The battle over the governors daily schedule finally reached a courtroom this week as lawyers for Seven Days, the Rutland Herald/Times Argus and Gov. Howard Dean made their cases before Washington County Superior Judge Alan Cheever. The judge said hell issue a written decision in a few days.
This is a battle that goes back to 1997. Thats when we first got the scent of Ho-Hos White House ambitions. We started inquiring regularly about what the Guv actually did and where he traveled. Its caused strained relations with a couple gubernatorial press secretaries. Nonetheless, playing Find the Governor has been one of our favorite pastimes. And Vermonts governor has piled up the travel miles like an astronaut.
You see, we believe the governor of Vermont is not a king, but rather an elected state employee. He works for you and me and gets a nice paycheck for doing so.
The press, we believe, has a responsibility to play government watchdog. And finding out just where the biggest dog in the pound is and what hes up to has been the challenge.
Clearly, the people of Vermont want an open government. To that effect, the legislature has passed and the governor has signed a pretty citizen-friendly public-records law that allows access to government documents. The governors daily schedule, we argue, is one of those documents.
Representing the Guv in court was Assistant Attorney General Bill Griffin, the veteran go-to guy in the AGs office. Mr. Griffin argued on executive privilege and security grounds that the schedule should not be released. He told Judge Cheever the daily schedule, distributed to about 25 staffers, is really a planning tool, and that its release would provide a window into the governors head.
Good grief, Bill, easy on the brain surgery metaphors.
Attorney Bob Hemley, representing the newspapers involved, put it plainly.
Open government is the rule, said Mr. Hemley. A democracy cant function unless people are permitted to know what government is up to.
Everyone agrees personal items on the schedule, such as doctor appointments and kids hockey games, may be blacked out. Its his gubernatorial acts that we argue are public record.
If Judge Cheever rules in Deans favor, he might as well hand the Guv a crown and scepter, too, in order to mark his new status as King of Vermont.
If the judge rules in favor of the newspapers, well, hell of a brilliant jurist, that Alan Cheever, eh?
DeanWatch2004 Ho-Hos vacationing this week south of the border in Costa Rica. Its not on the schedule, but we have good sources. And before he departed, Dr. Dean continued to establish his credentials as the leading Democratic critic of his fellow Yale alumnus, President George W. Bush. The subject at hand was the current bloodbath in Israel and Palestine and Dubyas inability to get Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to heed his call to withdraw the army from the occupied territories.
The problem, said Dean, is that for a year after the president took the oath of office, he abandoned foreign policy, essentially, and was an isolationist and this is the price of that.
The uprising in the Middle East, Dean conceded, is not President Bushs fault, but the fact Colin Powell, the Secretary of State of the United States, had to go to the Middle East to speak with a terrorist, Yasser Arafat, is the presidents fault.
Dean suggested that had Bush been more engaged in the Middle East peace process, We might have been able to cultivate other contacts among the Palestinians who were really interested in peace.
Because of the lack of a policy, said Ho-Ho, the U.S. has allowed Arafat once again to be a martyr to his own people and the point person in the Middle East.
Colin Powell, whom Dean praised, will have to go back many times.
Dean was solid in his defense of Israel and Sharon, a man many consider also to deserve the terrorist label.
Until the Arabs are willing to agree that there will be no more suicide bombing, said Dean, I dont see how we can force the Israelis to pull back.
Quote of the Week Clearly, Rep. Duncan Kilmartin (R-Newport) is the John Ashcroft of the House Republican caucus. Kilmartin, like Ashcroft, got a law degree at the prestigious University of Chicago. And, like Ashcroft, Kilmartin carries the torch of Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson. Hey, it works for him. Kilmartin was swept into office by the backlash against civil unions.
Last week, Duncan popped up at a public hearing on home schooling held by the House Education Committee. Kilmartin, an accomplished trial lawyer, knows the importance of dramatic effect. He waited until everyone else was finished addressing the committee, then stepped up to the plate.
It takes a state to raise a child, declared Kilmartin, dripping with sarcasm. Who said it? he asked.
Mussolini said it. Stalin said it. Ceausescu said it. And two weeks ago in my mailbox, said Kilmartin, the largest self-proclaimed advocacy group in Vermont, the Childrens Forum, said it. Its an idea that belongs on the ash heap of history.
Duncan the Dictator next took a swipe at Democratic U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton. Her book, It Takes a Village, also belongs on the ash heap of history.
No friend of public education is Mr. Kilmartin. But the Vermont Childrens Forum should hardly be mentioned in the same breath with three of historys greatest mass murderers. If an election were held today, Kilmartin would easily win the Legislatures Biggest Hot Air Balloon Award.
He misinterpreted our statement, said Carlen Finn, executive director of the Childrens Forum. The statement, It takes a state to raise a child, she said, reflects the importance of the whole community supporting kids, not just one individual family. Were all in this together.
Finn said she had heard of Kilmartins hyperbolic statement at the hearing but had decided not to respond. Our call changed that.
We are very offended by his comparison, said Ms. Finn. Nothing he says should be taken seriously.
Shes got a point.
Plate Freedom? While the Vermont Supreme Court is pondering the constitutionality of a Department of Motor Vehicles rule restricting free speech on license plates, the U.S. Supreme Court has tipped its hand on the matter.
