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Paying Attention

Inside Track

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Election 2002 has hit the homestretch and, with less than two weeks till D-Day, Vermonters are starting to pay attention to the very important battle for political control of the Green Mountains. There's a whole lot more at stake than you might imagine.

The TV and radio airwaves are bursting at the seams this week with political campaign commercials. The Democrats lit the fuse with a radio spot accusing the Repub-licans of trying to "steal the election." The ad highlighted the fact that both Jim Douglas and Brian Dubie refuse to support the not-so-radical idea that the candidate who gets the most votes on November 5 should win -- even if no one candidate gets more than 50 percent of the statewide tally.

Instead, both Slim Jim and Doobie-Doo bristled at what they called an attack on their "character." And the Douglas campaign fired back with a TV spot mocking Democrat Doug Racine as a "flip flopper."

Truth is, the Democrat radio spot was an attack on their character. Selfishly disregarding the vote of the people of Vermont is a slap in their face. It's a perfectly fair shot.

And calling Doug Racine a "flip- flopper" is like calling the sky blue. Doug Racine, after all, is a flip-flopper. It's not exactly a state secret. It, too, is a perfectly fair shot.

The fact is that Mr. Racine has changed his stand on a number of issues, from single-payer health care to construction of Chittenden County's controversial Circumferential Highway. He's moved to the center, as they say. The Quiet Man says it shows he's flexible and open to new ideas and changing realities.

The fact is, folks, none of the contenders to succeed Howard Dean as governor of Vermont is perfect. So what else is new?

What's new is that, day-by-day, more Vermonters are waking up to what's really at stake in this election. And they're waking up to what certain candidates really stand for.

Kudos to our pal, Burlington Free Press columnist Sam Hemingway, for his Friday column that reminded readers just how far to the right Republican Lite-Gov hopeful Brian Dubie is. Sort of a kinder and gentler Ruth Dwyer. It's something Mr. Dubie would dearly like voters to overlook.

Abortion rights hasn't been an issue of public debate on the 2002 campaign trail, but make no mistake, Doobie-Doo would happily break a tie vote in the Vermont Senate to make parental notification the law in Vermont. And a Gov. Jim Douglas would happily sign it. A Vermont teenage girl would then be required to notify the father who impregnated her that she wants to abort her pregnancy.

A Gov. Doug Racine would veto a parental notification bill or any bill that diminished a woman's right to choose a safe and legal abortion. It's a clear and important difference between them. No flip-flopping on that one by the Quiet Man.

Or take medical marijuana.

Last winter, even Speaker Walter Freed's Republican-controlled House backed a medical-marijuana initiative. A special study committee has been holding hearings and they'll have an anticipated pro-pot recommendation for the legislature in January.

Jim Douglas, a 51-year-old who swears he's never inhaled, says he would not sign a medical marijuana bill into law. Nope. Jim listens to the Drug Czar, and we all know our beloved Drug Czar has been supporting police raids on legal medical marijuana shops in California.

Instead, taking a leaf from Nancy Reagan's failed "Just Say No" strategy, Slim Jim is touting a "Meghan's Law" for drug dealers that's been scorned by the Vermont Police Association as the pathetic piece of political hype it truly is.

And what about civil rights, you ask?

Civil unions for gay couples -- the law in Vermont -- has hardly been mentioned on the campaign trail. But make no mistake, a Republican-controlled legislature working with a Republican governor and lieutenant governor would happily bash our gay brothers and sisters and take a big bite out of civil unions.

Let's not forget how the House of Freed enthusiastically passed legislation that repealed our landmark civil-union law and extended marriage benefits to any two people who currently can't tie the knot. In addition to gay people, it would include fathers and daughters as well as mothers and sons. The Republican bill mercifully died in the Democrat Senate. But the issue continues to smolder beneath the surface, and a Republican victory would clearly put the gay-bashers back in the driver's seat.

It may not be what you hear and see in their TV commercials, folks, but make no mistake -- that's the sort of progress a Douglas-Dubie regime would deliver to Vermont. And yes, these characters are perfectly willing to take power even if they don't win the vote of the people.

Instead, Mr. Douglas and Mr. Dubie are shooting for 91 votes under the golden dome in Jan-uary as the way to seal their glorious victory.

Cool.

At the moment, "Banana Republic" is just a retail store on Burlington's Church Street Marketplace.

Come January, it could be the new nickname for the Green Mountain State.

Voting doesn't get any more important than this!

Endorsement Time -- It's the time of year when faceless editorial writers get the spotlight. This week the Brattleboro Reformer endorsed Democrat Doug Racine for governor. But the Rutland Herald and its sister sheet, the Barre-Montpelier Times Argus, laid a real whopper!

The jointly owned papers endorsed Independent Con Hogan for governor despite the fact that King Con, the ex-state bureaucrat who abandoned his bid for the Republican nomination, hasn't gotten above 8 percent in any of the statewide polls. How noble!

The fact is the Rutland Herald has over the last couple years been a newspaper on a down slide. Its most talented writers and editors have departed for greener pastures, like Vermont Public Radio, where John Van Hoesen and John Dillon have significantly upgraded VPR's state news coverage.

Positions have gone vacant under the austerity program of publisher R. John Mitchell. It's almost a year since veteran Statehouse bureau chief and columnist Jack Hoffman departed. Jack's position remains unfilled, and the Herald's political coverage has tailed off dramatically.

