Last week, just when almost all the political experts in Vermont were chatting about how incumbent Republican Gov. Jim Douglas has nothing but smooth sailing in front of him as he heads for reelection, things changed.
Boy, did they!
Certainly it was the best week so far for Democratic gubernatorial challenger Peter Clavelle. Until now, Burlington's mayor has been having a hard time getting noticed.
The most remarkable thing is that the Clavelle campaign had a great week despite the fact that the candidate wasn't even in Vermont. Mayor Moonie was vacationing with his family on the Cape last week!
Given the way things played out for his Republican opponent, Clavelle may want to schedule a few more trips to the Cape between now and November 8.
Gov. Douglas, as you know, found himself in unexpected hot water when Republican Party State Chairman Jim Barnett, the Gov's designated hit man, accused Clavelle of having once exhibited pro-communist tendencies.
Barnett was only responding, he told Seven Days, to repeated attempts by Clavelle to link Douglas to President George W. Bush, a rather unpopular figure in Vermont these days. Almost in retaliation, Mad Dog tried to tie Clavelle to a former Nicaraguan left-wing regime of the 1980s.
Barnett's evidence was a 15-year-old newspaper article showing Clavelle in a Burlington march in celebration of the 10th anniversary of the Nicaraguan Sandinista Revolution.
Shocking stuff, eh?
Democrats immediately pounced on Mad Dog Barnett for "red-baiting." If anything, Barnett certainly showed his youth.
The 28-year-old Republican operative was but 13 years old when the march occurred, and just three years old when the good guys drove Dictator Anastasio Somoza into exile.
Someone older and wiser should have informed Barnett that Burlington Mayor Bernie Sanders -- now our seven-term congressman -- had attended an earlier Sandinista Anniversary celebration in Managua and sat proudly on the reviewing stand. As far as anyone can tell, it didn't hurt Sanders' political career in Vermont.
In a state where a half-century ago Republican U.S. Sen. Ralph Flanders stood up to the ugly bullying tactics of Wisconsin Sen. Joe McCarthy, red-baiting, or "McCarthyism," is considered not only dirty politics but stupid politics, as Mr. Barnett has recently learned.
The Democrat campaign team is simply not going to permit Barnett's attacks on their candidate to go unanswered, as they were by the Doug Racine for Governor team in 2002.
That was when Jim Douglas came from behind to win in the most Democratic state in the union, in no small part because Mad Dog Barnett literally "flip-flopped" poor Doug Racine to death.
Barnett, an expert opposition researcher, knew more about Racine's past positions and record than Racine did. The "flip-flopper" label he stuck on Racine's back took a serious toll.
Not surprisingly, Jim Douglas appreciated Mad Dog's work so much that one of his first political acts as governor was to overthrow the sitting leadership of the Vermont Republican Party.
Suddenly, the Republican State Chairman, Joe Acinapura, got the hook. He was replaced by Jim Barnett. And for the first time in memory, the job became a full-time, paid position.
Obviously, Gov. Douglas realized that his young and talented political attack dog would be key to winning a second term. Actions, they say, speak louder than words.
Besides, with Barnett on the state party's payroll, Douglas won't have to dip into his personal campaign funds to pay for his expert services. Good deal, eh?
Perhaps the funniest moment of the week was when Gov. Douglas went on WGOP, er, sorry, WCAX-TV to try to wiggle out of the red-baiting mess Barnett had gotten him in.
"You know, sometimes we all have enthusiastic supporters who kind of get ahead of things," said Gov. Scissorhands.
Hey, Gov, we're talking about Jim Barnett, the guy you handpicked to run the state Republican Party. The guy who since 2002 has done your dirty work, and, until now, has done it quite well.
Not unexpectedly, WCAX-TV News let our Republican governor slide on that one. There was no evidence the Ch. 3 reporter challenged the Gov's ridiculous assertion.
Meanwhile, with Clavelle in Cape Cod, his press secretary B.J. Rogers was the point person to step before the cameras.
Mr. Rogers, 29, is a new face on the political campaign scene. He was a volunteer for Racine in 2002. Rogers is a Massachusetts native who graduated from St. Michael's College. For the last three years, he's worked for Outright Vermont. And as reporters, readers and viewers have been learning of late, Mr. Rogers is a pretty damn good spokesman. He certainly doesn't mince his words.
