Road to Victory! | Inside Track | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

Published July 3, 2002 at 4:00 a.m.

Lake Champlain was the beautiful backdrop the other day as Democrat Doug Racine tried to claim the crown of the “environmental candidate” for governor of Vermont. A dozen card-carrying environmentalists lined up on the sea wall behind him. Even the mama ducks and the baby ducks lined up on the waves behind him. The sun was shining. A gentle breeze was blowing.

Racine highlighted his endorsement by the Vermont Alliance of Conservation Voters. The VACV is essentially a political action committee for Vermont’s environmental lobby that springs to life during election season. It’s a front organization for groups like the Vermont Natural Resources Council (VNRC) and the Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) that cannot formally engage in partisan politics because of their federal tax classification.

It was no surprise VACV would endorse Democrat Doug Racine for governor of Vermont.

What was surprising was that they ignored Racine’s recent flip-flop on one of the major issues in Vermont’s environmental arena — completion of the controversial Circumferential Highway through Burlington’s suburban ring.

Until this spring, Mr. Racine has publicly opposed the Circ. Like the VACV and other environmental activist groups, Racine argued the road was “bad land-use planning” and would only lead to “sprawl.”

Republican Jim Douglas took to the Vermont TV airwaves in May with daily 30-second spots highlighting the IBM job losses and others. Douglas promised viewers, “I’ll build the Circ highway.”

In a battlefield conversion, Racine now declares he agrees with Douglas. As governor, he, too, will build it.

VACV board member Warner Shedd said all the right things about Doug Racine. He called him “a quiet and effective leader” on environmental issues.

But when a question was raised about how much credence should be put in the endorsement of a candidate who opposes one of the endorser’s cornerstone positions, a few of the environmental activists behind Racine started to squirm.

Shedd took a deep breath and sighed.

“Well, I think we’re never going to get a candidate that agrees with us 100 percent on everything,” he said. “I’m sure Doug has his reasons.”

Doug sure does. It’s called winning the election.

For Burlap’s business “leaders,” i.e., real estate developers and their pals at the local chamber of commerce and the Greater Burlington Industrial Corporation, the Circ Highway is truly a road paved with gold. Visions of dollar signs dance on their heads. And Racine knows it. He also knows that he who carries Chittenden County in November carries Vermont.

It’s hard to go against your old tree-hugger friends, but Racine isn’t in this to hug trees and lose.

One of those squirming supporters was Chris Kilian, senior attorney at the Conservation Law Foundation’s Montpelier office. Kilian is a leader in the legal fight against the proposed highway.

He explained later that he stood behind Candidate Racine “as an individual” and not as a representative of CLF.

“But I made it clear to Doug, before and after the press conference,” said Chris, “that I’d tell people I disagree personally and professionally on the Circ Highway.”

In 2000, Mr. Kilian endorsed Progressive Anthony Pollina for governor. This time Pollina’s running for second banana.

Meanwhile, Kilian’s Crusaders view Jim Douglas as the local reflection of George W. Bush’s jihad against the environment. More Arab oil! More West Virginia coal! More acid rain!

Unfortunately, Kilian and enviros like him have nowhere else to go. They have to hug Doug and Doug knows it.

“The Circ Highway has been a difficult issue,” said Racine. “And for me, it’s an issue that affects the future economy of this state because it is so important to IBM.”

That leaves IBM in a most enviable position this election season. All the bases covered, as they say.

On November 5, Vermont voters will be able to express their support for Big Blue by voting for either the Republican or Democrat candidate for governor.

“We’re very pleased that Doug has been willing to reevaluate his position as circumstances have changed,” said IBM’s Vermont political affairs honcho John O’Kane. “You have to respond to changing environments and changing situations. That’s a positive.”

But time for a reality check, folks. Is the Circ Highway really IBM’s Holy Grail? Is what critics swear will be a Highway to Sprawl and Congestion really crucial to IBM’s continued presence in Vermont? Will the highway guarantee that Big Blue will not lock the doors and turn off the lights one day?

According to O’Kane, “poor surface transportation infrastructure” makes it “difficult” for deliveries and for 7000 employees to get to work. But, he quickly added, “To say IBM’s future is all tied up in the Circ is a little overblown.”

Big Blue’s future in Vermont, he said, is based on “a whole realm of issues, both international and local.” To suggest “No Circ” means “No IBM,” said O’Kane, “is an overstatement.” He called it “hyperbole.”

Straight from the horse’s mouth, folks. In fact, Mr. O’Kane assured Seven Days, IBM will be under the golden dome in Montpeculiar next winter, supporting a trial run of commuter rail service between Essex Junction and Franklin County.

Don’t forget, the IBM motto is “Think.”

Penalty Box — Unlike on the ice, off-the-ice hockey players charged with breaking rules get to have lawyers. And Graham Mink’s lawyer, R. Jeffrey Behm, says his client is innocent of the charge that could have serious complications on Mink’s budding pro hockey career.

Mink, a Stowe kid, had things going his way at UVM. He survived the infamous hockey hazing scandal and started his senior year last fall. The Catamounts were counting on him to score some goals. Not to be.

Mink was arrested last September following a Burlington Police investigation of a late-night street brawl in the student “ghetto” of lower Buell Street. He was charged with attempted aggravated assault. Coach Mike Gilligan immediately kicked him off the hockey team.

Graham left school, too, and signed a pro contract with the Washington Capitals. Apparently getting arrested for a felony assault is not a deterrent for job applicants in the world of professional hockey. Minky was first assigned to their lowest minor league affiliate in Richmond, Virginia.

