It's like free beer at the hockey game this week for Vermont Republicans as they merrily watch the Democrats and Progressives drop the gloves in a bitter bench-clearing brawl over Vermont's campaign-finance law.
The Democrats, last week, dared to question Progressive Lite-Guv candidate Anthony Pollina's eligibility for public financing in the wake of the statewide poll the Progressive Party's conducted in early February.
The Democrat Party's executive director Mark Michaud wrote a letter to Attorney General Bill Sorrell asking him to look into it.
At issue is whether the poll, which showed Tony the Prog having a much better shot at Lite-Guv than Guv, was worth more than the $500 legal limit to him, and whether he knew the results before Feb. 15. Under the law, a candidate seeking public financing cannot spend more than $500 before that date.
Remember, at the time, Pollina had postponed his decision on what to run for because Con Hogan suddenly bolted the Republican bus and announced as an Independent for Governor.
The Michaud letter lit a fire under Pollina. Just after his fiery campaign kickoff speech last week a speech in which he bashed Democrats much more than Republicans Tony the Prog accused the Democrats of a conspiracy.
"I don't think we did anything wrong," said Pollina. "But the important point is that it's a very serious issue and a serious allegation. You have the Democratic Party asking the Democratic attorney general based on an opinion of a Democratic secretary of state to investigate a Progressive party candidate," he said. All I would say is that we take it very seriously. We will be dealing with it."
Sure enough, this week the Progressive Party filed papers in federal court challenging the constitutionality of Vermont's new campaign-finance law. Coincidentally, it's the landmark law that the Progressive candidate is a proud author of.
The Progs want a federal judge to issue an injunction "forbidding" Bill Sorrell, the attorney general, and Deb Markowitz, the secretary of state, from proceeding with the Pollina investigation. Through the party's attorney, John Franco, the Progs also claim the law Tony the Prog wrote is now "unconstitutional" when applied to Tony the Prog.
Fuggedaboudit. That was then, this is now.
What we've got here is the political equivalent of an old-fashioned gangland war. The Democrat Family has never cared for the Progressive Family moving in on their liberal turf. The 2000 election marked the end of the peace.
Locally, we had the Pollina for Governor campaign. Nationally, we had the Ralph Nader for President campaign. Gov. Howard Dean made it, but Al Gore did not, and the resentment in Democrat circles toward left-wing third-party types is deep right now.
"The Democrats picked this fight," Pollina told Seven Days this week. "We did a poll and abided by the advice we got from the secretary of state of state," he said. "Now the Democratic Party says we're going to have you investigated."
Relax, Tony. You won't go to jail. Honest.
Democrat Party Chairman Scudder Parker told Seven Days he finds Anthony's response "astonishing." He pointed out the Democrats are not suggesting Pollina's done something "illegal." Rather, said Parker, it appears Tony the Prog has lost his eligibility for taxpayer money to run his Lite-Guv campaign. "Public financing is not an entitlement," said Mr. Parker.
In the last election, when Tony the Prog ran for governor, he received $265,000 in free money. And he has every intention of getting another financial care package this time.
Surprisingly, Pollina conceded this week he did get word of the poll results well before Feb. 15. He told Seven Days he received a phone call from Progressive Party Chair Martha Abbott "maybe a week before" that date. Pollina said Abbott informed him of how he had done on the poll questions that tested his strength in potential matchups for governor and lieutenant governor.
As everyone knows, he did much, much better in the Lite-Guv scenario. And guess what?
Anthony decided Lite-Guv is what he now wants to be. Surprise!
Loving this political brawl are Vermont Republicans. Vermont's man on the Republican National Committee, Skip Vallee. told Seven Days, "When the other side's fighting among themselves, we stay out of the battle."
Oh, and, by the way, Friday morning, lawyers for the Progressives and lawyers for the Democrats will face off before U.S. District Judge William K. Sessions III.
Gotta wonder, if Tony the Prog gets shot down, will he denounce the judge as a dirty Democrat?
Bill Sessions was U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy's campaign manager in 1992. St. Patrick subsequently nominated him for the federal bench.
Small world, isn't it?
Governor Chainsaw? The hottest rumor making the rounds earlier this week was that the Progressive Party had approached Democrat State Auditor Elizabeth Ready about running for governor on the Prog ticket. Ready-Pollina?
Interesting. Chainsaw Liz's politics fit well in Progressive attire.
When yours truly asked Pollina about it, he just laughed. Said it was the first he'd heard of it.
But when we asked Ms. Ready an hour later if the Progs had asked her to run under their label, she did not laugh.
"People ask you things all the time," Ready replied. "Running for governor," she told us, "has been mentioned to me by many people."
In fact, Chainsaw never did say "no."
St. Paddy's Week The green, white and orange flags went up on the lamp posts in downtown Burlington last Friday. Hey, St. Patrick's Day may not arrive until Sunday, but the local Irish community makes a good week out of it.
This year's Burlington Irish Heritage Festival is putting the spotlight on the Great Famine and, in particular, Grosse Isle. That's the island in the middle of the St. Lawrence River that served as a quarantine station for Irish immigrants fleeing the Great Famine of 1847. More than 10,000 never made it off that island to their promise land of freedom.
Ah, don't we Irish love to talk about the dead? Famine dead, Fenian dead, patriot dead. It keeps us going, I guess, until we can join them.
