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Taliban Wins!

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The purification of the Vermont Republican Party continued full steam ahead Monday evening as conservative party activists turned out in force to thwart the nomination of a “moderate” to fill a state senate vacancy. In the process the local political Taliban spit in the face of tradition, decency and Republican Party royalty, i.e., the prestigious Snelling family.

It was standing room only at the Chittenden County Republican Committee conclave at the Shelburne United Methodist Church. The turnout exceeded that of most GOP state committee meetings. The task at hand was to nominate three potential replacements for State Sen. Barbara Snelling. Babs is stepping down for health reasons.

Four candidates were in the running. The three winning names would be forwarded to Gov. Howard Dean, who makes the pick. The Guv is not bound by law to choose someone from the list.

Barbara is the widow of legendary Republican Gov. Richard Snelling, who died in office in 1991. Dick Snelling, Earl of Shelburne, is the only Republican to occupy the governor’s office since 1972. Barbara served two terms as Lite-Gov in the mid 1990s. Remove the name “Snelling” from the Vermont history books and there aren’t many stars left to reflect the achievements of the Vermont Republican Party over the last 30 years.

But the Republican Party, including its Vermont chapter, has changed. U.S. Sen. Jim Jeffords proved that back in May when he bolted the GOP, saying it no longer was the party of Justin Morrill, George Aiken and Deane Davis.

Republican House Speaker Walter Freed of Dorset proved it last week when he refused to join the applause for the line in Gov. Dean’s State of the State speech highlighting Vermont’s championing of equal rights for all — even for gay and lesbian Vermonters. After all, Wally owes his gavel to the blatant bigotry of the anti-gay backlash.

And an activist band of right-wing religious conservatives proved it Monday night when they mounted a well-organized effort to deny Barbara’s daughter, Diane Snelling, a place on the list of three recommended candidates.

Why?

Because Diane, like her mother, is a “moderate” Republican. And her mother supported civil unions and a woman’s right to choose. The Vermont Taliban, like that in Afghanistan, has no room for “moderates.” To them, they’re indistinguishable from infidels.

The three winners Monday were State Reps. Doran Metzger and Linda Kirker and former (and we expect future) Lite-Gov. candidate Brian Dubie of Essex Junction. Moderator Michael Quaid refused to reveal the vote totals, but our sources say Diane Snelling was a “distant” fourth. So distant, in fact, one source said the gap was as big as the one you’d expect “if Duke played UVM in men’s basketball.”

Insiders tell Seven Days the local Taliban was bound and determined to deny Diane Snelling a spot on the list. Had Rep. Metzger dropped out, we’re told, the Taliban had another candidate in the wings.

When the results were announced, National Committeeman Skip Vallee and State Rep. Kurt Wright appeared shell-shocked.

In his nominating speech for his buddy Doran-Doran, Kwik Stop Kurt urged his fellow Rs to show “that Jim Jeffords was wrong about the Republican Party.” That the party is “inclusive,” has a “broad base” and “all points of view are welcome.”

Though stumping for Metzger, Kwik Stop implored the delegates to include Snelling the Moderate as one of their three choices.

“If we select three conservatives,” said Wright, “it will look like Sen. Jeffords was right.”

Guess what?

Jeezum Jim was right!

The following day, his head cleared, Gasoline Vallee put it this way: “When I played hockey in high school, I played center. In college I was a right-winger. I did a lot better in high school.”

Monday marked a big victory for the homegrown Republican Taliban. Praise God! In the end, however, it’s likely the Guv will select Diane Snelling anyway. After all, there’s a long Statehouse tradition of children filling the seats of their parents. Senate Republican leader John Bloomer Jr. is but one example.

The Rutland Rocket, like House majority leader John Labarge (R-Grand Isle), told Seven Days they won’t put up a stink if Ho-Ho chooses Princess Di to fill her mom’s seat.

“The governor needs to make the choice that’s appropriate under the circumstances,” said Bloomer.

No question, the local Taliban has won a battle. They haven’t won the war, though. Not yet.


Bill of the Month Club — Kudos to freshman State Rep. Kevin Goodridge (R-Albany) for proposing H. 542 — “An Act Relating to Compensation For Damage to a Motor Vehicle Caused by Hitting Wildlife.”

According to the bill, a motorist who hits a deer, moose, raccoon or whatever is entitled to send the bill for damages to the state of Vermont. Hey, what’s government for, anyway? Jeezum crow, road kill just might turn into a revenue-producing sport!

Goodridge told Seven Days he introduced the bill in response to a request from a constituent. He said he’s never personally had a wildlife road accident. And, he noted, the text of the bill should have said “large” wildlife.

“The June bug that hits your windshield doesn’t count,” he said.

Rep. Goodridge is a member of the distinguished Republican “Sex Pack” from the Northeast Kingdom that was sent to Montpeculiar to save Vermont from the purveyors of sin, sacrilege and sodomy.

Rep. Goodridge also introduced two other bills last week. One would repeal Act 200, the landmark 1988 growth-management law, and the other would repeal the law regulating clear-cutting of Vermont woodlands. And last year, he co-sponsored the medical marijuana bill.

I know, I know. The Lord works in strange ways.


DeanWatch 2004 — Our favorite presidential hopeful is having a pretty good week. Gov. Howard Dean hopped up on the stage at the Sheraton Monday morning all full of pep. He confidently assured 300 of the business community’s best and brightest attending the Lake Champlain Chamber breakfast not to worry. Ho-Ho’s got the recession under control.

Dean said the tough budget cuts he’ll shortly propose will guarantee Vermont’s next governor sound economic stability when he takes office next January.

