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Shumlin vs. Clavelle Showdown?

Inside Track


Published September 10, 2003 at 4:00 p.m.

If you think the current Democratic presidential primary is fun, wait until next year's Democratic gubernatorial primary in the Green Mountains!

Both Peter Clavelle of Burlington and Peter Shumlin of Putney told Seven Days this week that replacing rookie Republican Gov. Jim Douglas is at the top of their personal political to-do lists.

"I'm definitely leaning toward running for governor," said Shumlin, the former president pro tem of the Vermont State Senate. "Gov. Douglas is a lackluster governor and I think I can beat him," he said enthusiastically.

Dittos for the other Peter.

Burlington Mayor Peter Clavelle told Seven Days he is "quickly moving from the point of thinking about running for governor to planning to run for governor."

Putney Pete, born with a nose for politics, bravely carried his party's banner in last year's hopeless Gov-Lite race. Sen. Shumlin had been poised to run for the top spot, but party leaders persuaded him to yield to Lt. Gov. Doug Racine, who had waited a long time for his shot at governor. They also persuaded Shummy that a divisive Democratic Primary would hurt the winner's chances in November.

Given Racine's own lackluster losing effort, hindsight suggests that a Demo-cratic Primary for governor might have been just what the Democrats needed.

Unfortunately for Shumlin, the race was a three-way affair in which Shummy finished second to Republican Brian Dubie, and ahead of Progressive Party candidate Anthony Pollina. Doobie-Doo squeaked to victory lane with just 41 percent of the vote, as Shumlin (32 percent) and Tony the Prog (25 percent) divided the left.

Shumlin told Seven Days this week that he's paid his dues and that many Demo-crats respect the way he "fell on his sword" for the supposed good of the party last time. Now, he reasons, it's payback time.

Clavelle is a longtime Progressive Party leader who succeeded Bernie Sanders as mayor way back in 1989. Last winter, Mayor Moonie sought and narrowly won the city Democratic Party's mayoral endorsement, too. He ran in March under the banner of both parties.

Clavelle told Seven Days he intends to run for governor on the Democrat ticket, not the Progressive one. State law, he noted, prevents candidates from running in more than one primary.

"I suspect I will be in the governor's race," said Clavelle in a Monday interview in his second-floor corner office at City Hall. "And I hope Peter Shumlin sorts through his opportunities," he added. Mayor Moonie suggested that Putney Pete "stop long enough to think about who in fact is most electable."

Not surprisingly, Clavelle thinks he's the most electable candidate for governor because he can unite Democrats and their left-wing cousins in the Progressive Party.

"I feel strongly," said Clavelle, "that the next governor will have the support of both Democrats and Progressives, or else it will be Jim Douglas. I think that I am best situated to garner that support. I also believe that, at least in the statewide arena, I'll be a fresh face."

And a fresh hairline, too!

It's no secret that many devout Progs detest Shumlin. They find him to be too much of a centrist in the Howard Dean tradition.

Likewise, many Democrats are uncomfortable about rallying behind a longtime Progressive whose party's been beating up Democrats for years. One Democratic insider suggested Clavelle, nice guy that he is, might be better off setting his sights on winning the lieutenant governor's race in what will be his first bid for statewide office. Fat chance.

"I have no interest in running for lieutenant governor," said Mayor Moonie. End of story.

"I also know," added Clavelle, "that there are Shumlin loyalists out there. I'm hopeful that we can avoid the primary."

Not surprised that you'd see it that way, Mayor, but don't plan on it just yet.

Shumlin told Seven Days that primaries "can be a good way for parties to select the best candidate." After one lap around the statewide track, it's clear Shumlin is eager for another run. And, let's face it, the dude is a fantastic campaigner. He makes an Energizer Bunny look sluggish.

Clavelle, meanwhile, is determined to learn from the lessons of the 2002 Gov-Lite race that split the Vermont left.

