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Bernie Sanders

The Hot Summer of '07?

Inside Track


Published July 11, 2007 at 4:00 a.m.

This edition of Seven Days hits the street and the Internet on Wednesday morning, just as Vermont legislators return to Montpeculiar for a rare, one-day veto-override slugfest on the hot topics of global warming and campaign financing.

Very interesting.

If Gov. Jim Douglas' Republican House Caucus holds together in perfect lockstep, the "inconvenient truth" is, this battle against global warming in Vermont will lose - a story that should get national coverage.

It also might be one that comes back to haunt Jim Douglas & Co. in November 2008. GOP Jim may decline to go see Al Gore's Oscar-winning environmental flick, but a lot of Vermont's electorate has. And politicians who pooh-pooh global warming now, while defending sweetheart tax deals with out-of-state-owned nukes, may not look so bright on the 2008 ballot. That's because the climate-change train is gathering steam across the state, the nation and the world, and those who don't get out of its way may live to regret it.

We'll see, eh?


Double-Barrel Attack - Can't recall anything quite like it before: a Sunday morning congressional town meeting, competing with church services?

But that's exactly what was on Independent U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders' schedule Sunday morning at Montpelier High School. And delivering the main sermon was one of the very best - End of Nature author Bill McKibben himself. Hallelujah!

Saving Mother Earth from the rapidly advancing ravages of climate change is, indeed, the new religion for many.

"I think Vermont is one of the birthing places of what's now become a nationwide movement to do something about climate," McKibben told us, "and we've just got to keep it up."

Unlike Democratic U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy and Rep. Peter Welch, Ol' Bernardo has not declined to take a public position in the global-warming override battle. Sanders supports the global-warming bill that Gov. Douglas vetoed, H.520. So does McKibben.

"We'll have a chance this Wednesday to keep it up, and we'll have a lot more chances in the year ahead to make sure that this is at the top of the agenda in the presidential elections; that it's the most important issue we have out there," said McKibben.

"The governor doesn't take global warming seriously," said the acclaimed environmental writer, taking off the gloves. "He's the only politician of note that didn't come to our rally last year when 1000 Vermonters walked up the state of Vermont to demand action, and now we know why he didn't come. He talked a good game on climate change. He says all the right things 'cause he's in Vermont, where people care about it," charged McKibben, "but he won't do anything about it. And given the opportunity, he vetoes legislation about it. It's a tremendous shame."

What does it say, we asked McKibben Sunday morning, that a governor of the state of Vermont would angrily veto such a piece of legislation?

"You know, I think it says we need a new governor," answered the Ripton writer/activist.

So far, no names, though.

"It turns out that the Earth is a more finely balanced physical system than we'd understood," McKibben said, "and there are more positive feedback effects and they happen more quickly and more disastrously. So you start melting Arctic sea ice and, all of a sudden, that nice white shield that's reflecting most of the sun's rays back out to space is replaced by blue water that absorbs most of those sun rays. Those things are cropping up all over the world, and it's why this problem is accelerating."

But while the problem is an enormous one, confidence is building.

"It's grassroots activism, not only in Vermont but all over this country, which is going to turn Washington around," Sen. Sanders told us afterwards. "It's no longer a Utopian vision to say that we can break our dependency on fossil fuel and move to energy efficiency and sustainable energy and create a whole lot of good-paying jobs in the process," said the Brooklyn-born-and-raised U.S. Senator from Vermont. "We can do it, but we need tremendous grassroots support to take on the very, very powerful special interests in the fossil-fuel industry."

"There's a sense from out here in the hinterlands," we said, "that things are changing."

"Absolutely, no question about it," fired back Ol' Bernardo. "The oil companies, as powerful as they are, the coal companies, as powerful as they are, the big-monied interests - they're on the defensive. But we've got to continue the strong grassroots effort and get Congress to do the right thing."

Timing is everything. The "pace" of this, noted McKibben, "is the entire battle." Everyone knows, he said, that in 100 years we will not be burning oil, coal and natural gas.

"We will have run out of them," he said, "and we will have done such environmental damage that no one will even think about it. They'll be viewed as bizarre relics of an earlier day."

Yes, indeed.

"The question is," said McKibben, "whether we're going to get there in 100 years or in 35 years."

Good question, eh?


Bernie's Guy - When Bernie Sanders made the move from House to Senate he got himself a new press secretary - a seasoned Capitol Hill veteran and a nice guy with a Chicago past.

In fact, Mike Briggs, who was up to visit Vermont last week, went to work for the Chicago Sun-Times in the late 1970s. He was a reporter with the Sun-Times for 14 years with stints at the state-capital bureau in Springfield, Illinois, and on Capitol Hill. He also put in one year in downtown Chicago and even got to spend a Thanksgiving dinner at the home of the late, great columnist (and our hero) Mike Royko.

Briggs also worked for several U.S. senators, including Paul Simon and Carol Moseley Braun of Illinois and John Edwards of North Carolina. He served "Haircut" for all of his six years in the Senate.

Always wonder how "foreigners" view Ol' Bernardo, a guy we've been covering since his historic 1981 race for mayor of Burlington.

"Bernie cares in his gut about the issues he talks about," said Briggs. "Not all of them do."


