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Scooter Down, Scudder Up

Inside Track

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First, let's pause to acknowledge Friday's five-count indictment of the chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney. If you're not having Watergate flashbacks, you weren't alive in 1972.

Scooter Libby got caught lying to a federal grand jury investigating the outing of a covert CIA agent because her husband was a critic of the now-discredited Bush argument for war in Iraq. Scooter's indictment comes on the heels of the indictment of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay for breaking campaign-finance laws.

The wheels are finally coming off the most dishonest and deceitful White House since the days of Richard Nixon. In Vermont, where George W. Bush enjoys his lowest favorability rating in the nation -- 29 percent -- we've noticed spirits lifting. There's a palpable hope that the darkest days of the Bush reign are behind us.

Meanwhile, while Scooter was preparing his defense for the trial ahead, here in Vermont Scudder Parker was launching his offense to put a Democrat back in the governor's chair.

Now, we all know nobody expects Scooter, er, Scudder, the former Northeast Kingdom farm boy, Protestant minister, state senator and environmental activist, to have more than a snowball's chance in hell of dislodging Republican incumbent Jim Douglas next November. But, two things -- the large, spirited turnout at Parker's campaign kickoff, and Gov. Scissorhands' unscheduled phone call to a WVMT Monday morning radio show -- give longshot bettors a reason to believe.

More than 400 people showed up at the West Monitor Barn in Richmond, Saturday to cheer Scudder on. It was one of the largest and best-organized campaign kickoffs yours truly has attended in two decades.

The most insightful remarks were delivered by Scudder's daughter, Emily Higgins, as she shared childhood remembrances.

"You can't walk anywhere with him without running into 15 people that he knows," said Emily. "He really likes people, what they think and what their experience is.

"Several years ago, when he came to visit in Seattle, he was on a first-name basis with everyone from the bus driver to the neighbors we hadn't met, within two days."

The audience responded with knowing laughter. Yep, that's Scudder.

Higgins has since moved back home to Vermont. She said she missed the woods. And she recalled the "countless hours" spent in those woods with her dad. Rather than just walks, said Emily, they were "lessons."

"He would quiz me about types of trees, and push me to look at the texture of the bark and the shape of the leaves to figure it out. When I did a leaf-collection project in sixth grade, it became his mission. And I ended up with 120 different types of leaves."

The crowd roared. Scudder has always been an explorer.

Emily did not make the Sunday papers, but former Democratic Gov. Madeleine Kunin did. Queen Madeleine tweaked the audience with an impromptu crack: With the crowd being so large, she was surprised Jim Douglas wasn't there!

The line from Parker's 40-minute speech that drew media attention poked fun at Douglas' image -- he's just so polite and likable, right?

With a smile on his face, Scooter, er, Scudder compared Douglas to "Jell-O salad with marshmallows in it, and sometimes mandarin oranges and sometimes the gift of Cool Whip." However, noted Parker, "you can't spend four years eating Jell-O salad."

Pretty tame stuff, right?

Then why did it get under the skin of the incumbent, whom most people consider invincible in 2006?

At 7:40 Monday morning, on WVMT's "Charlie and Ernie Show," the question in the weekly UVM hockey trivia contest was: "Who scored the winning UVM goal against Niagara?"

It was open phones, and the first caller had the correct answer: Chris Myers.

Asked his name by Charlie the DJ, the caller replied "Jim."

Asked for an address to send the winning prize, Jim replied, "The Statehouse."

Our governor's cover was blown.

Now, Gov. Scissorhands appears frequently on the "Charlie & Ernie Show." He's signed legislation, issued proclamations, and even cut ribbons on the WVMT airwaves. But, DJ Charlie Papillo told "Inside Track," Gov. Jim Douglas was not on the schedule that morning. Got to love "live" radio, eh?

Charlie quickly brought up Parker's and Kunin's remarks. Douglas said he was proud of the fact that he attends so many events around the state.

"People generally seem happy to see me," said the Guv. In fact, he was currently en route to open the "Obesity Summit" at the Sheraton. Even fat people like him!

