Former National Guard Adjutant Gen. Marvelous Martha Rainville is suddenly looking a little shaky. Her public campaign for the Vermont GOP's congressional nomination is off to a less than "marvelous" start.
Oh, sure, she's got Gov. Jim Douglas and GOP Chairman Jim Barnett solidly in her corner, but recent events have some wondering if she's got the political skills to pull it all off.
First, her longtime deputy, who departed Camp Johnson with her to become Rainville for Congress' campaign communications director, is already gone, after less than a month on campaign duty. Bill Noyes of Barre's last official act appears to have been telling "Inside Track" two weeks ago that Marvelous Martha was giving back a certain $1000 contribution. She had gladly accepted it from a married, 64-year-old conservative Republican congressman from Pennsylvania caught in a messy lawsuit with his twentysomething, longtime Washington mistress.
What's that line -- if you lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas?
Officially, Noyes pulled the chute because of all the wonderful business opportunities he has in the private sector.
Unofficially, some say Bill's exit might actually be a plus for Ol' Martha. Mr. Noyes was known to regard probing reporters as the equivalent of enemy troops, and we all know how soldiers are trained to treat enemy troops, don't we?
But the second slip-up in Rainvilleland doesn't appear to have any upside just yet. Martha's been all over the map regarding her position on one of the key architects of the Iraq mess -- Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.
The Democrat in the U.S. House race, State Sen. Peter Welch, has been crystal-clear since December that Rumsfeld must go!
But, despite a record of glaring deceit and incompetence, Gen. Rainville has stood behind Rumsfeld both in and out of her uniform. Sort of.
Recent news accounts had her suggesting that Rumsfeld retire. But she's tried to "correct" that impression. She is not calling for Rumsfeld's ouster, as have several prominent generals who've served under him. Rainville insists she only wants the most dangerous, incompetent Pentagon boss in history to personally reflect on whether retirement might be something he'd consider.
Martha told the Associated Press last week that, "after two months in which 'all the focus and attention has been brought on to him personally, it's time for Rumsfeld to decide 'whether or not he should himself look at retiring.'"
Martha's out-of-character wishy-washiness prompted two rather sharp editorial slaps in Vermont's daily press. The Pulitzer Prize-winning Rutland Herald editorial page gave Marvelous Martha a smack on Saturday:
Martha Rainville is taking double talk to the level of an art form. It is no longer possible to dismiss Rainville's inconsistencies and shifting positions as the mistakes of a neophyte politician. Instead, it appears she intends to run her campaign for the U.S. House without concern for whether she is making sense.
And on Tuesday, the Valley News echoed the Herald's take:
The former adjutant-general of the Vermont National Guard has gotten the season off with a bang: She's pointed out herself as a candidate who's either very confused or is too timid to tell voters what she really thinks.
Let's just say that what the Valley News calls Martha's "wishy-washy double-talk" on Rumsfeld is a bit of a surprise. What happened to the thoughtful, concise, caring and competent Vermont National Guard general so many Vermonters have come to know and admire since 1997?
Let's face it -- Mrs. Rainville is a rookie in politics. And the political arena, with its multitude of issues, presents a radically different playing field from a world where every day, everywhere you go, everyone salutes you and calls you "General."
Rookie No. 2 -- It sounds a little funny to call a 63-year-old guy who has a pair of million-dollar Florida mansions, a Bentley and three decades of successful corporate experience a "rookie," but that's what Richie Tarrant is -- a political rookie. And it shows.
His personal wealth is what's paying for the barrage of nonstop TV commercials that have been hitting TV-watching Vermonters since January. If Richard Tarrant were a soap, every Vermont home would have a bar in the bathroom by now.
With the carefully packaged, nine-part Tarrant life-story series completed, Richie has gone into attack mode, and his target is the frontrunner -- Bernie Sanders.
Funny, you'd think a person who wants to be a U.S. senator would hold press conferences to discuss the top national issues and get on the news. But as we've learned, taking questions from the press is not something Mr. Tarrant either enjoys or knows how to handle. More on that later.