Sure, sure, editorial writer David Moats' 2000 Pulitzer Prize for supporting civil unions was a marvelous achievement, but you often hear the talk in media circles that the Pulitzer went to Moats' head. The Rutland Herald's Con Hogan endorsement indicates there may be some truth to that.

Ice Capades Update -- With the court's permission, Graham Mink did not attend his recent status conference at the Palace of Justice on Cherry Street. Mink, you see, was busy working as a professional hockey player.

The Stowe native and former UVM star plays left wing for the Portland Pirates of the American Hockey League. Off the ice, things aren't going as smoothly.

It's been a year since the then-UVM senior was arrested following a late-night Buell Street fracas. Mr. Mink was charged with aggravated assault -- a felony -- based on a Burlington Police investigation that found witnesses who said the UVM hockey star had repeatedly kicked an unconscious young man in the head, fracturing the bone around his eye.

The charge carries a maximum penalty of 15 years in jail. Obviously, a conviction would seriously impact Mink's blossoming pro hockey career.

Mr. Mink has entered a "not guilty" plea, and his lawyer, R. Jeffrey Behm of Sheehy Furlong and Behm, maintains his client is getting a "raw deal." In fact, Mr. Behm recently told the Portland Press Herald he felt his client's high-profile as a hockey star has been a factor in the state's case.

"I think if he wasn't a well-known hockey figure around here," Behm told the Portland, Maine, paper, "it would not have been pursued as vigorously as it has been by the state." Behm claimed Mink was acting in self-defense and has "a very strong case."

Deputy State's Attorney Margaret Vincent, the prosecutor in the Mink case, had "no comment."

The Portland Press article, by sportswriter Jenn Menendez, also reported that UVM Coach Mike Gilligan was standing behind his former player. Mink's arrest, you may recall, prompted Gilligan to suspend him indefinitely from the hockey team. After all he went through during the infamous hockey-hazing matter, Gilligan didn't hesitate to crack the whip. Mink then quit school and turned pro.

"We miss him as a player and a real solid guy," Gilligan told the Portland Press Herald. "He trained in our rink all summer and is always going to be a friend of ours."

Very generous of the university to offer its facilities to a non-student, professional athlete facing a felony charge, eh?

Despite the fact that Attorney Behm boasts of having a "strong" case, he doesn't want to have his client tried before a Burlington jury. He's filed a motion for a change of venue.

"Because of the significant adverse media coverage of this incident in Chittenden County, and its repeated linkage in the media to the even more extensively publicized UVM hockey-hazing scandal, it is unlikely that Graham Mink can obtain a fair and impartial trial here," argues Behm in the motion.

A hearing on Mink's motion to move the trial out of Burling-ton is scheduled for November 18. At the recent October 4 hearing (which, by the way, the local media ignored despite Behm's claim of too much publicity), Judge Brian Burgess indicated that if the two sides can't cut a plea agreement deal by December 6, the Mink case will be set for jury draw.

Stay tuned.

Hot Diggity Dog -- You just can't have things too livable, at least not in the most livable city in America -- Burlington, Vermont. That's apparently why Burlington City Councilor Bill Keogh (D-Ward 5) wants to crack down on late-night hot- dog consumption at Burlap's busiest intersection, at Church and Main Streets.

In some towns these days they worry about snipers. In Burlington, Vermont, it's hot- dogs. Go figure.

Keogh, a legislator and a veteran baseball umpire and basketball referee, told Seven Days he thinks the two late-night hot-dog carts "keep people lingering" at the intersection after they come out of the bars at the 2 a.m. closing time.

"When you get people who've had plenty to drink," said Keogh the Ump, "they're potential behavior problems."

Damn hot-dogs eaters!

Umpire Keogh's words are more than idle chatter, since he's the chairman of the city council's license committee. That's the committee that oversees the Queen City's watering holes.

Hot-dog entrepreneur Kevin Shea thinks Councilor Keogh is off his rocker. Mr. Shea told Seven Days he's been in the tube- steak business for just over one year. It's hard work and long hours, but he owns the business and loves it.

Shea proudly sells Hebrew National kosher quarter-pound hot dogs to what he describes as an "upscale, young professional clientele." His dogs go for the upscale price of $3 a pop. On a good Friday night, he might sell between 150 and 200 hot dogs. Shea told Seven Days he just doesn't see "how selling hot dogs can be such a bad thing." And even if Keogh succeeds in banning Burlington hot-dog carts late at night, he pointed out, hungry bar patrons could still "linger" at the intersection and munch on hot dogs purchased at Kountry Kart, where $1.50 buys two tube steaks.

Shea said that Keogh wants to shut down vendor food sales at the corner at 11 p.m. And, he said, Keogh personally told him that Mayor Peter Clavelle supports the hot-dog crackdown.

Clavelle told Seven Days the problem is too many people congregating at the intersection in the wee hours of the morning. It puts pressure on police services and limits cop coverage in other parts of the city.

But later, Mayor Moonie contacted us and moderated his stand. Instead of banning hot- dog sales after a certain hour, Clavelle said having the hot-dog carts move up or down the block and away from the Church-and- Main intersection might be a better approach. How progressive!

Sorry, Mayor Moonie. And sorry, Councilor Keogh. There's something truly Orwellian and un-American about restricting the sale of hot dogs on a public street. Has it really come to this?

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