The Barre Auditorium was jumping Saturday morning, and there wasn't a basketball in sight!
Instead, the hardwood of the venerable old Vermont arena was crammed with Republican Party delegates from across the Green Mountains. Spirits were high and The Mad Bavarian Brass Band set a very upbeat tempo.
What a brilliant move! Hiring a German beer-hall band to fill in the gaps between Republican political speeches was a master stroke. Kudos to GOP State Chairman Jim Barnett, who organized the state convention and first-ever pre-primary "straw poll" on statewide candidates.
Don't tell anyone, but the Republican Party is alive and well in Vermont, and Saturday's well-attended bash in Barre is proof beyond any reasonable doubt.
The leader of this "rebel" Vermont movement, Gov. Jim Douglas, is a solid favorite for reelection in November. At occasions such as these, Douglas, a man who supported Richard Nixon while a 1960s college student and supports George W. Bush today, steps out of his middle-of-the-road, all-things-to-all-people persona. He gets in a few licks at his political opposition while playing standup comic to his Republican base. One hears Douglas lines he never utters at the weekly gubernatorial pressers.
"In just one week during the past session," said the Guv, "Democrats came out with proposals for four new taxes. We feel the pinch now! Imagine what we'd be up against with an increased beer tax, snack tax, property transfer tax, payroll tax, income tax and, of course, the Democrats' favorite -- the gas tax!"
The audience roared!
Vermont's most powerful Republican tossed out the red meat, so to speak. He called the current Democratic leadership at the Statehouse under Speaker Gaye Symington "out of touch with working Vermonters."
That's as daring a jab as suggesting the Republican leadership in the executive branch is out of touch with multimillionaire second-home owners and shopping-center developers.
At a time when Vermonters should be focusing on his "agenda of affordability," said Gov. Jimbo, "The liberals in the legislature have their own agenda, an agenda that advances far-left ideologies through far-out legislation."
It felt a little like "The Tonight Show" with Jay Leno as governor. And the funniest governor in Vermont history had the audience howling when he mentioned how the Democrats "found time this year to take up a dog ear-cropping bill!"
And while focusing on doggie ears, he said, the loonie-lefties had "ignored our pleas for civil confinement for dangerous, untreated, habitual sexual offenders."
That one lit up the scoreboard and had everyone on their feet. Nice shot, Jimbo!
Vermont GOP chairman Jim Barnett told "Inside Track" the Saturday convention had been "an outstanding event." Mad Dog said it demonstrated "a lot of energy" in the Republican Party, and the youngest state chairman in the country said the Vermont GOP is "very strong."
Well, what's he supposed to say?
Understandably, Chairman Barnett wasn't eager to talk about the two 800-pound gorillas that sat silently at the corners of the auditorium stage, unnoticed and unmentioned, as if they didn't exist.
We're referring to the the nation's top Republican, President George W. Bush, and the war in Iraq he launched. Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie only went as far as calling for support "for our troops and families at this very difficult time."
Asked about the glaring omission, Mad Dog replied, "This year's election shouldn't be confused with presidential standing in the polls."
Of course not. Especially when the approval rating of President Bush is in the low 30s nationally, and down into the high 20s in the Green Mountains of Vermont.
We pointed out how happy the distinguished chairman had once been to discuss Mr. Bush's approval ratings when they were in the 70s. Why no comment now?
"I hate to get into hypotheticals," said Chairman Barnett.
Sure he does.
Moving along, we asked him about the omission of any discussion at the GOP convention of the GOP-led war in Iraq. Barnett quickly turned it around into a slap at Democrats.
"I know," he said, "they never hesitate on the other side to play politics with national security."
Whoa, he sure has his Republican National Committee talking points down! But, we noted, many Vermonters -- Democrats, Independents and Republicans -- have had enough with this dishonest, propaganda-driven war.
In fact, at Bernie Sanders' U.S. Senate Campaign kickoff on Friday, the lines that got the crowd leaping out of their seats were about the war. And the loudest cheer of all came when Ol' Bernardo noted that Vermont's entire congressional delegation -- Leahy, Jeffords and Sanders -- got it right back in October of 2002. The only state out of 50. That's when the Bush Iraq War Resolution slid through the GOP-controlled Congress with only a few members brave enough to stand up as true American patriots and say, "No!"
Three years later, we all know they were right, don't we?
"I don't know if they were right or not," countered Barnett. "History will tell."
Well, history often does, doesn't it? But that doesn't do anyone who comes along afterwards much good. Unfortunately, history also tells us that humans keep repeating the deadly mistakes of their predecessors.
But one thing is clear: Republican U.S. Senate Candidate Richard Tarrant isn't waiting any longer for history to tell him whether the Iraq invasion was the right thing to do. Read on . . .
Iraq a Mistake? -- After Saturday's Republican convention broke up, yours truly and another reporter conducted an impromptu interview with Richie Rich outside the Barre Aud.
Yes, he is talking to yours truly this week. Like old pals are we.
As we noted earlier, the Vermont GOP conducted its convention as if the Iraq War didn't exist. Tarrant was asked about the omission, and the fact that one day earlier, Mr. Sanders had called for a U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq within one year. Every poll shows that Vermonters strongly oppose the Iraq War.
At first, Richie deflected the question and gave his standard 25-word answer. "Our soldiers have done a great job, deposed a dictator. They've had free elections and now they have a government," he said. "It's time for the Iraqi Army to do the heavy lifting."
But, knowing what we know now, we asked, would Tarrant say that going to war in Iraq was "a mistake" in the first place?
The answer was a shockeroo! Richie was suddenly off his "talking points" and speaking from the heart.
"I wasn't there then," answered the Republican U.S. Senate frontrunner, "but in retrospect, knowing what we know now, nobody would have gone into that war."