And two years ago, Douglas boasted, he'd attended the ceremony marking the laying of the cornerstone at the very rehabilitated West Monitor barn that Scudder chose for his campaign kickoff.

Touche!

But would someone please tell me why incumbent, two-term Gov. Jim Douglas, who easily won the 2004 election with a 22-point landslide, is paying any attention whatsoever to Scudder Parker this early?

Maybe he knows something we don't.

Beefing Up -- Both the Vermont Republican Party and Democratic Party are adding some muscle these days. Over at GOP headquarters, Mad Dog Jim Barnett, executive director and recently reelected party chair, has added a second staffer.

Democrats, we're told, are currently recruiting a communications director, no doubt to match Mad Dog's sharp teeth.

And Burlington attorney Ian Carleton (Yale Law '99), is poised to take the reins as the new chairman of the Democratic Party in Vermont.

Chairman-to-be Carleton is well aware of Mr. Barnett's effectiveness. After all, Mad Dog has become a force to be reckoned with on the Vermont political stage. He's a Lee Atwater and Karl Rove disciple and, at 29, the youngest GOP state chair in the nation.

"I don't think one has to emulate the tactics of Jim Barnett to counter them," said Carleton.

We'll see, won't we?

Congress, Anyone? -- Democrat Zephyr Teachout, former staffer on Howard Dean's presidential quest, is poised to announce her decision about entering the Democratic congressional primary.

Our sources say Zephyr's decision is one that will please State Sen. Peter Welch, the only announced Democratic candidate, and the party leadership's choice to replace Bernie Sanders in the House.

Things don't look as upbeat opponent-wise for Ol' Welchie on another front, however. Progressive State Rep. David Zuckerman continues to make noises about entering the congressional fray. As most observers realize, that will not be good for Welch, though it would be a gift from the gods for our favorite general, Republican Martha Rainville.

Generalissima Martha has her "exploratory" committee up and running, and a campaign staffer on duty. Going head-to-head with Welch would be a difficult mission. Like Bush in Iraq, she wouldn't have enough ground support. Toss the Pony Tail Prog into the mix and the whole dynamic changes. Martha goes from long shot to contender overnight.

Last week, Welch held a press conference on heating-assistance funding. Zuckerman, meanwhile, was the only candidate who, to our knowledge, issued a statement drawing attention to the U.S. death toll of 2000 in the Bush Folly known as the Iraq war. David wants our troops home "as soon as possible."

And, yes, David the Prog did confirm last week's report that he attended a recent Democratic Party fundraiser in Burlington without paying. Rep. Barney Frank was the headliner. Sanders spoke, too.

Zuckerman informed us he sometimes donates to individual Democratic candidates, but does not donate to the party itself. He attended, he said, to show his support for the gay-lesbian-bisexual community, noting he was one of the few members of the House to support full marriage rights for gays during the civil-union battle of 2000.

And "Inside Track" has learned that Pony Tail is moving closer to getting into the race. Zuckerman says he "hopes to file the necessary papers to establish an exploratory committee" by week's end. Not music to the ears of Welch Campaign Manager Carolyn Dwyer.

"Peter Welch is focused on one thing and one thing only," Ms. Dwyer replied to our inquiry, and that is "turning around the corrupt and incompetent Republican leadership in Washington. Peter has no control over what other potential candidates do, but he does have control to do everything he can to ensure Tom DeLay does not get another vote in Congress from Vermont."

Meanwhile, Candidate Welch is in full gear on the fundraising front. He has scheduled a November 15 fundraiser in Foggy Bottom -- suggested donations are $250 to $1000. The sponsors are U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, DCCC Chair Rahm Emanuel and, last but not least, Independent Rep. Bernie Sanders!

Ol' Bernardo has been making quite a few campaign appearances with Democrats lately, and we anticipate many more to come. Sanders spoke at the Burlington Democratic Party fundraiser last Friday. The Independent with the best tonsils in New England is, as they say, "in bed" with the Democratic Party at last! No ifs, ands or buts. Bernie has dubbed Democrat Peter Welch as his chosen successor.