Calmly but firmly, Rogers told WCAX-TV that Barnett's red-baiting of Clavelle and the "propaganda-type insinuations made by that kind of tactic really are below Vermont politicians and certainly below Vermont's leaders."
Good line, eh?
As this week began, Gov. Douglas tried desperately to distance himself from the events of last week by coming up with a "new" campaign wrinkle. The Douglas Campaign announced Gov. Scissorhands is launching a 12-day tour of Vermont.
As everyone who's been paying attention knows, Jim Douglas hasn't stopped his continuous touring of Vermont since the day he took office. Wherever a ribbon has needed cutting, Gov. Scissorhands has been there. Even gas station openings.
The bottom line?
There are clear indications this week that Gov. Jim Douglas is not the shoe-in for reelection that a lot of "experts" once thought he was. Even with continued kid-glove treatment like he got last week from Vermont's Republican-friendly TV news operation, Jim Douglas' reelection is far from certain.
Clavelle is very much in play.
And Jim Douglas knows it.
P.S. So, bet you're wondering what night you'll be able to watch Vermont's Republican governor address the Republican Convention?
Word from the Vermont GOP is that Douglas will only make a "limited" appearance at the Big Apple convention. Vermont's governor will not be making any speeches, we're told.
Surprising, eh, since Jim hails from the same state as that smart-mouthed little left-wing doctor/governor who's been filling Dubya's backside with buckshot for the last two years?
Why, couldn't you see Jim being introduced as the "Governor from Howard Dean's home state?" The convention would surely go wild!
It ain't gonna happen, folks. If all goes well for Jim, Vermonters won't even know their governor is attending the Republican Convention.
Douglas, you see, knows that one of his keys to victory is distancing himself from the leadership of his own party and the Republican candidates who will top the November 8 ballot.
Pretty unique situation, eh?
Real Democrats? -- In the midst of last week's political train wreck, the Douglas campaign trotted out a list of mostly over-the-hill Democrats to endorse our Republican Gov's reelection.
Perhaps the most heralded was former House Speaker Tim O'Connor of Brattleboro.
When yours truly started doing this stuff 25 years ago, Speaker O'Connor had just departed the Vermont political stage. In fact, most people under 40 have never heard of him.
To call Tim O'Connor representative of today's Vermont Democratic Party simply doesn't wash. The Brattleboro lawyer has long aligned himself with conservative causes.
Mr. O'Connor even filed an amicus brief in Baker v. State with the Vermont Supreme Court back in 1999 opposing equal marriage rights for gay and lesbian Vermonters. Even then, he and Republican Jim Douglas were on the same page.
In addition, campaign finance records indicate Mr. O'Connor contributed to Douglas' reelection campaign long before Peter Clavelle announced his candidacy.
Nice try, Tim. Bet you'll vote for George W. Bush again, too.
All in all, a very good week for the challenger. In fact, a few more weeks in Cape Cod like this one, and Peter Clavelle will be Vermont's next governor.
Doobie-Doogate? -- Meanwhile, as Gov. Douglas was quickly trying to distance himself from his top political advisor and personal attack dog last week, his running mate, Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie, simultaneously landed in his own mess of trouble.
Associated Press reporter Wilson Ring's beat includes the Vermont National Guard. Ring learned that Dubie had just scheduled a campaign fundraiser to precede the August 14 charity country music concert designed to raise money for the families of Guard members in Iraq.
The Dubie invitations were emailed out July 29 by the Vermont Republican Party. They called for $125 checks made out to the Dubie Campaign. Hors d'oeuvres, as well as admission to the following concert, would be provided. No indication was given that the money would be going anywhere but into Dubie's warchest.
When Mr. Ring rang the Dubie Campaign to inquire, Campaign Manager Sonny Schumacher told him he'd call back. When he did, he informed Ring that the Dubie Campaign had always intended that all the money raised at the fundraiser would be turned over to the Vermont Military Families Assistance Fund.
Unfortunately for Dubie, no one at the families' organization and no one on the Vermont Guard staff had been told.
