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The End is Near

Inside Track

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As you read this column, you hopefully know who won the presidential election, and all the rest, too.

You know by now, you lucky SOB, if the the corrupt regime that took over the U.S. government four years ago has fooled enough people enough of the time since.

The bad news is, the publishers of this distinguished weekly insist Seven Days has to run on time. That means the newspaper you are clutching was catching ink on a printing press Tuesday evening as the votes were being counted. And it means that yours truly is writing in a state of suspended animation, fearing the worst and hoping for the best.

This column is the “before.” The “after” will be posted on our website — www.Seven Daysvt.com — after 4 p.m. on Wednesday. Check it out for Inside Track’s first take on our brave new world.

Meanwhile, let the games begin!


Say It Ain’t So — It’s Tuesday morning and the tired-looking face of former governor and current national political star Howard Dean just appeared on CNN. Ho-Ho says he doesn’t expect we’ll know who won the presidency for days or even weeks. He says enough states are so close that appeals and recounts are guaranteed.

Great.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t think I can stand another 24 hours of this volcanic tension.

Incidentally, Dr. Dean, now a recognized leader of the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party, went to bat for Chainsaw Liz last week.

Everybody knows State Auditor Elizabeth Ready is fighting for her political life in the wake of Resumegate.

For Vermont political veterans, the sight of Howard Dean touting the experience and integrity of Liz Ready, his longtime legislative pain-in-the-butt, was proof that miracles do happen.

For years, we regularly made Ho-Ho’s blood pressure rise by prefacing a question with the phrase, “Governor, Sen. Ready says…”

Monday night, Bernie Sanders also championed Chainsaw, inviting Ready onstage during his final campaign rally at Memorial Auditorium.

Elizabeth addressed her difficulty by recalling her high school days when she annually put on costumes for the “Stunt Night” performance upstairs at Memorial.

Ready joked that “Ch. 5 even called Rice High School to make sure I graduated.”

Funny lady, eh?


Sore Hands — The Roman Catholic Bishop has ordered Vermont Catholics to cease practicing the “kiss of peace” handshake at Holy Mass. Most Rev. Kenneth Angell has also ordered Roman Catholics to cease drinking the consecrated wine from the same chalice. The reason is the impending flu season and the shortage of flu vaccine in the the richest nation on Earth.

But politicians aren’t priests, and shaking hands is de rigueur for political candidates. In addition to spreading germs, handshaking also can take a personal toll.

Tuesday we caught Gov. Jim Douglas at Burlington’s Ward 5 polling place on the south side of the city. After he told us how much people appreciate his “mainstream bipartisan leadership,” we asked Gov. Scissorhands how his right hand was holding up.

Douglas gingerly held his up for inspection. It looked like a cross between a lobster claw and a 1950s catcher’s mitt.

“It’s not really sore,” said the Guv, “but it’s kind of getting a little raw.”

With his left hand, Douglas pointed to the area where the thumb connects to the palm. “See,” said Gov. Scissorhands, “the skin’s wearing through there.”

He was right. Not a pretty sight. Hopefully he’ll be back in ribbon-cutting mode by New Year’s.


Election 2006 — The boys and girls are back from Washington, D.C., this week. The loyal and faithful Vermont hands who work on Capitol Hill love the chance to return to the state they fight for every day in that faraway place.

And all the chatter this year is about what happens at midnight on Tuesday. You see, Election 2006 begins at the stroke of 12.

Vermont’s Independent U.S. Sen. Jim Jeffords is up for reelection in 2006. Since becoming a national folk hero in 2001 for bolting the GOP, he’s amassed a giant campaign war chest. His staff insisted again this week that Ol’ Jeezum Jim is poised for the reelection campaign.

But Jeffords is 70, and there have been concerns about his health for several years. Attendees at the recent swearing-in of Judge Peter Hall tell us they were somewhat startled to see how age appears to be taking a toll on Jeezum. They asked us if we knew anything.

A source close to the secretary of state’s office tells Seven Days that Sen. Jeffords’ office contacted that office early in 2004 to inquire about the process for replacing a U.S. senator who resigned from office. Jeffords, we’re told, was experiencing health problems at the time.