Meanwhile, a few readers who have experienced Tarrant's media bombardment have inquired, "Does he really have a chance of beating Bernie?"
Well, if the WCAX-TV poll released this week is even close, Richie's big three-month media buy isn't making a dent.
Marselis Parsons told viewers this week that his station's poll found Sanders would get 61 percent of the vote, Tarrant just 24 percent. Wow!
Looks like Richie Rich is even having a difficult time convincing Vermont Republicans he's qualified to represent the state in the U.S. Senate.
On Monday, we contacted Tarrant campaign manager Tim Lennon requesting a phone interview with the candidate anytime Tuesday morning. Had a couple questions and we wanted Tarrant's take. Got an email back, but Lennon incorrectly guessed that our questions were about health care.
Mr. Lennon sent along a quote from the 1993 Congressional Record in which Ol' Bernardo speaks up in support of H.R. 1200 and described it as "a single-payer national heath-care system which, finally, will guarantee comprehensive health care to every man, woman and child in this country without out-of-pocket expenses."
The big claim in the latest Tarrant TV attack ad is that Sanders "wants the federal government to run your health care."
Sanders says it's a lie, one of three "lies" in the spot. Would you believe that Tarrant's campaign manager left out the official title of the bill and what it actually proposed to do? H.R. 1200: Establishment of a State-Based American Health Security Program; Universal Entitlement."
The bill would have "established in the United States a State-Based American Health Security Program to be administered by the individual States in accordance with Federal standards."
Point to Sanders.
But health care wasn't what we wanted to ask Mr. Tarrant about. You see, Richie has made a big deal at his free spaghetti dinner stops and on his website about how he refuses to take contributions from so-called "527" political action committees, which can raise unlimited amounts of so-called "soft money."
The question "Inside Track" wanted to ask Candidate Tarrant was: "Isn't it hypocritical to call for a ban on 527 money from Vermont, when just a few months ago, on December 20, 2005, you wrote a $5000 check out to the Republican Governors Association, one of the 527s you say you want to ban?"
We tried again, emailing Lennon to have his boss call us.
Sorry," the reply came back. "He is tied up for 'Teacher Appreciation Day,' teaching and touring schools."
Yes, indeed. According to Tarrant's "media advisory," Richie was visiting JFK Elementary in Winooski from 11 a.m. - noon, and Bishop John Marshall School in Morrisville at 1:30 p.m. That's it for Tarrant's Tuesday schedule. Busy, busy guy.
Since the candidate is too "tied up" to take our questions, we'll have to fill the space with the poignant and rather personal remarks he directed our way when we last met face-to-face -- remarks we didn't have room for in our last column before taking the vacation week. You remember?
Richie was telling Burlington Rotarians that Al Franken should "not be coming to this state" because Big Al's a purveyor of "partisan hatred." Tarrant said he really, really "hates" partisan hatred!
During a post-speech Wyndham Hotel interview, Mr. Tarrant got a little testy when he was unable to squirm out of a tight corner. The Senate candidate couldn't provide a single example of Franken espousing "partisan hatred." Two weeks have passed and we still haven't received one from his campaign.
About 10 minutes after that little Q&A, the interviewer and the interviewee "collided" again as we walked up the steps together from the hotel lobby, heading for the parking garage out back.
Seeking to lighten the mood, yours truly brought up something we have in common, roots we share -- our ethnic heritage. It turned out to be a mistake.
"You know, Richie," said yours truly, "Our fathers were contemporaries back in Ireland."
Heck, Tarrant even used old footage of his father, a native of County Cork, in one of his commercials.
For some reason, the Senate hopeful wasn't buying the suggestion that we had anything whatsoever in common, not even our Irishness.
"I don't think so!" he said to the suggestion.
"No, really," we replied. "Your dad came over in 1930. My dad came over in 1928."
