Republican U.S. Senate Candidate Rich Tarrant effectively threw in the towel this week. Alas, it's over!
So, sadly, with zero percent of Vermont election precincts reporting, "Inside Track" declares Independent U.S. Rep. Bernie Sanders the winner and Vermont's next and newest United States Senator!
Yes, we could have done it sooner, but heck, we wanted to see what a political novice like Tarrant gets for $5 million - which for Richie, the ex-IDX software gazillionaire, is merely chump change.
And what his personal wealth got him this week is a massive TV-radio-print advertising campaign that portrays Congressman Sanders, one of Vermont's longest-serving, most respected and best- known political leaders, as a guy who supports child molesters!
Jesus, Mary and Joseph.
It's a little like trying to portray Warren Beatty as celibate.
That flushing sound you just heard, folks, was a certain retired software millionaire's ego and reputation going down the toilet. At least Ol' Rich the Political Rookie has got his brand-new $8.9 million Florida oceanfront home and second wife waiting. Life begins at 63!
Why Mr. Tarrant is actually doing this, or what it is that's motivating him, remains an utter mystery. Apparently, when a political candidate has nothing to say about himself, what's left, other than trashing and smearing one's opponent?
Windham County GOP Chairman George Kuusela is the old fella who appears on camera in Tarrant's new attack ad. Chairman George is also a longtime biennial loser in the Vermont House district currently represented by former Speaker Michael Obuchowski and Carolyn Partridge, the current House Democratic leader.
In the controversial Tarrant ad, Kuusela tells viewers that Sanders voted against Amber Alert legislation.
"Bernie Sanders voted against it," says Kuusela real slowly, "against kids. And he voted against sending two-time child molesters to prison for life - child molesters! Prison is where they should be," says the Windham County GOP chair. "Bernie should know better."
Normally a nasty attempted-smear ad like this one doesn't hit the airwaves until October - if ever - in Vermont. It's the big mudslinging bomb designed to hurt a frontrunner when it counts, when everyone's paying attention. Late August, we'd suggest, with folks still on vacation and focused elsewhere, is not exactly a prime time to drop the big bomb.
But Tarrant has surprised us all by his lack of a message, lack of an issue, lack of a personality and lack of a purpose, other than to act out a personal soap opera. It's a soap opera in which Richie Rich plays the part of an enormously wealthy, retired capitalist with all the free time on Earth to rabbit-punch, groin-kick, and reputation-smear the most popular, respected and successful socialist in America.
Hey, Richie, whatever turns you on.
Said Sanders Campaign Manager Jeff Weaver, "This is the same vile tactic that right-winger Greg Parke used two years ago and that Rich Tarrant is recycling."
The former Marine, originally from Franklin County, gave us a prediction.
"This is going to blow up in his face," said Weaver, "and Vermont voters will soon send Rich Tarrant into early retirement in Florida."
Rich Tarrant has something in common with the CIA. They both prove that money alone does not provide one with intelligence.
GOP's Big Worry - An Internet search reveals that in the last 30 days the Democratic candidate for governor of Vermont has been the subject of only four - repeat, four - Vermont news stories.
This Monday, the Scudder Parker for Governor Campaign issued a release announcing Skidder, er, Scudder is planning to hold 13 rallies around the state "to Focus Support of Local Food and Making it Easier for Vermonters to Live in Vermont," the release stated. "There will be "free dinners" at these rallies "made from food that is primarily local, and has been purchased from or donated by local farms."
The first two rallies are this week in Braintree and Brattleboro.
Strange campaign. Two months and two weeks to D-Day and the Democratic challenger has been deliberately avoiding the Republican incumbent.
What gives with that?
Some say Parker lacks the old fire in the belly, or the conviction that he can actually win his first statewide shot against a popular two-term Republican. Others say he lacks the money and the political experience staff-wise to beat Gov. James Douglas - an extremely successful, lifelong campaigner.
King James has been on the Vermont political scene so long that, as a GOP House leader in the 1970s, he actually voted to decriminalize marijuana. And we're not talking just for the sick and dying, but everyone! Imagine if he ever ran against Rich Tarrant, what the attack ads would be like?
(More on the current pot scene below.)
OK. So maybe Scudder the Great Unknown is just a "sacrificial lamb," a product of a Vermont Democratic Party bench that's so embarrassingly weak that it has been unable to put a Democrat in either the Gov or the Lite-Gov's seat since Howard Dean rode off into the sunset in 2002.
But if that's the case, would somebody please explain why the Douglas team seems so worried? They're taking nothing for granted, which, among other things, suggests why Gov. Douglas spent Monday promoting renewable energy, before the press, at three different farms.
And why for the last two weeks, King James has been mentioning repeatedly his born-again, better-late-than-never support for the environmentally cozy "25X'25" initiative that sets a national goal of 25 percent renewable energy by 2025.
Is this "damage control" from the leading opponent of wind energy in Vermont? What does Jim Douglas know that we don't?
Certainly there is concern in King James' Court that Scudder is, as one source put it, "trying to run a stealth campaign."
By that he meant that Parker the Quiet was avoiding the "far-left, out-of-the-mainstream issues" he normally loves to talk about, issues that open him up to charges of "bigger government, more spending and higher taxes."
The concern is that Scudder keeps his head down now, then he gets lifted up by the huge anti-Republican, anti-incumbent wave that only the brainless doubt will sweep across the U.S.A. on November 8.
In Vermont, Parker will be "lifted by the Sanders-Welch ground game." The only question from Douglas Land is, how high will that wave carry Scudder?