Under Vermont law, the governor would have to call a special election to fill the vacancy within three months. The governor could also name a temporary replacement. He could even appoint himself to the vacant seat, allowing the lieutenant governor to move up to governor.

However, if the resignation occurred within six months of a general election, the election to fill the vacant U.S. Senate seat could be put off until then.

As we all know, Jim Jeffords has officially given no indication he intends to retire soon. However, Vermont’s senior political insiders just aren’t buying it.

Informed sources tell us that Independent Congressman Bernie Sanders would announce his candidacy for the U.S. Senate within one hour of a possible Jeffords resignation. We joked with our sources that a press release announcing Ol’ Bernardo’s senate candidacy is already written, awaiting only a date at the top.

They did not dissuade us.

A Jeezum Jim resignation or retirement is also expected to attract other stallions, Gov. Douglas and former Gov. Dean among them. IDX millionaire Richie Tarrant has also been sniffing around a possible U.S. Senate bid under the Republican label.

It sounds like it’d be a race of Kentucky Derby quality, eh?

In addition to heavy chatter about Jeffords, there’s also talk starting up about Sen. Leahy’s seat opening up soon. I’m not making this up.

The thinking is that a John Kerry victory would give Democrats the upper hand at filling upcoming Supreme Court vacancies. News this week that Chief Justice William Rehnquist is battling thyroid cancer has put court appointments back on the front burner.

By the way, Washington insiders suspect Rehnquist held off on going public with his cancer in hopes his malady would not impact the presidential election. Unfortunately, his cancer has rapidly progressed to a critical stage.

Though Leahy staffers have downplayed the possibility of Sen. Leahy becoming Justice Leahy, we broached the subject with St. Pat himself Tuesday afternoon.

When asked if he was interested in a black robe, Leahy told Seven Days “I’m not going to be nominated” for the Supreme Court. “I’ve got a lot of good years left in the senate,” he said.

Vermont’s senior senator suggested a President Kerry would be better advised to select younger nominees. Leahy is 64. The ideal, he said, would be someone in their early fifties.

But Leahy disputed suggestions that his role in leading the successful opposition to several of George W. Bush’s right-wing judicial nominees would make him a bull’s-eye target in winning senate confirmation.

“I could be confirmed,” insisted St. Patrick. “There’s no question about it. It’s not even an issue.”

Cool.

But asked directly if he had any interest in a Supreme Court nomination, Leahy answered, “No.”

We’ll check back with him in a few weeks, eh?


Family Affair — The brightest new face on the statewide political scene this fall hasn’t belonged to a candidate, but rather to a candidate’s wife.

Betsy Ferries, wife of Burlington Mayor and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Peter Clavelle, has been crisscrossing the state for months with her hubbie. Betsy’s been a teacher and alcohol/drug counselor in the Essex schools for almost 20 years. She’s street-smart, articulate and vivacious and has made a few people wonder whether Mrs. Moonie would have made a better candidate than Mr. Moonie.

Seriously.

We bumped into Betsy Tuesday morning at the Ward 5 polls. She’d been making the rounds, having started the morning in Essex, where she said the response had been great. Mrs. Moonie looked and felt “energized.”

“We’re really sure we’re going to do this,” said Betsy.

“This” being win the governor’s race.

Hey, you’ve got to be optimistic.

Since we unfortunately disagree with Betsy’s prediction, we asked her if she fancied another statewide race down the line.

“Oh, this is a tough time to ask me,” replied Mrs. Moonie with a chuckle. “With a year on the road, seven days a week, we are just looking for victory tonight. We’ll have to look at tomorrow, tomorrow.”

And if one or even two of Vermont U.S. Senate seats open in the coming year, the effect will resemble that of a laxative. There’ll be a gaggle of political wannabes moving up the food chain as the next generation claims power.


Bad Boy Billy — A lot of folks from all political points of view were giving Democratic Attorney General Bill Sorrell failing grades last week for his handling of the illegal TV ads run by the Republican Governors Association.