But let's also lift a glass to the Vermont Supreme Court this St. Patrick's week. Our noble black robes have scheduled to hear the appeal in the Great License Plate Famine case on Wednesday.
Remember the case of Carol Ann Martin, who was denied an "Irish 1" license plate by the motor vehicle department? In our brave new world of ethnic diversity, words that reference ethnic origin are banned from auto tags.
Ms. Martin and her distinguished pro bono attorney, State Sen. John Bloomer (R-Rutland), will get their last shot before the high court in a hearing at Vermont Law School. Perhaps the justices might don green robes for the occasion? After all, we've long suspected Justice John Dooley has a wee bit of the leprechaun in him.
But seriously, folks, this case is more than a laughing matter. It's really about free speech and the lengths to which a government can legally go to censor it. If the current politically correct law stands in Vermont, no Irish will ever apply.
Mystery Writers Vermont's Internet political junkies are starting to notice a new kid on the block www.PoliticsVT.com. There's a banner ad for campaign buttons and, beneath it, Vermont political news.
So far, PoliticsVT.com has done a couple online polls (more on that later) and appears to have been first by hours to report the news that Anthony Pollina would run for lieutenant governor this time.
Currently the Web site's editor, "Moe Robinson," is promoting a report on Vermont's "Power 50" the state's 50 "most politically influential personalities" to be posted Friday.
Jeezum crow, we're biting our nails as we write.
Seven Days recently contacted Moe by e-mail, asking, just "Who the hell is "Moe Robinson?" We received this reply:
"PoliticsVT.com is operated by the Publius Group, which is based in New Jersey. But the site is run by "Moe Robinson." Moe is a pseudonym for the people who are working on the site," he wrote.
"By remaining anonymous we can get the real inside scoop. We get tips from a lot of people and, by remaining anonymous, we can get the best information and pass it along to everyone else."
Interesting. However, yours truly is not anonymous, and we've never lacked in the tips department.
Turns out Vermont is the fifth state on the Publius target list. New Jersey, New York, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania are already up and running. And as far as we can tell, no one in the media has broken their cover.
Click on the link to "The Publius Group" and you jump to SilentCal.com. There's an address in Hoboken, New Jersey, where one can order political campaign buttons of every stripe. And, yes, they even offer a snappy, bright-green "Howard Dean for President" button for the upscale price of $3.25 each, with a $4.50 shipping charge and a 30-day money-back guarantee.
Hey, it could be quite a collector's item someday.
Speaking of Polls Ah, beware of the Ides of March and beware of polls! Do you really think 90 percent of the American population is in lockstep with the policies of President George W. Bush? Or that 90 percent of the American population is still living on pins and needles, scared shitless by what they saw on their television screens on September 11, 2001?
Recently, WVNY-TV cited poll results to tout the on-air success of their colorful and controversial new "investigative reporter." According to a press release from Ch. 22's PR firm, the PoliticsVT.com online poll showed 28 percent of respondents "enjoyed" watching "A Hard Look with Ruth Dwyer."
Republican Ruth, you may recall, was soundly defeated in the last two gubernatorial races.
In addition, reads the press release, another 28 percent said they'd seen Ruth's Ritalin report and "will watch again."
Ch. 22 took that to mean "56 percent of the respondents viewed the program favorably."
Ah, if only she could have gotten 56 percent of the vote in the governor's race, she wouldn't be working for Ch. 22.
According to station manager Larry Delia, "As the impartial Web site poll and messages to our own station both indicate, the majority of viewers obviously have been positively impressed with Ruth Dwyer's research and objectivity."
You see, what Mr. Delia left out is the fact that a grand total of 45 people responded to the PoliticsVT.com poll on the Resurrection of Ruth. And everyone who's reached the age of reason knows that a totally unscientific poll of 45 people proves absolutely nothing.
Except in this case, it proves Larry Delia still has a long way to go in appreciating the intelligence of his station's Vermont audience.
Bernie Burgers? We've covered the amazing Bernie Sanders for more than 20 years and thought we'd seen it all. But this week Ol' Bernardo broke new ground: He held a press conference on meat you know, the kind people eat.
Sanders proudly took credit for scoring a measly $70,000 federal grant to beef up Vermont's meat industry. The problem is, we're down to just four slaughterhouses less than half of what we had a decade ago. And with 20 percent of our sacred dairy herd being turned into hamburger each year (about 20,000 cows, according to a Sanders aide), four slaughterhouses aren't enough. Especially when you add in all the sheep, goats, chickens and turkeys.
Shipping Vermont livestock out of state for slaughter and processing raises costs and makes Vermont's dead animal flesh less competitive in the supermarket coolers.
Under questioning, Ol' Bernardo admitted to a longtime carnivorous lifestyle.
"Pork chops, sausages, steak, hamburger and chicken," he said, are his favorite.
Gotta love a congressman with a taste for pork, eh?
Asked if he had anything to offer his vegetarian constituents, he replied, "Ha, ha, ha, ha. Not today."
Correction In last week's item on the proposed medical marijuana legislation, we incorrectly identified Rep. Michael Kainen, a distinguished attorney from Hartford, as a Democrat. Kainen, who supported the medical pot bill in the Judiciary Committee, is a Republican. Sorry. Human error.
Compared to several of the dour, ultra-conservative, anti-civil unions backlashers that House Speaker Walter Freed assigned to Judiciary, Rep. Kainen comes off like a flaming liberal.