He's already outspent every candidate in Vermont history -- more than $3 million -- and it's his first campaign for office. But despite the tapping of his vast personal fortune, estimated to be in the $300 million range, Republican U.S. Senate candidate Richard Tarrant is getting little traction. In fact, we get calls from Vermonters ticked off by Tarrant's prerecorded telephone messages, oversized campaign banners and endless TV commercials.
In the latest public poll, Richie Rich was almost 40 points behind the frontrunner, Independent U.S. Rep. Bernie Sanders, the former mayor of Burlington. Sanders, a living legend of the left, has already expressed his confidence that the winner looks certain six months before the votes are counted.
So why the hell is Rich Tarrant doing this? Politics is not a basketball court, and the St. Mike's star of the '60s looks like a rookie politician who can't find the rim.
Tarrant was even heckled during his brave-but-shaky performance at Sunday's Darfur rally in Burlington's City Hall Park.
The weeks of rain had ended just an hour earlier and almost 500 people turned out to take a stand against the genocide in western Sudan. Considering most folks could not find Sudan on a map, that's not a bad crowd. And the Essex High Schoolers who organized the event give us reason for slight hope in the future.
Sanders spoke first and hit the right note. "If good people in Vermont and throughout the entire world do not stand up," said Ol' Bernardo, "bad things happen and will continue to happen. Our job is to make sure that Darfur gets on the front pages of the papers, and people stand up and say enough is enough!"
Tarrant was up next, introduced as a person "who first came to Vermont on a basketball scholarship to St. Michael's College and then founded IDX . . . and is now a candidate for the U.S. Senate."
Richie started great, even dribbled away from his prepared remarks and improvised a little.
"I don't know who that last speaker was, but I never thought I'd say this. I agree with him!"
The crowd cheered.
"I have to rip up my speech," joked Tarrant. But then he got back "on message." He pointed out the morning paper had reported that he, Richard Tarrant, had been "the first to accept" an invitation to speak. "And it blew your minds," said the Republican corporate exec to the liberal stop-the-genocide crowd with a slight air of jock sarcasm.
"Republicans do care," shouted Richie. "I would submit to you," said the man who sold IDX to General Electric for $1.2 billion last year, "that the American economic engine has a lot more potential than the American military engine to change the face of this Earth!"
When he called for "prioritizing the economy of every nation on Earth," some in the audience felt he was straying from the rally's focus -- the genocide in Darfur. A couple of catcalls halted him in his tracks.
"I totally agree with what everybody said previously about the killing in Darfur," said a flustered Tarrant. "I totally agree, I don't need to repeat it."
More cries come from the crowd.
"We need to help the folks in Darfur, no question about it," answered the millionaire ex-jock, "but that's my goal, to make every hot spot in the world economically better so that there won't be any more hot spots . . Thank you very much."
Tarrant quickly departed the stage. It hadn't gone exactly as planned. But we'd suggest his remarks, even his appearance, at the Darfur rally are evidence of the real prize our favorite Vermont Republican gazillionaire is after -- a Bush ambassadorship!
Remember Skip Vallee? Excuse me, U.S. Ambassador to Slovakia Rodolphe "Skip" Vallee? Until he left for his new duties on the Danube, Ol' Skip was a regular in this column.
Vallee, like Tarrant, was very, very generous when it came to making cash donations to the Republican Party and Republican candidates. Skip, owner of a chain of convenience stores/gas stations with clean bathrooms, raised more than a million bucks for George W. Bush in 2004. In 2005, Mr. Bush showed his appreciation by appointing him our ambassador in Bratislava!
And remember, Vallee also had one race under his belt -- the 2000 Chittenden County state senate race, which he lost despite setting the state's all-time spending record!
As goes Skippy, so goes Richie?
Look, Mr. Tarrant has already passed the GOP money test. Dropping another $10 million to make Bernie Sanders sweat has to be much appreciated at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Now Richie just has to show the White House he's able to act like an ambassador. Walk like an ambassador. Talk like one, too. Some Slovakia-size, non-hot-spot country would fit the 6-foot-6 Tarrant perfectly.