Apparently he was in Florida a few years back and didn't catch the Seven Days feature about Papa Frank Freyne's service with the IRA in Dublin in 1920-21, and about his little brother Peter Freyne, killed in action by the Black and Tans on April 11, 1921.
"I don't believe you," said Tarrant bluntly.
You can insult me all you want, Richie, but the Freynes have been in Co. Kilkenny since they landed with Strongbow as knights back in 1171.
"I'll bet you a million dollars they were in Ireland together" we told Tarrant. Irish Sweepstakes time had arrived.
As we quickly learned, the reference to "a million dollars" struck a chord with Vermont's richest millionaire. We were outside now on the garage ramp and Candidate Tarrant came close to get in the last word, his cheeks flushed, County Cork blood bursting inside them.
"You don't have a million dollars," the Republican Senate candidate snapped -- the scowl opposing forwards must have seen on the Saint Michael's basketball court 40 years ago. "You're a loser!" Tarrant snarled at us as a campaign aide nudged him towards his parked car.
Obviously, some folks have a pretty unique view on the meaning of winning and losing.
As for a political insight into the Tarrant psyche, we're reminded of the old Brendan Behan line: "If it was raining soup, the Irish would go out with forks."
Scudder Who? -- The Democratic candidate for governor came out of the media shadows Monday, and he came out swinging. Scudder Parker's topic was health-care reform, or rather the lack thereof, and his target was Gov. Jim Douglas.
It's not a pretty picture under the golden dome, folks. The Dems have dumbed down their reform proposal again and again to avoid Gov. Scissorhands' veto pen for the second straight year. They've adopted a subservient position from the get-go and have genuflected way too much to the gubernatorial throne.
Scudder ain't gonna genuflect.
"Jim Douglas' actions over the last two years will condemn Vermonters to even higher costs for years to come. It is a profound failure of leadership on his part," said Scudder. "Jim Douglas' political games with Vermonters' health care are shameful."
Mr. Parker, a former minister, state senator and energy expert, also skillfully handled a TV reporter's questions seeking his position on the current bill on the table.
Parker replied clearly and forcefully that, were he governor, no such dumbed-down reform bill would be on any table.
Scudder currently suffers from a serious lack of name recognition. He needs a nickname or something. The WCAX poll this week has Gov. Scissorhands comfortably ahead 52-18.
But the poll's good news for Parker is that a whole lot of people simply don't buy Jim Douglas' schtick. His unfavorable rating is more than 40 percent!
Parker also picked up the endorsement of the well-respected former Corrections Commissioner and Human Services Secretary Con Hogan. Hogan ran as an Independent for the open governor's seat in 2002. He got almost 10 percent. Douglas beat Democrat Doug Racine by 2.5 percent. Sources say Racine did not speak to Hogan for several years following.
Ho-Ho to the Rescue! -- It's been four years since Howard Dean ruled the roost in Montpeculiar as governor, but his clout lives on!
That was demonstrated last week when H. 227 suddenly came off the wall in Sen. Jim Leddy's Senate Health and Welfare Committee. The bill, backed strongly by the nurses' union, would set "safe staffing" levels in Vermont hospitals in order to guarantee "quality patient care."
H. 227 had zipped through the House but was rotting on Leddy's wall. Rotting, that is, until Howard Dean got involved.
"Inside Track" has learned that union officials put in a call last week to the current chairman of the Democratic National Committee. You might remember that, back in the fledgling days of Dean's presidential quest, the Vermont Federation of Nurses provided Ho-Ho with some valuable union credentials. Dean owed the Vermont nurses' union.
Sen. Peter Welch confirmed that he got a surprise call from Howard Dean last week. Dean's purpose, said Welch, was clear -- get H. 227 off Leddy's wall.
The turn-around time was miraculous. The nurses' bill is now on Gov. Jim Douglas' desk awaiting his signature. And it only got there because Gov. Howard Dean, chairman of the DNC, remembers his friends.