"Lightning might strike and he could win," says our GOP source. Nothing is being taken for granted.
Fasten your seat belts, folks!
Mayoral Spotlight - In Vermont's largest city, the tallest and quietest mayor we've ever had is approaching five months at the helm. So far, so good.
Mayor Bob Kiss has lived and worked in Burlington for more than 30 years. He was a social worker/human-services type by profession before his quiet election to the Vermont House in 2000. Never, ever has Big Bob sought the spotlight before.
But on Sunday morning, Progressive Mayor Bob Kiss made his first appearance (it's a three-year term, folks) on WCAX-TV's "You Can Quote Me."
The softspoken Progressive is known as a man of few words. But on his inaugural mayoral "Quote Me," Kiss was a regular chatterbox - wouldn't shut up!
And the rookie mayor of the smallest largest city of any state in the nation stuck to his guns, in more ways than one.
Kiss was under fire from veteran inquisitors Marselis Parsons and Andy Potter for pro-gun-control and pro-sanctuary-city comments he made a few months back, in his early days at the Queen City's helm.
"What was really clear," said Kiss, "was a lot of people said to me, whatever the outcome, we would like to have a dialogue about guns. I think a lot of people are not aware how many guns are actually in the Burlington community."
The new Progressive mayor said many cops tell him they see guns primarily "in the drug trade."
"We might not see them, but they're there," said Da' Mayor, who noted, "The most prevalent way to commit suicide is with a gun." They're also a factor in domestic abuse. "Women are casualties of guns in the home," said Kiss.
"Those are things we need to talk about," said the mayor to his inquisitors and the "large" Sunday morning audience. "That conversation's important."
Asked when the public will see some sort of proposal, Kiss replied, "Sometime soon."
And what about the "Sanctuary City" stuff? What about opening up Burlington, Vermont, to illegal aliens?
Kiss said the issue is being driven by "the Republicans who control Congress," not by state and local officials. He painted it as part of the "national GOP agenda."
"There's business owners who recognize that undocumented workers are a critical element of doing business in the United States," said Bob the Prog. "And now there are others who would like people who are undocumented to become felons."
It's a result, he explained, of "this political dynamic that's going on in Washington."
Obviously, the mayor has had a chat or two with Police Chief Tom Tremblay since his public remarks about turning Burlington into an official "Sanctuary City."
"Our police department has already got a bias-free policing position in place," said Da' Mayor, "and it really does work against profiling. In a lot of ways, I think we've already addressed the key elements of sanctuary."
But Kiss did not back down entirely. He expressed concern about an undocumented person calling Burlington Police after being threatened or beaten or robbed.
The way things currently operate in The People's Republic, said Mayor Kiss, that crime victim "would likely be reported to INS," the federal Immigration and Naturalization Service.
Mayor Kiss called that "a public safety issue." He said he'd still want to lead a public discussion on sanctuary to see if the status quo is "the best way we should do business, or if there's another way?"
Vermont Pot Watch - Interesting piece last week in the Bennington Banner about the current state of medical marijuana in Vermont. So far, 29 Vermonters suffering from AIDS, cancer or MS have been licensed to grow and smoke pot since it became the law of the land in the Green Mountains back in 2004.
The Banner piece focused on Mark Tucci, 49, of Manchester, who has MS. Tucci just published "The Patient's Simple Guide to Growing Marijuana." More here: www.patientssimpleguide.com.
Public Safety Commissioner and former Vermont State Police drug-investigator Kerry Sleeper told the Banner he opposes any expansion of the Vermont medical-pot law, "as it would be counterproductive to the efforts the state and his department are making in a longstanding battle against substance abuse, especially with Vermont's youth.
"We can't be hypocrites and recognize that we have a substance abuse problem and then advocate marijuana use," said Commissioner Sleeper.
State Sen. Dick Sears, a Bennington County Democrat, sees things differently. Sears wants our medical-marijuana law reexamined come January, and expanded to include other illnesses. He'd also like to allow patients to grow more than just three cannabis plants at a time and to possess more than just 2 ounces of dried leaves. And since Sears chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, you can put your money on it - changes will be made.
Hey, anyone remember Woodstock? The four-day concert, not the town?
We pointed out the recent Banner article to Progressive State Rep. David Zuckerman of Burlington. The ponytailed five-termer sponsored the first medical-marijuana bill to pass the House back in 2002, when the GOP was actually in control.
Zuckerman, who now chairs the House Agriculture Committee, told "Inside Track" that "Commissioner Sleeper continues to discuss fear without showing any facts to back it up. There's been no indication that this law has led to any more illicit use of marijuana," said Dave the Prog.
He's got a point, eh?
"I am ready to work with Sen. Sears to finish the job that we started six years ago," said Zuckerman. "We should give the discretion of use to the doctors, and we should place the registry with the Department of Health, where it belongs," said the new dad. "Law enforcement should not be making medical decisions."
Old Dog, New Trick - Quietly, one week ago, yours truly moved into new territory - the blogo-
sphere. Go to the Seven Days website and click on "7DBlogs" in the upper right-hand corner.
The new blog is called "Freyne Land." So far it feels like a wonderful fit, with a new column appearing daily - stuff you don't read here!
The fact is, there's simply too much happening on the political scene right now to squeeze into this once-a-week shot. So check our coverage of Connecticut Democratic Giant-Slayer Ned Lamont's exciting visit to Burlington's Union Station last Friday, some street-level reporting on the big air-show/air-pollution controversy, Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie's cozy kickoff at the Lincoln Inn and much, much more. Bet you never knew my original career path, eh?
Thank God for new tricks.