As the student parties were breaking up that fateful Saturday night, words were exchanged among testosterone- and alcohol-laden young men. Hardly the exception to the norm.

“He had just a couple beers,” said the lawyer. “No one would say Mink was intoxicated.”

Words between apparent strangers led to pushes. Pushes led to punches. Punches led to kicks. According to three different witnesses, Mr. Mink was seen kicking some poor unconscious chap in the head a few times. The victim was diagnosed with a “Zeugmatic fracture around the left eye” and complained of headaches.

The state is offering Mink a deal under which his guilty plea would get him a deferred sentence, 90 days in a prison work camp and a clean record. Not a bad deal, considering. But 90 days on the wood pile would put a serious dent in his ice time. Training camp starts in a little over two months. Mr. Behm, however, told Seven Days the deal offered is not acceptable.

Behm said Mink wasn’t about to punch anyone that night, since he had six stitches in his hand from a cut sustained at hockey practice earlier that day. And he didn’t kick the victim, either.

“There were no scuffs on his shoes,” said Behm.

Mink and buddy Tim Peters, a UVM goalie, were outnumbered and Mink was hit first, he said.

“The evidence is going to show,” said Behm, “that Graham Mink had never hit anyone in the face with his fists before.”

“In his life?” we asked.

“In his life,” he answered.

That’s a bit of stretch, eh? But let’s give him the benefit of the doubt. After all, innocent until proven guilty, right?

We do know, however, that Mr. Mink has hit a few people in the kisser since. Mink’s penalty sheet for the season indicates he picked up a few five-minute majors for fighting both north and south of the Mason-Dixon Line. On those occasions he was wearing ice skates and performing for either the Richmond Renegades or the Portland Pirates. In fact, Mink had an outstanding freshman year in pro hockey.

The former Mt. Mansfield High School star was quickly promoted from Richmond to Maine, just one rung below the National Hockey League. He was Portland’s leading rookie scorer with 17 goals. According to the local paper, Mink “steadily improved and became a legitimate prospect.”

Portland Pirates team management did not respond this week to our e-mailed questions about Mink’s criminal problem back in Vermont. We wanted to know if the team has a policy on players’ off-ice conduct. We wanted to know where they stand regarding their rookie star.

The next scheduled appearance for Mink at the courthouse is set for August 2. The judge has indicated that if a deal isn’t reached by then, the parties should prepare for an October trial.

That would be a brave roll of the dice. Lose in that arena and Graham Mink faces more time in the penalty box than he ever imagined.

DeanWatch 2004 — Meanwhile, IBM’s John O’Kane has popped up on the national radar screen that is tracking our favorite presidential hopeful. And Gov. Howard Dean is being tracked more and more every day.

Last week, a national press source predicted Howard Dean’s “temper” is going to be twisted into an issue.

Howard Dean’s temper?

The Queen of England may have a temper, but as journalist and UVM grad Scott McKay once noted, “A golden retriever could be governor of Vermont.”

But these days our favorite-son golden retriever is running with the lions. It’s war out there, folks.

Remember how the Bushies spread rumors of Sen. John McCain’s temper? Well, we’re told Ho-Ho’s political enemies will do likewise. And the source for the Dean temper is none other than our buddy at IBM Essex Junction — John O’Kane.

The recent American Prospect profile on Ho-Ho contained three little sentences that got noticed by the big boys:

“Word is that Dean is quick to anger. ‘The governor has a temper,’ says John O’Kane, manager of government affairs for IBM Microelectronics Burling-ton. ‘He’s thin-skinned. We choose our words very carefully around him.’”

O’Kane said that he was mostly “effusive” in his praise of Gov. Dean during the interview with American Prospect. But he did not back off on his comments about Dean’s temper.

“I may have said that during the course of the [interview],” O’Kane told Seven Days. “I have seen him react strongly to things when he thought he was mistreated.” Dr. Dean, he said, responds “quickly and with emotion.” Our favorite presidential hopeful “has passion. That’s not a bad thing.”

No it isn’t. And come to think of it, it separates him from the field.

Snelling Stays Put — Chitten-den County’s only Republican in the State Senate has decided to stay in the Republican Party. Sen. Diane Snelling, daughter of a Republican governor and Republican lieutenant governor, announced Friday she’ll stick with the same team, despite feeling out of place at times.

Princess Di was appointed by Gov. Dean last January. She replaced her amazing mom, Sen. Barbara Snelling, who resigned for health reasons. Like her mom, Princess Di was bitterly opposed by the right-wing Republican faction led by Rev. David Stertzbach.

Mullah Stertzbach’s local Taliban, like the one in Afghanistan, gets its marching orders from their “literal” interpretation of sacred scripture. That means women are third-class citizens, gays are an abomination and, yes, God made the world in six, count ’em, six 24-hour days!

Facing another battle with the extremists, Princess Di was considering pulling a Jeezum Jim Jeffords and switching parties. News of that possibility provided a swift kick in the butt to mainstream Vermont Republicans, who feel a little guilty about their silence two years ago when Barbara was dragged over the religious coals by Rev. Sleazebag.

It worked.

“The Republican Party needs to move to the center,” said Princess Di. “It will,” she told Seven Days, “if people like myself continue to be Republicans.”

No word yet on whether or not Rev. Sleaze will put up another slate of intolerant religious zealots this year. After all, his cause célèbre — civil unions for gay couples — is no longer an issue. Love won out in the end.