"I think it's best for those of us who don't share the Republican philosophy to figure this out ahead of time and to unite behind a single candidate and to avoid a primary," said Clavelle.

If Shumlin steps forward and says he's running, said Clavelle, "no one should think for a moment that means I'll back down."

There's no reason to think a primary showdown between this pair of Peters would be run on the low road. The two got together to talk about things in July. At that meeting, said Shummy, they agreed to continue talking once he returned from summer vacation.

Well, Shumlin was back at work in Putney Monday morning. A pow-wow with Clavelle could come as early as the end of this week.

P.S. As for other potential Democratic candidates for governor, Doug Racine says he's considering it. But State Sen. Peter Welch, who succeeded Shumlin as president pro tem, tells us he is not interested.

Neither is Attorney General Bill Sorrell. Gen. Billy told yours truly he'll run for reelection in 2004. Shouldn't have to break a sweat.

But Sorrell said what he's really looking forward to is becoming president of the National Association of Attorneys General next June. That means, said Sorrell, he'll be introducing "President Howard Dean" at the association's 2005 winter meeting in Washington.


Douglas' Toughest Foe -- Forget the conventional wisdom that says Vermonters don't throw incumbent governors out of office. True, it hasn't happened since 1962 when Democrat Phil Hoff squeaked past one-termer F. Ray Keyser Jr., but one-term governor Jim Douglas cannot take reelection for granted. That's because there will be a very controversial Republican name topping the ballot in 2004 who wasn't there in 2002 -- George W. Bush.

In 2000, Al Gore easily beat Bush in Vermont 51 percent to 41 percent. And that was before we really got to know what Dubya truly stood for.

Now we know the price of having George W. Bush in the White House: huge job losses, a reckless foreign policy, a crackdown on civil liberties and a determined effort to gut environmental laws.

In fact, even a neutral observer would suggest Dubya is hell-bent on transforming the Environmental Protection Agency into the Environmental Destruction Agency.

Vermont has long prided itself on environmental awareness. In past battles, Vermonters have led the fight on acid rain, global warming and clean air and water. In fact, in his live appearance last week on CNN, Gov. Douglas touted Vermont's "environmental ethic."

But first as a candidate and then as governor, Jimmy D's environmental agenda has been one dedicated to demonizing environmental groups like the Conser-vation Law Foundation, the Vermont Natural Resources Council, VPIRG and Friends of the Earth.

Simultaneously, Mr. Douglas has done his level best to weaken environmental laws on storm-water pollution and Act 250 review, all in the name of boosting business development and achieving "permit reform."

For Gov. Douglas to win in 2004, he will have to significantly distance himself from President Bush.

Recently, Mr. Bush caused a furor by letting aging Midwestern power plants off the hook. No longer will they have to install pollution controls on their smokestacks when they increase production. As you know, what comes out of those smokestacks ends up on top of Camel's Hump and inside Vermonters' lungs.

Asked last week why we hadn't heard anything from the governor on this issue, Douglas quickly sang the praises of Vermont's environmental leadership and declared his opposition to Bush's policy. The rule change, he said, "is not helpful to Vermont."

Gov. Jim has to walk a very fine line here. He owes his election to the national Republican Party and the $600,000 it pumped into his campaign. The GOP even sent Vice President Dick Cheney up here to give Douglas a boost. And Jimmy D was the Vermont state chairman of Bush-Cheney 2000.

Given the fact that Bush-Cheney 2004 will have a tough time breaking the 40 percent barrier in Vermont, Douglas will surely be doomed if he embraces the current regime.

Asked if he'd agree the Bush administration has a "lousy record on the environment," Douglas rallied to the president's defense.

"There are some other areas," replied Gov. Douglas, "where the administration is moving forward constructively. The Clear Skies Initiative doesn't go as far as I would like, but it establishes new standards for carbon dioxide emissions that move in the right direction."