And Doobie-Doo has since admitted his campaign cannot produce even one piece of paper that existed prior to reporter Ring's inquiry that would corroborate Dubie's intention to donate his buckaroos to the nonprofit fund.
Gen. Martha Rainville, one of the most respected public figures in Vermont, went ballistic, we're told, when the news of Dubie's fundraiser broke. By the time the press called, Gen. Martha had calmed down.
Rainville politely expressed "disappointment" that Dubie the Republican candidate would attempt to elbow in on a strictly nonpartisan affair.
The Vermont Guard is, after all, neither Republican, Democrat nor Progressive. It represents each and every one of us. And when Iraqi terrorists ambush a Vermont Guard patrol, rest assured, they don't really care about the political persuasion of the Vermont soldier they're about to kill or maim.
The obvious questions hanging over Doobie-Doogate are:
1. Why didn't Dubie announce in the invitation that the money was going to charity instead of his campaign warchest?
2. Why wasn't the military families' organization informed of Doobie-Doo's generosity before learning about it from the A.P. reporter?
On Monday afternoon, Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie sat down with Seven Days in Burlington's Battery Park for an interview. He began by informing us he felt we'd always treated him fairly in the past.
"You've taken some whacks," said Dubie. "You call 'em as you see 'em. And you know this doesn't look good. But in the big scheme of things," he continued, "who cares?"
"Last week was the best week of my career as lieutenant governor," said Dubie (in apparent reference to the heifers he's helping ship to Cuba), "and it was the worst week of my life as a candidate for office. And life's about learning and I have learned."
In his trademark herky-jerky, jeezum-crow style, Dubie discussed the fact that his now-canceled campaign fundraiser before the charity event, and the apparent last-minute switcheroo-under-fire about where the money was going had left him wounded.
"I reacted to a call for help and I tried to do the right thing," said Dubie apologetically.
"I could have done it better," Dubie told Seven Days. "But I can look people in the eye. I tried to do the right thing. Did I screw up in the execution?
"I could have done it better. I'll readily admit that."
Dubie, our favorite American Airlines pilot, also attempted to make the case that he's new at the job and still learning the ropes.
"There's a scope of learning," said Dubie. "Now that I am the lieutenant governor, there's a different level of scrutiny for the incumbent."
As there should be, right, Brian?
P.S. The snafu over mixing politics and the military wasn't Dubie's only misstep last week.
Seven Days has learned the Doobster also got in hot water recently for using the state government email system to promote his recent head-shaving fundraising event for Camp Ta-Kum-Ta and to solicit charitable donations for the kids' camp.
A good cause, indeed, but the state's email system would crash repeatedly if it was used by state officials to solicit funds for their favorite worthy causes.
In fact, Seven Days has learned that several state employees quickly complained to the Department of Personnel and Dubie's office about it.
One state worker wrote that she was "shocked to see the Lt. Gov. use his elected office to solicit charitable donations from state employees." She noted the email had violated two state personnel policies and added she would have "expected better judgment" from the lieutenant governor.
Dubie's assistant Martha Hanson readily owned up, calling it "a rookie mistake." When the violation of email policy was brought to her attention, she informed Commissioner of Personnel Cynthia LaWare of her screw-up.
"It came to our attention immediately," LaWare told Seven Days. She said her department had received several complaints about the Dubie email solicitation from state workers.
"Clearly," said LaWare, "Lt. Gov. Dubie's intentions were very good. Unfortunately, he did violate a couple of our policies on solicitation and Internet usage."
The commish said she had discussions with Dubie's office about the spam solicitation.
"It was an inadvertent mistake," said the commissioner, "and won't happen again."
You can bet the farm on that.
Correction -- Last week, we incorrectly reported that Gov. Douglas had signed the medical marijuana bill in the dark.
Actually, he never signed it. It became law without his signature.
Also, in our cute little political word game, we inadvertently wrote that the addition of three consonants would make Peter Clavelle "Peter Roclaveller," a more Republican-sounding name, eh?
Actually, Mayor Moonie would need two consonants and a vowel.
Sorry for the errors. Apologies to my third-grade English teacher, Sister Cecilia, too.