The Vermont Supremes are chewing on the case of Carol Ann Martins IRISH-1 vanity-plate request. DMV told her to get lost, because a new rule bans vanity plates that refer to ethnic origin. IRISH, says DMV, is ethnic and therefore verboten. Of course, to an Irish person, its a way of life. And what about all the folks who live on Irish Hill Road?
Last week the U.S. Supremes had a chance to weigh in on a similar Missouri license-plate case. The Show Me state had refused a request from a Mary Lewis for an Aryan-1 vanity plate. It was considered inflammatory because it refers to Adolph Hitlers master race. Missouri law bans license plates that are obscene, profane, inflammatory or contrary to public policy. Ms. Lewis went to court.
A federal appeals court found the contrary to public policy part too vague.
The state of Missouri appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, but the court refused to hear the case and let it stand as is. Mary Lewis gets her license plate. Maybe Carol Ann Martin will, too?
Vermont is one of 25 states that ban offensive vanity plates. Hey, SHTHPNS, right?
War on Drugs Congratulations to University of Vermont officials who stymied the annual 4/20 pot-smoking party thats become a UVM rite of spring in recent years. Saturdays organized Spring Fest on the green in front of Bailey-Howe library proved that 50 cops, security checkpoints and searches of personal belongings can stop kids from being kids, at least for one afternoon. Instead, they all had to toke up in their dorm rooms.
Two days earlier, Billy Greer and Stephen Hutchins were brought back to federal court to face new marijuana smuggling charges. It appears the local federal prosecutor, David Kirby, is determined to see Vermonts famous fiftysomething non-violent pot smugglers die of old age behind bars.
Meanwhile, the new Republi-can Mayor of New York City, Michael Bloomberg, when asked if hed ever smoked pot, replied, You bet I have. And I enjoyed it, too.
Last week, the District Attorney of San Francisco addressed the convention of the National Organiz-ation for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). Terence Hallinan told the attendees that marijuana is not only good medicine but unquestionably part of religious experience.
To consider marijuana in the same category as heroin and crack cocaine, as federal statues do, said the chief law enforcement officer in San Francisco, makes no sense and does not reflect reality.
Ah, yes, reality. What a concept!
By the way, Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura addressed the NORML convention via video and gave his enthusiastic support to the medical marijuana cause.
What are we waiting for? asked Gov. Ventura. How much should people suffer because others wont use common sense?
Meanwhile, our favorite presidential hopeful, Howard Dean, is hanging tough as Vermonts leading opponent of medical marijuana legislation. For him, common sense means not being labeled soft on drugs.
Strange world, eh?
The Gasoline Senator? Vermonts Republican National Committeeman, Skip Vallee, has been throwing the haymakers at Vermonts senior senator, Patrick Leahy.
St. Patrick has increasingly appeared in the crosshairs of the Bush White House since, as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, hes refused to roll over for Dubyas right-wing, anti-choice judicial nominees.
Recently Mr. Vallee popped up in the absurd New York Post assault on St. Patrick for allegedly blocking medals for the dead heroes of 9/11. The story was eventually discredited, but there was Vermonts greenest Vallee in the New York tabloid declaring, Theres outrage in Vermont over [Leahys] handling of this.
Skip, what have you been smoking?
Actually, its become increasingly clear that Gasoline Vallee, a major Bush campaign fundraiser, is filling the role of Republican hockey goon in the Green Mountains. How can we forget that May 2001 morning when Skip played the Energizer Bunny to the national press corps that descended on Burlington? They came to catch Sen. Jim Jeffords historic announcement that he was leaving the Republican Party and tipping the balance of power in the U.S. Senate.
There was Mr. Vallee telling anyone whod listen that Jeezum Jim was a traitor, just like Benedict Arnold.
In an e-mail to the Dwinell Political Report last month, Mr. Vallee described Congressman Bernie Sanders as a blowhard socialist. And he charged Sen. Leahy spends more time defending the rights of Al Qaeda terrorists than approving the judges to try them.
Recently Gasoline Vallee spoke out against the trash talk of Rev. David Stertzbach. Sounds like hes pretty good at it himself.
Leahys chief of staff Luke Albee told Seven Days hes sure the RNC is delighted to have found a loud, loyal mouthpiece to spread their venom in Vermont. Its an added benefit to them he happens to be an oil millionaire.
As everyone knows, Gasoline Vallee, owner of the Maplefields chain of gas stations and convenience stores, set the all-time spending record in 2000 in his unsuccessful bid for a Chittenden County State Senate seat. Sen. Leahys up for reelection in 2004. We asked St. Luke if hes got the feeling Ol Skip is pointing in that direction?
After Jack McMullen and Fred Tuttle, said Albee, referring to the two Republican challengers in the 1998 U.S. Senate race, weve stopped making predictions.
Unfortunately, we were unable to reach Gasoline Vallee Tuesday for comment. Maybe we should have tried the Lincoln Bedroom?
Media Notes WKDR news director Tim Dodd is hanging up the microphone this week. The morning news guy on 1390 AM and Plattsburgh resident sure wont miss the early-morning commute to Winooskis Champlain Mill. Mr. Dodd tells Seven Days hes buying an established Plattsburgh business Dumb Guys Party Supplies.
Word is, veteran Vermont broadcaster Joel Najman will slide into Tims seat next week. Excellent choice.