Also Monday morning, Howard Dean M.D. was quoted — above the fold — on the front page of The New York Times in a story titled, “States Face Hard Choices on Medicaid Cuts.”

Obviously, “All the news that’s fit to print” considers Ho-Ho someone in the know. Farther down in the story, the Times even quoted a line from Dr. Dean’s recent State of the State address: “As I have said annually for the past decade, I will not allow any child to be cut from the health care rolls.”

We’ve also noticed this week that ABCnews.com has Ho-Ho’s Feb. 20 speech to the Portsmouth, New Hampshire, Chamber of Commerce posted on the calendar on its “Morning Political Note” page. Big speech, eh? Expect national media in attendance.

Speaking of Portsmouth, Vermont’s governor won’t arrive a stranger. Last week Portsmouth Herald political columnist Paul Peter Jesep gave Ho-Ho a great ride in a piece titled, “Bush Could Face Formidable Dem.”

The “Dem” he has in mind isn’t Tom Daschle, John Kerry, Joe Lieberman, John Edwards, Dick Gephardt or even Al Gore. It’s Howard Dean, the governor of Vermont.

I’m not making this up.

After dissing the above good ol’ boys as same-old same-old, Jessep declared Democrats “do have at least one formidable option — Gov. Howard Dean (D-Vt.).” Mr. Jessep caught Ho-Ho in action on a New Hampshire radio talk show.

“Dean demonstrated the depth and originality that is painfully lacking in today’s Democratic Party.”

Mr. Jessep is not the first first-time Dean watcher to be impressed by Vermont’s straight-talking little governor. Read on.

“The biggest problem in Washington is the economic ‘stimulus package’,” Dean said. “It’s not a stimulus package. Giving tax breaks to some of the world’s largest corporations is not a stimulus package. If they were serious about a stimulus package they’d give money to individual states to continue bridge and highway projects.

“So far, only Dean has taken this pragmatic stand. The governor, an ardent tax cutter himself, would have the credibility to offer an alternative to the Bush plan. All other Democrats considering a presidential run are still attacking the president without offering logical alternatives for voters to consider…

“I believe in fiscal conservatism and social justice,” Dean said. But unlike potential presidential candidates of either party, the governor says what he means. “You can’t have health care for kids, environmental protections, and equal opportunity in education without a balanced budget.” Economic harmony enables a quality of life for everyone. Howard Dean has a record to prove it.

Nice. So was Dr. Dean’s profile in the Concord Monitor three days after Christmas.

When one looks at the kind of national press our favorite presidential hopeful has been getting, one feels a twinge of electricity. We sense a painful longing out there in America for a new kind of leadership. For a new “messiah.” A fresh face. An articulate, humane, intelligent voice with a non-Washington, D.C., dialect.

In 1976, an obscure, little-known Democrat governor from Georgia named Jimmy Carter built momentum through the primaries and slipped into the White House because the American people wanted a fresh start and someone to trust. Jimmy was the man. That same deep longing, we suggest, exists today. Big time.

And when distinguished Burlington Free Press columnist Sam Hemingway so smugly dismissed Ho-Ho’s chances the other day, the voltage meter jumped. A year ago, Mr. Hemingway predicted that the UVM faculty would not vote to unionize, the Chittenden Bank would be sold and Gov. Dean would announce he would run for reelection as governor in 2002.

Savvy readers familiar with Sam the Sham’s pathetic record on political predictions know that if Hemming-and-Hawing says a horse can’t possibly win — bet on it and bet heavy!

But speaking of 2004 presidential party primaries, the Democrat National Committee (DNC), is expected to endorse a primary schedule this weekend that will put a bit of a damper on new rising stars like Howard Dean. It’s called “front-loading,” and DNC Chairman Terry McAuliffe says the Ds are heading that way because they have to match the Republican Primary schedule, which was moved up in 2000. While the Democrats had a month off in 2000 after New Hampshire and Iowa, the Republicans were getting all the press with early contests in South Carolina and Michigan.

Mr. McAuliffe said last month he had contacted the “10 major” Democrat presidential candidates and they had no problem with the proposed change. Ho-Ho didn’t make McAuliffe’s list, but Vermont’s governor said he was contacted. And, he said, he informed the DNC chair he strongly opposes “front-loading.”

“I think it’s going to hurt the party in the long run,” said Dean, “because what I think is going to happen is, some guy with a lot of money is going to come in (can you say John Kerry?), and they’ll sew up the election, and a guy like me will be nipping at his heels all the way to May. There’ll be a lot of buyers’ remorse on the part of the voters,” warned Dr. Dean.

“So I don’t think it’s a good primary schedule for the Democratic Party,” he said, “never mind whether it’s good for me or not.”


Media Notes — Former GOP starlet Ruthless Ruth Dwyer hits the Ch. 22 airwaves January 31 as an investigative reporter. Hooray!

According to a press release issued Tuesday Ch. 22 G.M. Larry Delia and Ruthie are quick to point out that the new job will not be a political platform for Dwyer.

“My campaigns are history and that part of my life is a closed chapter,” Dwyer noted. “I’m coming on board here as a reporter, pure and simple. My overriding goals will be fairness and journalistic objectivity.”

Can’t wait.


Traditional Marriage Update — In the land of civil unions, traditional marriage marches on. State Rep. Carina Driscoll (P- Burlington) recently got engaged. Driscoll, who made Inside Track’s Statehouse Rookie All-Star Team is the stepdaughter of Vermont Congressman Bernie Sanders. Carina says the lucky guy is her longtime boyfriend, Blake Ewoldsen. Blake’s a snowboarding instructor and personal coach, says Carina. No date set as yet.

Mazeltov!

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