State Senator Helen Riehle sure didn't sound like a normal politician on Monday's Mark Johnson Show on WKDR. The previous Monday Sen. Sara Gear spent an hour bobbing and weaving around every question that came in. Other than mouthing the "no new taxes" mantra, Gear didn't take a clear stand on anything. But Riehle was another story. She told listeners she supports tax-sharing between towns as the way to go on the property tax reform train, opposes school vouchers, doesn't have a problem with inmates answering the phones for Travel and Tourism or the DMV, and doesn't think Barbara Snelling is nuts for suggesting the funds for the staff of the Governor's Commission on Women be chopped.
Babs has been getting clobbered in the letters-to-the-editor columns around the state for taking on such a sacred cow. But as Riehle pointed out, if it's a choice between funds for the aged, blind and disabled and money for Commission Chair Sara Lee to lobby the legislature, she'll support the aged, blind and disabled. Riehle chairs the Senate Health and Welfare Committee and, in her quiet way, she has become one of the most respected lawmakers under the golden dome.
Making cuts in the budget isn't fun, but somebody's got to do it. Last week the Senate Appropriations Committee was taking a meat cleaver to a host of programs in order to balance the 1996 budget. Vermont ETV was on the list and the proposed cut was $17,500. Sen. Elizabeth Ready (D-Addison) told her Colleagues she didn't particularly care for ETV's "Vermont This Week" program in which reporters bat around the stories of the week and, in the process, bat around a few politicians, too. Ready was particularly upset about comments made about her and Sen. Cheryl Rivers recently by Emerson Lynn, editor and publisher of the St. Albans Messenger. Lynn had questioned the truthfulness of the pair on air.
"He called me a liar," she told the committee. Lizzie then happily voted to make the cut. Her vote left the committee stalemated 3- 3. Then Sen. Dennis Delaney returned to his seat and broke the tie — cut Vermont ETV! Way to go, Dennis.
Industrial Hemp Update — Law enforcement weighed in last Friday as the House Agriculture Committee took testimony on the proposal to have a two-year hemp study done by UVM's Center for Sustainable Agriculture. "If it has THC in it," said the DEA's James Bradley, "it's marijuana. Under the law it's a Schedule 1 drug that's enforced by the federal narcotics laws of 1970. A state cannot usurp the federal level by passing a law allowing the growing of it without the federal government agreeing to it. I think this issue was addressed in 1861 with the state of South Carolina," noted Bradley. "It took about four years to resolve that issue." What a history buff.
Despite the fact that Governor Howard Dean has stated he'll follow the guidance of the law-enforcement community, the committee is moving full speed ahead to get a bill out. Chairman Bobby Starr (D-North Troy) insists there's a big difference between industrial hemp with a THC content under 1 percent and marijuana with a THC content up to 10 percent. "It's like having apple cider and hard cider," says Starr. "Sure, they come from the same tree, but there's a vast difference and it can be tested."
No one on the House Committee wants to legalize dope. But many reasonable people do, including the editors of the conservative magazine National Review. Featured in the current issue is a big spread titled, "The War on Drugs Is Lost." Seven writers, including William F Buckley Jr., a former police chief, a federal judge, a mayor, a psychiatrist, a scholar and a law professor, make a compelling case to change a drug policy that's wasting our resources" and "encouraging civil, judicial and penal procedures associated with police states."
Yale law professor Steven B. Duke hits the nail on the head, writing that if the purpose of the War on Drugs "is to make criminals out of one in three African American males, it has succeeded. If its purpose is to create one of the highest crime rates in the world — and thus to provide permanent fodder for demagogues who decry crime and promise to do something about it — it is achieving that end. If its purpose is de facto repeal of the Bill of Rights, victory is well in sight."
This isn't High Times, folks. This is the National Review.
Susan versus Bernie — Republican challenger Susan Sweetser fired the first shot in the 1996 Vermont congressional race Saturday morning when she tried to whack Bernie Sanders for not disclosing the names of his many contributors who gave less than $200 to his campaign war chest. Under the law he doesn't have to and, in fact, Susan hadn't done so in the report she filed at the Secretary of State's Office last week.
Sweetser's raised only $33,000 so far. She'll need a million before this one's over. (0l' Bernardo already has $177,000 in the bank — hey, the guy's a star.) So far it looks like Susan's got a Pizzagalli Construction campaign going. Angelo Pizzagalli is her campaign treasurer and both he and brothers Jimmy Pizzagalli and Remo Pizzagalli have cut checks for the Republican rising star. She's also got Stuart "Red" Martin, owner of WCAX-TV, Ernie Pomerleau and Luther Hackett on her eaily donors list. Real Bernie Sanders fans.
Across the field, the Bern is fueled with PAC dollars from big labor. The Pizzagallis never were fond of unions. And unions have never been fond of the Pizzagallis.
Sweetser says she's facing "a huge uphill fight." She's right. "This is a David and Goliath campaign. He is the Goliath. I am the underdog." No kidding.
Within two hours of Sweetser's Saturday press conference, 0l' Bernardo was on the fax machines with a statement linking Sweetser to "Newt Gingrich's National Republican Party."
You think Newt will come to Vermont to campaign for her?
Truth in Advertising? — No, haven't heard a peep out of 191 College St. following last week's column concerning Sam Hemingway's little accuracy problem. No calls, no flowers, nothing. But a lot of folks got a chuckle out of the Freeps' unofficial response — the "Get the facts with Sam Hemingway" advertisement that ran last Thursday at the bottom of page 6A. Great photo of "Sam in action." Pretty funny stuff.