It's the obvious "deal" he and the Democratic Party had to make, and the reward is a precious seat in the U.S. Senate that will be the launching pad for a firestorm of Sanderista-flavored opposition to the tyranny of George W. Bush.

But for some of those with long memories, who remember Bernie Sanders' high-decibel, redundant denunciations of the entire Democratic Party in the 1970s, '80s and into the '90s, his current embrace of the Democrats appears to be a sellout.

To others, it merely reflects a practical reality: The politics of the "now," where winning isn't everything -- it's the only thing. And in that "now," the time has finally come for Ol' Bernardo to shake hands with the devil.

Surely, as part of the "deal," Bernie has to deliver something to the Democrats in return. Surely, payback requires he use his influence to convince Dave the Prog that a congressional bid would only open the door for a Republican Party general to march through.

No doubt those conversations are underway behind the scenes.

We'd note that, according to the FEC records, Jeffrey Weaver, Sanders' chief-of-staff on Capitol Hill, has already made a $250 contribution to the Welch for Congress Campaign. We interviewed the Welch contributor this week.

Weaver denied there's been any sort of "backroom deal." The situation arose, he noted, when Jim Jeffords announced he would retire and Sanders quickly declared for Jeezum Jim's seat. Top Senate Democrats like Sens. Harry Reid, Pat Leahy, Charles Schumer and Hillary Clinton quickly came out for Bernie.

Why?

"The Democrats understand Bernie is the strongest candidate," said Weaver, "and they're supporting him. I'm supporting the strongest candidate who will keep Bernie's seat out of Republican hands."

This week's nomination of ultraconservative Judge Samuel Alito to the U.S. Supreme Court, said Weaver, "should be a wake-up call to anyone who thinks it's not important who holds these seats down here."

Tarrant Update -- Republican U.S. Senate hopeful Rich Tarrant opened his Colchester campaign headquarters the other day. Apparently, the only press that showed was from the student paper at Richie's alma mater -- St. Michael's College. Check out the multimedia Echo article here: http://journalism.smcvt.edu/echo/10.26.05/index.htm.

We asked Tarrant campaign manager Tim Lennon if the candidate had any comment on the indictment of Scooter Libby and the Supreme Court nomination fiasco, but did not get a response.

Probably still getting the headquarters set up, eh?

Eye-Doc Trial -- The criminal trial of longtime local opthamologist David Chase, which started September 19, trudges on into November. Dr. Chase is charged with 32 counts of health-care fraud and 39 counts of making false statements.

The government says Dr. Voodoo Eyes performed unnecessary cataract surgeries on patients at his full-service St. Paul Street eye clinic.

Since the usual opening-day coverage, the local mainstream media has stayed away. Last week several readers called yours truly to inquire about the trial's progress. So we checked it out.

On Monday morning, the 15 jurors (four of whom wore glasses) listened attentively as Dr. Thomas Cavin, a local opthamologist, testified as a prosecution witness -- the 55th prosecution witness so far. Assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Kelly told "Inside Track" he hopes to wrap up with witness No. 60 by the end of this week. When Kelly's done, the defense gets its turn.

Yours truly left Judge William Sessions' courtroom with the gut feeling this one is not the slam-dunk everyone expected. Cross-examination by defense attorney Eric Miller painted a picture of different eye docs using different tests, standards, measurements and procedures in determining when and if cataract surgery is appropriate.

If Miller and co-counsel Jeff Behm can create a "reasonable doubt" and convince the jury that cataract surgery is a judgment call made on the field of play, they just might get Dr. Voodoo Eyes off.

In fact, it appears that the picture of respected doctors using different criteria has already been hammered home. After dismissing the jury for lunch, Judge Billy complained to the lawyers that they were "losing the attention of the jurors." Several eye doctors have already taken the witness stand, he noted, "and everyone's asking the same questions. Try to move the process along!"

Correction -- In last week's item about the debut of the third generation of Martins at "Vermont's Own," WCAX-TV, we incorrectly referred to current general manager Peter Martin as recent arrival Alex Martin's "Poppy."

Actually Peter, the current GM, is Alex's uncle. His dad, Peter's brother, went the IBM-Essex Junction route.

Sorry.

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