better than denying it. "It" is global warming.
Acclaimed environmental writer Bill McKibben, currently of Addison County, wrote The End of Nature way back in 1989. He was among the very first to see the climate changes resulting from the warming of Earth's atmosphere. McKibben won worldwide recognition and has had no shortage of speech invitations. But Ol' Bill, who described himself as "someone who's been trying to stare at this for 20 years," is at his wits' end these days. The softspoken environmental champion is mad as hell and he simply won't take it anymore.
"So many people I know feel frustrated and impotent about doing anything about global warming beyond changing their light bulbs," said Bill. "I think people are really ready to make a little bit of noise about it."
The "noise," said McKibben, will be a five-day -- and night -- protest march over Labor Day weekend. Marchers will leave from Ripton at noon on August 31, walking to Vergennes, then Charlotte, then Shelburne Farms, and finally to Burlington for a Labor Day global-warming rally at City Hall Park.
"We're finally reaching a point where people are aware," said McKibben, "but the problem is, the political system in Washington is so broken!"
The times they are a-changin'. More info at http://www.vtwalc.org.
Strange Behavior - Fresh from the National Governors Association meeting, Vermont Gov. Jim Douglas hastily added a last-minute event to his schedule. He even dragged in his running mate, Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie, to stand beside him. The topic: the environment.
Douglas and Dubie proudly declared their support for the so-called "25X'25" initiative. It advocates having 25 percent of America's electrical energy come from renewable sources by 2025.
What was strange about the surprise announcement by GOP Jim was that the Democrat-controlled Vermont Legislature backed the 25X'25 initiative months ago, and nobody could recall Gov. Douglas having much to say at the time. Could it be that Gov. Scissorhands realizes he's got problems on the environmental front?
Could it be that the governor who has chosen to position himself in the history books as Vermont's leading opponent of commercial wind energy has suddenly realized that the overwhelming majority of his subjects want wind energy and don't find windmills unsightly?
Paul Burns, top dog at VPIRG, told us, "The public is growing tired of politicians who say one thing and do another. In the case of green energy, Gov. Douglas talks the talk, but he does not walk the walk."
Burns accused Douglas of being "more of a follower than a leader when it comes to clean energy." And he noted Gov. Jim has now chosen for himself the role of "obstructionist" to Vermont's "most abundant clean energy source," i.e. the wind!
Mr. Burns, however, is not running for governor. Scudder Parker is. But unlike Douglas, this is the Scudster's first statewide race, and the rookie is finding it difficult to get his message out effectively. Surprisingly, Parker has held few press conferences. Shy, are we?
The Democratic challenger told "Inside Track" that when it comes to Vermont's energy future, "It's very clear that Gov. Douglas has no grasp of the size or immediacy of the challenges faced." Referring to the Guv's recent 25X'25 endorsement, Scudder said, "The people of Vermont need me because the Douglas administration's only energy strategy is to make it look like he's doing something."
A couple months ago, nobody thought this race would get close. You don't think the incumbent knows something, do you? 'Cause Gov. Scissorhands -- the man protecting Vermont from wind energy -- sure looked and acted worried the other day on his energy flank. Something was in the wind.
Ad Update -- In the Vermont U.S. Senate race, the favorite, Independent Rep. Bernie Sanders, "went up," as they say, on Tuesday with a top-shelf TV spot that has it all. It's got Ben & Jerry of ice cream fame, Progressive State Rep. Winston Dowland, and more. And it closes with Democratic U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy and Sanders embracing before a cheering crowd at Ol' Bernardo's campaign kickoff.
Meanwhile this week, Republican gazillionaire Rich Tarrant continues his ridiculous, spooky Hollywood horror-film-style ad he rushed on the air at the end of last week. The one with the 747 taking off. It was Tarrant's quick response to the arrest last week of alleged aspiring jetliner bombing Muslim terrorists by British authorities.
The Tarrant ad tries to tie Sanders' votes to cut the bloated intelligence budget in the 1990s to promoting Osama bin Laden, 9/11 and the terrorism threat we will be under forever. The not-so-thinly-veiled message is that voting for Bernie will help Muslim suicide bombers.
With the Bush administration's credibility nonexistent and an overwhelming majority of Americans convinced the country is going in the wrong direction, it appears "fear itself" is the only political weapon left in the Bush arsenal. Tarrant's, too.
Ain't going to work in Vermont, guys.
Where's Martha? -- U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Kurt Dechen of Springfield, Vermont, was shot dead in Iraq on August 3, his 24th birthday. He's the 24th soldier with Vermont ties to die in the Bush administration's Iraq fiasco. He was buried on Friday.
A sad day it was, and many, many Vermonters turned out to pay their final respects. Gov. Jim Douglas and Lt. Gov. Dubie were there. So was Sen. Leahy, Congressman Sanders and Democrat U.S. House candidate Peter Welch.
Republican U.S. House candidate Martha Rainville, former adjutant general of the Vermont National Guard, was conspicuous by her absence. Where was Marvelous Martha?
We didn't think it was a particularly tough question when we posed it to Rainville for Congress spokesman Brendan McKenna Monday morning. But Mr. McKenna simply would not say where Martha had been Friday. Just in case they might change their minds before our deadline, we gave Camp Rainville until Tuesday morning to spill the beans.