After all, the brand-new $8.8 million mansion Tarrant just built on the Atlantic coast, along the exclusive Hillsboro Mile in Broward County, Florida, was not built for a U.S. senator from Vermont. Let's face it -- it's got "ambassador's digs" written all over it.
Good luck, Richie.
Excuse me, Ambassador Tarrant!
U.S. ambassador to Sudan?
The Frontrunner -- Vermont's Republican chief executive, Jim Douglas, is the clear frontrunner in the governor's race, and he's acting like it.
"As I go around the state, and I do that a lot," said Jimbo the other day, "I feel good about the reception I'm getting from Ver-monters. There's a lot of support and appreciation. I feel very good about the coming campaign, but I don't take it for granted."
"Vermont is a small state," he noted, "and Vermonters expect to see their candidates many times." And Vermonters do get to see their guv a whole lot more than his predecessor, whatshisname.
Scudder Parker is the Democratic challenger this time, and would you be surprised to learn Scudder's having a hard time scheduling debates with Douglas? You may remember that, in 2002, Douglas debated Democrat Doug Racine ad nauseam starting in June. Asked about how he's gone from a debate addict to a debate avoider, Douglas said that, back then, with an open seat, "Vermonters needed a lot of opportunities to meet the candidates and size them up."
Really? Even though Douglas and Racine had been perennial fixtures on the Vermont political stage for decades?
"This is different," said Douglas. "I'm focused on the responsibilities of governing. There'll be plenty of time for an adequate number of debates, and I look forward to them."
"After the [September] primary," he said.
What's an adequate number?
"I don't know."
No shock there, folks. Scudder the Democrat is, after all, a pretty good talker himself, and one would expect he'd more than hold his own in a head-to-head against Jimbo.
On other items, Vermont's GOP governor pooh-poohed the suggestion that he will suffer in November for the sins of the Republican regime in Washington.
"All presidents in recent history have had bumps along the road in about the sixth year of their presidencies," said Vermont's leading Bush-Cheney supporter. "I don't think there's anything unusual about that."
Yes, but, respectfully, sir, can one really equate Monica Lewinsky with the deaths of 2500 U.S. soldiers in the ongoing, unjustified war in Iraq, which the Bush-Cheney team regrettably led us into?
Gov. Douglas also said he was not pleased with the recent protest at the St. Johnsbury Academy graduation, where John Negroponte, the director of National Intelligence, gave the commencement address to his son's graduating class.
"I think it was unfortunate to disrupt the graduation of high school students to make their political points," said Douglas. "I think they might have found some other ways to do it."
Like what? If one is staging a political protest, one needs an event worthy of disruption, right?
"I guess that's a good point," replied Gov. Douglas with a chuckle.
Unintelligence -- In fact, a much bigger story came out of the St. Johnsbury Academy graduation than anyone expected, a story that, so far, is getting little play on the news networks or in the big-city dailies. And that story is: America's director of National Intelligence is just plain stupid.
Director Negroponte based his remarks on St. Johnsbury's close connection to St. John, author of one of the four gospels in the Christian Bible: "In the beginning was the word . . . etc."
Negroponte chose to use the school's name as the speech's hook.
"St. Johnsbury Academy in St. Johnsbury, Vermont. Where did this name, which we use unthinkingly to designate a great institution in a beautiful place, come from?" asked Negroponte. "Who was St. John, and what relation might he have to education in particular?"
It went downhill from there, folks, as Big Bad John kept hitting on good old St. John and a connection that did not exist.
As reported Saturday in, of all places, the editorially far-right hometown Caledonian-Record, "St. Johnsbury was actually named for Hector St. Jean de Crevecoeur at the suggestion of Ethan Allen." Vermont historian Graham Newell told the Cal-Record, "Crevecoeur was a French writer of letters praising the American experience."