You’ll recall the ads portrayed Gov. Douglas as the greatest thing since sliced bread and the greatest leader the world has ever known. In fact, they were much better than the ads produced and paid for by the Douglas campaign.

Unfortunately, the RGA ads were also illegal. But that didn’t stop local TV stations from airing them for almost a week.

Attorney General Bill Sorrell made the mistake of treating the RGA Affair as a legal battle when actually it was a political one.

As soon as the spots started running, Democrats cried foul because the RGA had not registered as a political action committee in Vermont. And even if it had, it violated Vermont rules, since it raised money in big, $50,000 chunks from Corporate America.

The RGA said it had anonymously phoned the secretary of state’s office and received advice that its ad campaign was legal.

Sorrell, who would be chief justice of the Vermont Supreme Court today if Howard Dean had gotten everything he wanted as governor, declared the RGA ads illegal but refused to shut them down. He cited the legal principle of estoppel, which he said meant the RGA’s claim of getting a green light from the secretary of state’s office by phone would hold up in court.

It was as if the referee threw a flag for a personal foul then refused to step off the 15-yard penalty.

Sorrell may have been correct on legal grounds, but he looked like a total wimp. He was so cautious, you’d think he had a close reelection fight rather than an assured landslide victory.

So, with our attorney general firmly sitting on his hands, the Democratic Party and the Clavelle Campaign went to court. Superior Court Judge Richard “Hooky” Norton ruled that they had no standing to bring such action because Vermont’s landmark campaign-finance law required law enforcement officials rather than political parties or candidates to enforce the bloody law.

The Democrats were not pleased, and they tried their best to blame Gov. Douglas for not condemning the ads. Democrat Party Chairman Scudder Parker accused Republican Gov. Douglas of showing absolutely no respect for the law.

An awkward moment, later dubbed the “Scudder Stutter,” came on the follow-up question. Ch. 3 reporter Tim Lewis asked Parker if the Democratic attorney general should also be held responsible for not enforcing Vermont’s campaign-finance law.

After a very pregnant pause, Scudder replied, “I can’t make a judgment on that.”

Baloney.

Following the hearing, Mr. Sorrell appeared to finally get religion. Based on evidence given by the RGA’s attorney, Sorrell finally made his move. The RGA attorney testified the RGA could make adjustments to its $304,000 TV ad buy. Sorrell said the playing field had therefore changed.

Wild Bill went to court the next day to request, and within hours win, a preliminary injunction from Hooky Norton, halting the Douglas spots, provided the RGA suffered no financial harm as a result.

Another day passed before the Douglas ads were pulled.

Let’s face it, the RGA saturation ad campaign, even though illegal, provided a splendid icing-on-the-cake boost to Gov. Douglas.

Had Sorrell realized the fight was really a political one, he would have been out front condemning the RGA’s illegal ad campaign the moment it started. Rather than caving into the estoppel defense from the get-go, Wild Bill, many say, would have looked a whole lot better had he immediately gone into court and forced a judge to make the call.

Live and learn, eh?


Bottoms Up — Jeezum Jim isn’t the only one getting older. Yours truly hits 55 this month and that means, says the doctor, it’s time for a colonoscopy!

A what?

Yep, the old tube up through the back door that explores the inner lining of the large intestine with a tiny camera on the tip.

Yucky, right?

Wrong.

Next to lung cancer, colon cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths. A colonoscopy has been proven to be a remarkably effective early detection technique. It can even remove potential tumors from the intestinal lining.

In 1997, there were 475 colonoscopies done at the Mary Fanny. In 1998, the procedure became recommended for all men over 50.

Last year, 7500 were performed on Hospital Hill. I’ll be in experienced hands.

But that didn’t stop a certain Statehouse lobbyist we know from suggesting that if for any reason the doctor couldn’t make it on Thursday, he could easily find at least 100 people who would volunteer for the job.

Ha, ha!

The downside is, I have to begin fasting on Election Night. Clear liquids only and, I’m told, Irish Whiskey is not considered a “clear liquid.”

Yes, indeed, 2004 will be an election to remember.

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