Shortly before noon on Tuesday, the following arrived from Rainville Headquarters: "Vermonters know how deeply Martha Rainville cares about the families of fallen soldiers. Out of respect for the family and their loss, she will not speak publicly about the loss of Lance Corporal Kurt Dechen."
Strange answer, eh? Martha may not want anyone to know what she was doing Friday, but according to reliable sources, Rainville is sure doing something this week -- shooting her first TV ads!
Can't wait, can you?
Lite-Gov Dustup -- Comments in this space last week by Democratic State Sen. Matt Dunne of Windsor County certainly caught the eye of Democratic State Rep. John Patrick Tracy of Burlington. That's because the two Statehouse veterans are opponents in what for each is a first-time run for a statewide office!
Democrats will decide on September 12 which one will be on the November ballot. Which one will face the uphill challenge of beating Brian Dubie, the two-term Republican incumbent, with Progressive Marvin Malek, a Barre physician, hurting him among leftists.
Dunne, you see, had dared break from the official party line on the Catamount Health Care legislation. It's the bill House Health Care Committee Chairman Tracy played a leadership role on. If you should ever forget, he'll remind you.
The "party line" has been to praise the bill -- so watered down in its final version that even GOP Gov. Jim Douglas supported it -- as "landmark reform legislation" and a case of Vermont, once again, leading the whole damn nation!
Sen. Dunne, however, dared tell "Inside Track," "No one should be putting up a banner that says, 'Mission Accomplished.'"
Young Matt also had a few other things to say that we didn't have room for last week. Among them were comments that sounded like Dunne the Democrat was doing some serious cozying-up to the reform-minded Progressive physician to his left, the one who's had it with political BS on health-care reform.
"I don't think anyone believes," said Dunne, that the Catamount Bill "is a solution to the health-care crisis we have, and I share many of Dr. Malek's concerns that it's not financially sustainable."
Depending on who you're talking to, the new legislation will provide health insurance coverage to between 20 and 30 thousand uninsured Vermonters a year from now. That spells change, but for a very small segment of the population. It leaves working Vermonters with sky-high deductibles on their employer-provided health insurance policies. And it leaves many wondering if they'll live long enough to see real reform in their lifetimes, i.e., the extinction of the private health-insurance-for-profit system that chokes America and insures it retains the most expensive and wasteful health-care system on Earth regardless of outcomes.
Asked if he considered Catamount to be the "landmark" health-care legislation its supporters say it is, Sen. Dunne candidly told "Inside Track," "We passed a Band-Aid."
Within hours of last week's Seven Days hitting the street, yours truly got a call from a Tracy campaign staffer. The candidate, we were told, took exception to the comment of his Democratic rival. We took the opportunity to pass along Dunne's additional comments, especially the "Band-Aid" line. Tracy called back this week.
"I'm incredibly proud of what we've done," John-John told "Inside Track," "and I think to call it a Band-Aid is an insult!"
The Lite-Gov candidate's juices, as they say, were flowing.
"This is the first step in a long process to provide health care to all Vermonters," said Tracy. "We have taken the lead that the federal government is unwilling and incapable of doing. To call it a 'Band-Aid' is a bunch of baloney!"
And, noted Tracy, the real question is "who's going to provide the leadership to keep us going on significant health-care reform, and that's me!"
But Dunne had a comeback. "I do not believe," he said, "Vermonters want a lieutenant governor who's a single-issue candidate or a single-issue lieutenant governor."
So we asked Tracy if Young Dunne has his facts straight on health-care reform?
"Well, I think if he were to study the bill, perhaps he might," replied John-John. "You know, he wasn't involved."
Tracy suggested Dunne check in with State Sens. Jim Leddy and Ed Flanagan in order to get "a better understanding of what the bill actually does."
So far, folks have not been paying much attention to the Tracy vs. Dunne Democratic primary. But issue-wise, what is there besides health-care reform? If Democratic Primary voters think the Catamount Bill was significant health-care reform, they'll vote for Tracy. If they think it was just a Band-Aid, they'll give Dunne the nod.
Whoever wins the Democratic primary will not only have to deal with Doobie-Doo, the shining ex-F-16 flying incumbent, in November, but Marv the Prog Doc, too.
Chairman Tracy noted he's familiar with Dr. Malek from his testimony before his committee. Malek advocates a single-payer, government-run system like that the rest of the civilized democratic world enjoys.
Tracy, however, said he is "not willing to start the conversation over again." He wants to get Catamount up and running first, see how it works, and proceed from there. No big rush. It doesn't start covering people until next fall.
Dunne has a very different take on the Progressive candidate. "There is room for a good conversation [with Dr. Malek] about health-care reform. His expertise," said Young Dunne, "will bring that to the forefront. My hope is that when we get past the primary, Dr. Malek will be working with me, not against me."
You know, Brian Dubie has got to be having a great summer, eh?
Correction -- Apologies to Ted Kenney of Williston for misspelling his name in last week's item on the Chittenden County State's Attorney's race. Left out the second "e."
It's an open seat. Mr. Kenney is one of three Democrats facing off in the September 12 primary. Turns out the Ted "Kenny" we mentioned, and linked to, is a real estate agent in Middletown, New Jersey.