OK. Everybody makes mistakes. Unfortunately, with Negroponte it's a trend.
In November 2002, when he was our United Nations ambassador, Negroponte told the Security Council the U.N. must "send a clear message to Iraq insisting on its disarmament in the area of weapons of mass destruction and delivery systems, or face the consequences."
Everybody now knows Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction. That did not prevent Negroponte and his boss from convincing most Americans it did. Iraq is now facing the consequences, and so is the United States.
In the beginning was the Bush-Negroponte word. And the word was a lie.
Interesting Crowd -- We're talking about the crush of media and politics that turned out Sunday to honor Christopher Graff, the veteran Vermont journalist whom the Associated Press fired last March. Among the 150 attendees at UVM's Waterman Lounge were political leaders and the journalists who covered them from the 1970s to the present.
They ranged from folks elected in the 1970s, such as Sen. Patrick J. Leahy and Gov. Tom Salmon, to the present governor, Jim Douglas, and Speaker of the House Gaye Symington. Even that traveling Democratic Party salesman Howard Dean popped in.
And Congressman Bernie Sanders, a dude who had some nasty battles with Graff in the "old days," was there, too. In fact, Ol' Bernardo is in such good spirits these days, he was laughing at WCAX-TV news director Marselis Parsons' jokes!
The AP says it fired Christopher Graff because he put a column by -- ready for this? -- Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, on the AP wire.
Turns out it was a column St. Patrick had written for -- are you ready for this? -- the American Society of Newspaper Editors.
The topic was -- are you ready for this? -- the growing threat to the Freedom of Information Act under the what-you-don't-know-won't-hurt-you rule of the Bush-Cheney regime.
"The foundations of our open government are under direct assault from the first White House in modern times that is openly hostile to the public's right to know," wrote Leahy.
Hey, is he really allowed to say that in public?
It was the second annual "Sunshine Week," as declared by America's newspaper editors. Leahy also wrote a column for the first annual Sunshine Week in 2005. Graff put it out on the Vermont AP wire. His AP bosses said not a word.
As everyone knows, this year was radically different. An hour after making the Leahy item available, Graff's life changed. An AP editor up the chain of command yanked it so fast, one would have thought it was an obscene photo. It was a dark day in Vermont. Christopher Graff's byline would never again appear above the words "Associated Press" on a news story.
Vermont's news and political communities were stunned. After all, Chris is known for his straight-down-the-middle style. So straight, he can't recall having to write a correction during his Associated Press run.
In the letter explaining his dismissal, AP Northern New England Bureau Chief Larry Laughlin wrote, "Your decision to allow an elected official's editorial comments to run unfettered on the wire March 8 compromised the integrity and impartiality of the AP's news report." He accused Graff of "a failure in judgment."
You know, someone really should break the news to Mr. Laughlin that in Iowa, the Associated Press Bureau went a step farther and nobody got fired.
In Iowa, the AP bureau requested, and Democratic Gov. Tom Vilsack granted, an official proclamation declaring "Sunshine Week!" AP Iowa Bureau Chief Ann Riha and top political writer Mike Glover even posed for a picture with Gov. Vilsack at the signing.
It's clear to most Vermonters that a serious error in judgment was made here. But even the folks in Iowa will tell you, it wasn't Chris Graff's.
P.S. This just in: Graff's former boss, AP President and CEO Tom Curley, has just won the John Aubuchon Freedom of the Press Award from the National Press Club. Curley was recognized for his alleged extraordinary efforts to raise awareness and strengthen support for freedom of information issues.
Congratulations, Mr. Curley. Have you ever heard of Chris Graff?
Don't worry, you will the next time you appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee, ground zero in our country's freedom-of-information battle. The vice chairman is, as you know, the tall, former county prosecutor from Vermont.
Free advice for Curley: Read the column written by Sen. Patrick Leahy, the column that cost a highly respected Vermont journalist his job. Wouldn't want you to come off like Moe or Larry with C-SPAN watching.