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Once More, With Feeling?

Fair Game


Published August 25, 2010 at 1:29 p.m.

Fair Game is Seven Days’ weekly political column.

Five candidates, 20 months and $1.6 million later, it came down to a handful of votes determining a winner in the Democratic primary for governor. Unfortunately, as Seven Days went to press Tuesday night, we still didn’t know which one.

As the primary votes trickled in late Tuesday night, the lead shifted dramatically among three candidates: Secretary of State Deb Markowitz, Sen. Doug Racine and Senate President Pro Tem Peter Shumlin were at times within just 40 votes of each other. Matt Dunne was a close fourth; Sen. Susan Bartlett, a distant fifth.

The closeness of the race could very well lead to a recount, which would put a damper on the Democrats’ so-called “unity” rally.

On Wednesday, the four losing Democrats are supposed to gather with U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, U.S. Rep. Peter Welch and others to, ya know, show they’re all really winners. Kum-ba-ya.

A recount could easily eat up the extra weeks Democrats gained by moving the primary date up to August 24.

The winning Democrat will face Republican Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie, along with Socialist Ben Mitchell and independents Cris Ericson, Dan Feliciano, Em Peyton and Dennis Steele.

The three Dems couldn’t have been more different, stylistically.

Shumlin, the smooth-talking pol who talked about getting “tough things done,” loaned at least $225,000 to his campaign, and provided another $20,000 in-kind to keep it afloat. That accounted for 40 percent of the total amount he raised.

Racine presented himself as the tried-and-true, quiet-talking liberal who, despite poor fundraising results, was able to leverage endorsements from labor and environmental leaders to get out the vote.

Markowitz ran the most general-election-style race of the three, talking in generalities and presenting the strong, focused image of an executive ready to lead. She also raised the most money.

A recount would also let Dubie avoid facing a real candidate in — gasp! — a debate. In short, he’s sitting pretty.

As of mid-August, Dubie had raised more than $1 million and still had $460,000 in the bank. Now he’s going to get help from the Republican Governors Association, which has already raised more than $250,000 through its Green Mountain Prosperity political action committee. The RGA launched a website and TV ad for Dubie. The ad is narrated by Gov. Jim Douglas.

No word from the Democratic National Committee or the Democratic Governors Association on what they’ll do for the winner.

“There is a very strong interest among national Democrats to flip this governor’s seat from Republican to Democrat,” said Vermont Democratic Party Chairman Robert Dempsey.

The question remains: which Democrat?

Let the Debates Begin! (Sorta)

With that pesky primary out of the way, Republican Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie will finally have to square off in a debate with his Democratic challenger, right?


The first 90-minute debate is scheduled for Thursday night, sponsored by the Vermont chapter of AARP. It’ll be broadcast live on Vermont Public Television. Anne Galloway of VTDigger.org and Jon Margolis of Vermont News Guy will host a simultaneous online chat.

The next debate was scheduled for Wednesday, September 8 — a collaboration of Seven Days and the Lake Champlain Regional Chamber of Commerce’s Burlington Young Professionals Group.

But the event was cancelled because Dubie didn’t officially agree to the date, according to his campaign. LCRCC’s director of member services, Adam Brooks, has another explanation: Dubie didn’t like the debate format; he preferred a “forum.” The Dems, on the other hand, all wanted a debate.

Brooks hopes to salvage some kind of forum, where the “Dem” and Dubie will take questions from the group — only not at the same time.

“We’re hoping we can get everyone to agree on a date in late September or early October,” said Brooks.

Hmm, ducking a debate … where have I heard that before?

In 2006, Dubie was deployed to Iraq on a short-term field-assessment mission for three weeks and wound up debating Democrat Matt Dunne just four times in the remaining six weeks of the campaign.

In 2008, between Hurricane Ike and various trade missions, Dubie took on Democrat Tom Costello just three times. Surrogates stood in for him at two debates.

Not to worry, assures Dubie’s campaign manager Corry Bliss; there will be plenty of opportunities to see Dubie in action before November.

“We want to make sure the debates are held in every region of the state and cover a wide variety of issues, and there is coverage by the statewide media to ensure Vermonters have a chance to hear the candidates,” said Bliss.

Dubie has received roughly two dozen debate requests.