In fact, the Bush administration recently made a big deal out of excluding carbon dioxide from the list of pollutants that will be regulated by its proposed Clear Skies legislation, called "Clear Lies" by opponents. (The other three pollutants are mercury, nitrous oxide and sulphur dioxide.)

You see, Dubya & Co. deny the very existence of "global warming." They consider it something homosexual socialist tree-huggers have invented as a way to reduce corporate profit margins. Therefore, they cannot acknowledge the need to regulate emissions of a greenhouse gas because it contributes mightily to a global warming crisis that doesn't exist.

Give an inch and them tree-huggers will take a mile. What's next -- fuel-efficient cars?

Unfortunately for Jimmy D, most Vermonters believe global warming is for real. And they see George W. Bush as the #1 enemy of Vermont's clear skies, clean streams and fresh air. You know what that means?

Don't expect a campaign visit by Dick Cheney in 2004. All it would do is fire up all those Vermonters who hold dear the "environmental ethic" Douglas boasted about on CNN.

DeanWatch 2004 -- The pace quickens, the heat rises, and the press gets picky as the reality of a President Howard Dean sinks in.

Fortunately, Ho-Ho has the benefit of all those weekly showdowns with the Vermont press corps. If you can handle yours truly and Ch. 3's Tim Lewis, you can surely handle CNN's Paula Zahn and NBC's Matt Lauer.

We can imagine Howard's inner voice saying, "Bring 'em on!"

Monday evening yours truly attended the Wesley Clark "Meetup" at Nectar's. Last Wednesday 200 Deaniacs packed the joint for their monthly Meetup. But only three Clark supporters showed, and one of them came across the pond from Westport, New York. The other two were from Essex, transplanted just seven months ago from the nation's capital.

The reason they back Gen. Clark instead of Dr. Dean, they said, was because they don't think Ho-Ho of little Vermont will be able to withstand the barrage of attacks launched against him by Karl Rove and the Bush campaign.

They don't know Howard Dean.

On September 19, Clark will make the big announcement about whether or not he'll throw his hat into the ring. What will he do?

Our bet is, he'll do the right thing. The retired four-star general has spent his entire adult life doing the right thing for this country. He's not about to stop.

Anyone who's heard the West Pointer speak knows that he believes deeply in his patriotic heart that removing George Bush, Donald Rumsfeld and Condo-leezza Rice from power is in the national security interest of the United States.

Any soldier would ask himself, "what's the best plan to achieve that objective?" The best strategy to strengthen the hand of the Democratic candidate for president?

The fact is, Wes Clark has never held elected office, while Howard Dean has had 20 years of frontline training.

Gen. Clark has run an army, but he's never run a government. Ho-Ho was Vermont's CEO for almost 12 years. He understands government. His record proves it.

Wes Clark hasn't started fundraising yet. He has no campaign organization.

Howard Dean is leading the pack on both counts and growing.

Wes Clark and Howard Dean see eye-to-eye on foreign policy. They've been in contact for years and, by all accounts, hit it off.

Folks, don't be surprised if Gen. Clark announces he's not going to run for president. Instead, Wes Clark just might drop the biggest political "smart bomb" of the campaign and announce his personal endorsement of Howard Dean as commander-in-chief.

Can you say Vice President Wesley Clark?

Flash: This Just In! -- Seven Days has learned that Independent U.S. Sen. Jim Jeffords' chief of staff will be departing by year's end.

Burlington native Susan Boardman Russ has been with Jeezum Jim for 25 years -- the last 20 as top aide both in the House and the Senate. Ms. Russ, 49, told Seven Days Tuesday, there's no special reason behind her decision to depart other than that, "It's time to change."

Needless to say, Jeffords 2001 dramatic switcheroo from Republican to Independent was a very "stressful" time for Susan, a lifelong Republican.

"It was also a good experience," said Russ, "a learning, growing experience."

Finally, late word is that WVNY-TV is dumping its local news operation. Last broadcast is Friday. No more Ruth Dwyer, investigative reporter!