Doesn't get much clearer than that, folks. A check of the press clips indicates Candidate Tarrant has never said anything like it before. In the past he's always wiggled out, noting he "wasn't in Congress" when the Bush administration launched the invasion and "didn't have enough information."
In 2002, the entire Vermont congressional delegation got it right, knowing what they knew then. And one thing they knew was that Iraq had no connection whatsoever to the 9/11 attack.
Wonder how GOP Chairman Barnett will handle the calls from the RNC about a certain, well-funded Republican U.S. Senate candidate who thinks the Bush war is a big mistake?
Tarrant Goes Socialist? -- The press was also interested in a hot Tarrant-generated topic that Richie managed to leave out of his convention speech entirely!
Mr. High-Scoring Small-College Hoopster from the 1960s (it wasn't all Woodstock and Haight-Ashbury, folks) never mentioned a word to the GOP delegates about the rather bold and unusual new policy position he's touting in his latest round of 30-second TV commercials showing around Vermont ad nauseum.
Tarrant, a conservative, pro-life Republican who's donated generously to help the current GOP regime, now wants Medicare to cover all the uninsured!
Medicare is the acclaimed help-the-poor-old-folks health-care system that was instituted by the liberal Democrats during the "Great Society" days of the 1960s. To the right-wing, which likes Tarrant's money and his politics, Medicare is one of the big-government, socialist programs that destroys free enterprise. The Bush-Cheney team is currently driving Medicare recipients and state officials mad with a complicated new prescription-drug package.
Coming from a guy who accuses Bernie Sanders of promoting a single-payer system, Tarrant's call to expand Medicare is confusing a lot of folks. Has he lost his marbles?
After all, if Sanders had run the same commercial calling for a Medicare expansion, wouldn't Tarrant attack him for advocating socialized medicine like the commie-pinko he really is?
Perhaps confusion itself is the Tarrant goal, and this will one day be remembered as a brilliant political tactic. Will today's "stupid" be tomorrow's "brilliant?"
One reporter noted that Tarrant left out of his convention speech any mention of his unusual -- some say radical -- proposal to have Medicare cover America's millions of uninsured citizens. It's a pro-Big Government proposal, and Tarrant had been addressing an anti-Big Government audience.
"I forget exactly what I said about health care," replied Tarrant. "What did I say? I don't remember."
There was an awkward moment of silence.
Then he remembered. "I know what I said. I said it's not about insurance." He said the real issue is "the waste and inefficiency in the system."
Nice try. But the reporter didn't give up.
She noted Tarrant's unusual stance on Medicare is potentially controversial with the Republican Party? Correct?
"Probably," Tarrant replied.
And you don't talk about it?
"No," said Tarrant. "I talk about the inefficiency."
Great. It would be nice if he watched his own TV commercials, too, eh?
The New Martha? -- We're still getting used to the new Martha Rainville look. As everyone recalls, she looked great in U.S. government-issue desert warfare fatigues with the combat boots and general bars on her collar.
Now Martha's wearing outfits she's never worn before and, unless elected in November, will never wear again. They look like some D.C. political fashion consultant's idea -- outfits that show her feminine side while reminding everyone of her military past. On Saturday she had a stripe of stars running down the front.
At the convention, the ex-National Guard general came across as someone trying hard to be the new, improved Martha Rainville. She began her remarks by attempting to end any lingering doubts about her Republican Party loyalty, frequently invoking the name of Ronald Reagan, her "political hero."
Rainville also mentioned she had been recruited by "influential leaders" of the Democratic Party and had "politely declined" their invitation. "Their principles," said Martha, "are simply not my principles."
Marvelous Martha was playing to the base, and it showed. She even tried to take some wind out of her more conservative primary challenger's sails when she told the convention she opposes the move in Congress to expand the "permanent wilderness" area of the Green Mountain National Forest by 47,000 acres. The move is backed by Vermont's entire delegation in Washington.
"I do not believe that a Congress 500 miles away in Washington should forever lock up any more of this resource so important to Vermonters," said Rainville to loud applause.
Informed of her remarks about the forest expansion, Sen. Leahy's chief of staff Ed Pagano responded quickly and clearly.
Rainville, said Mr. Pagano, "is ham-handedly trying to remove this as a primary issue with Mark Shepard, but all that she is making clear is that, once again, she is out of touch with Vermonters. She knows little about this process and the issues, and it shows. Once again, she's cutting and pasting from talking points produced 500 miles away at Bush campaign headquarters in Washington."
In fact, noted Big Ed, "The overwhelming majority of comments the Forest Service received from Vermonters urged more wilderness than the Forest Service or the delegation have recommended."
Hey, you don't think St. Patrick was one of those "influential" Democratic leaders who once upon a time tried to recruit a certain female National Guard general as a congressional candidate, do you?
Media Notes -- Conservative talk-show host Laurie Morrow has been shown the door at Ken Squier's WDEV. Replacing her in the 11 a.m. slot this week is conservative Paul Beaudry. Beaudry's been hosting a call-in show in Franklin County for a couple years. Very on-the-edge, right-wing stuff, we're told. One Franklin County listener wonders if central Vermont is ready for him.
Tune in and find out, folks. WDEV's at 550 AM and 96.1 FM.
And Rich Tarrant sure had a good time at the Sheraton Friday night, both upstairs and down. Tarrant caught Bill Kirchen and The Starline Rhythm Boys upstairs, and was later seen meeting and greeting the folks leaving the Democratic Party dinner downstairs -- including Sanders campaign chairman Jeff Weaver.
Richie was out cruising solo. In great spirits, too. Told the folks his wife "isn't here."
Wonder if she was at home in Florida?