“We don’t have a final number of how many debates we’ll hold,” said Bliss, “but it will definitely be in the double digits — at least 10.”

Wow, that’s almost one every week.

Climbing the Ladder

Think lieutenant governor is the penultimate, and shortest, step on the political ladder in Vermont? Actually, it’s more of a reach than it looks.

Republicans William Wills, Lee Emerson and Mortimer Proctor pulled it off way back. But the last lite gov to go directly from second in command to top dog was Robert Stafford — in 1958. Since then, several lite govs have tried, and failed, to follow in Stafford’s footsteps.

Republican Robert S. Babcock replaced Stafford in the LG role, served one term and tried to run for governor in 1960. He lost in the GOP primary to F. Ray Keyser, the eventual winner.

Democrat Madeleine Kunin was lieutenant governor in 1982 when she challenged Republican Richard Snelling, and lost. She won two years later in an open-seat contest against Attorney General John Easton.

Republican Lt. Gov. Barbara Snelling served two terms before challenging Gov. Howard Dean in 1996. She suffered a cerebral hemorrhage during the campaign, and didn’t win. Two years later, she was elected to the state senate.

Democrat Doug Racine served three terms as lieutenant governor before making a bid for the top job in 2002. He lost to Republican Treasurer Jim Douglas. Two years later, Racine won a state senate seat.

Lt. Gov. Howard Dean became Gov. Dean when Gov. Richard Snelling died unexpectedly in 1991, and then won five elections on his own before stepping down.

The route to the top for a senate president pro tem, secretary of state or former lieutenant governor is even less direct.

According to archival records, no sitting state senator has left the post to win the job of governor; the aforementioned Wills, Emerson and Proctor each took two steps to get there. The last secretary of state to be elected governor was … Jim Douglas. However, between those jobs, Douglas served for years as state treasurer. He also ran against U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy — and lost.

On the Case

A federal grand jury spent about an hour last week interrogating Horace Williams, the former film editor of Malcolm “Mac” Parker’s film Birth of Innocence. They asked him for a timeline of the events that led to a state probe into the movie’s financing.

Before Williams faced the grand jury, however, he said he spent about two-and-a-half hours with attorneys from the U.S. Attorney’s office.

“I gave them a pile of emails and documents about the film and Lou Soteriou,” said Williams, referencing the film’s cocreator — Parker’s mysterious silent partner. Parker paid him millions of dollars. He disappeared earlier this year and has yet to be found.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul Van de Graaf asked Williams most of the questions, first with attorneys and then another hour before the grand jury, said Williams.

Van de Graaf is no stranger to complex financial scandals. He was the lead criminal attorney who helped bring down former Fletcher Allen CEO Bill Boettcher and several other top execs at the hospital for lying about the true cost of a major expansion. Boettcher ended up serving jail time.

Telecom on Trial

A judge has refused to throw out a lawsuit against the city of Burlington and Chief Administrative Officer Jonathan Leopold. Two former GOP city councilors, Gene Shaver and Fred Osier, filed the suit in an effort to recoup $17 million loaned by the city to Burlington Telecom. Leopold tried to distance himself from the suit, alleging he should be granted immunity from prosecution.

Superior Court Judge Helen Toor rejected Leopold’s claim.

“We are pleased the court rejected the argument that a government employee enjoys legal immunity from actions he takes with public funds that are contrary to legal restrictions,” said Norman Williams, attorney for Osier and Shaver.

Toor did side with the CAO, however, in saying he couldn’t be tried for “fraud and deceit,” and left open the question about whether Leopold failed in his fiduciary duty.

Leopold’s attorney, Robert Gensburg, told “Fair Game” he’s not sure if they’ll appeal Toor’s ruling to the Vermont Supreme Court.

No News is Good News

It’s been almost three months since Burlington Free Press Publisher Brad Robertson announced his departure from the state’s largest daily, but there’s still no word about his replacement.

Robertson, a self-described intrapreneur, left the Queen City to head up GannettLocal — Gannett’s in-house marketing firm — based in Phoenix, Ariz.

Robin Pence, Gannett’s spokesman, failed to respond to repeated emails and phone calls asking when the media giant expects to name a successor.

Hmm. I know of at least four Democrats looking for a job.