DeWalt vs. Welch? - Newfane Selectman Dan DeWalt, the guy who was blowing the whistle on the "Impeach Bush" train way before it was fashionable to do so, tells "Inside Track" this week that Vermont Democratic Congressman Peter Welch is in for the same treatment in the Vermont House race that Speaker Nancy Pelosi's going to get in California. And that is a third-party, independent challenger in November 2008 - unless he quickly gets behind the growing effort to impeach President George W. Bush!

Antiwar Mom Cindy Sheehan said over the weekend that unless Speaker Pelosi introduces articles of impeachment by July 23, she will take on Pelosi as an "independent."

Likewise for Peter Welch. Selectman DeWalt told us that if Vermont's congressman doesn't hop on the "Impeach Bush" train, he will "work really hard to find a candidate to run against Welch, because Welch has betrayed us!"

DeWalt said the Hartland attorney and former president of the Vermont Senate was "all about ending the Iraq war" as a candidate running against Republican Gen. Martha Rainville, but then voted for "procedural votes" and engaged in "backdoor politics" when he hit Capitol Hill.

The endless bloodbath of the Iraq war continues, DeWalt noted. And the architects of the war, George Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, remain in power, safely serving out their terms until they're replaced in January 2009.

"I think that the folks who are arguing for impeachment," said Rep. Welch, "are making a very, very compelling case about the misuse of power by the president of the United States. But the major question," he told us, "is what's the best way to end this war, and what we're seeing is Republicans beginning to crack."

Ol' Welchie cited last week's defections from the GOP ranks of Sen. Pete Domenici of New Mexico, "a very respected, very high-ranking Republican," and Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana.

In the House, said Welch, Democrats have 218 votes against the disastrous, dishonest Iraq war, but need 290 to overcome the president's veto.

"And the one thing that I continue to believe would consolidate the Republicans," said Pedro, "would be defending the president on impeachment, whereas they're abandoning him on the war. And I believe," he said, "that's the view of Speaker Pelosi."

Republicans might not continue to defend the president on the issue of impeachment, argues DeWalt of Newfane, if Pelosi, Welch and the Democratic leadership would start doing some serious investigative work, as was done on the Nixon administration by Congressional Democrats 35 years ago. Those investigations uncovered evidence that led to the impeachment hearings on President Richard Nixon and his sudden departure.

"You know, I have an enormous amount of respect for Dan," said Rep. Welch. "He has led the impeachment movement. My town voted for it. I just disagree with him that impeachment will help end the war. I think it will delay ending the war. And so that's an honest disagreement and obviously he has to make his own decision."

DeWalt told yours truly he himself is a potential congressional candidate. He said if he runs, he will "do it to win" and "go full-bore." He said he's "thinking about it."

Either way, he assured us, the antiwar, pro-impeachment folks will have a horse in the 2008 Vermont House race.

"We will find one, field one and fund one," said DeWalt.

"I disagree with him on impeachment as a tactic that will be effective in ending the war," said Congressman Welch. "And that's a disagreement on a tactic. That's not a disagreement on an objective.


Job Requirements - Yes, they do exist . . . for some jobs. Take Vermont's Secretary of Transportation, for example. Big job making sure Vermont highways and byways are working right. But the only requirement we're aware of for the position of secretary of transportation is being a friend of Gov. Jim Douglas. Secretary Neale Lunderville certainly is that.

The Boy Wonder from Williston was on Gov. Scissorhands' Fifth Floor staff prior to taking the transportation post, and twice - in 2002 and 2004 - Young Lunderville was Jim Douglas' talented, successful campaign manager.

Unlike the secretary of transportation, however, the position of Vermont Commissioner of Health does have job requirements. State statute requires the health commissioner "be a licensed physician."

Current commissioner Sharon Moffat was appointed way back in June 2006 to replace Dr. Paul Jarris. Unlike Dr. Jarris, Commissioner Moffat is not a doctor, as state law requires. She's a registered nurse.

This past winter, GOP Rep. Tom Koch introduced a bill that would have eliminated from Title 18 the physician requirement for health commish. It went nowhere in the House Health and Human Services Committee.

Tuesday morning, we checked in with the offices of the governor in Montpelier, the health commissioner in Burlington, and the attorney general.

Nancy Erickson, communications director at the Vermont Department of Health, returned our call after three hours and told us Health Commissioner Moffat "was not available on short notice" to speak with us.


Erickson noted Moffat was a registered nurse and had almost 20 years' experience at the health department.

"By statute," she said, "any commissioner can be an 'acting' commissioner," which Acting Commissioner Moffat remains, after more than one year in the post. Erickson told us a recent study found "half the nation's health commissioners don't have an MD."

Who cares what Vermont law says, right?

Gov. Douglas' spokesman Jason Gibbs did not return our call seeking the view from the Fifth Floor.

Democratic Attorney General Bill Sorrell did.

The AG told us he checked on it, and Commissioner Moffat remains on "acting" status. The word "acting," he said, has not been removed from her title, contrary to what a source suggested to us. Though Moffat has been in the post for more than a year, Sorrell said he's not aware there's a "time frame" on how long the "acting" title can stay there.

"At present, there's no constitutional crisis," said Sorrell.

Vermont's AG also pointed out he "personally" has no problem with having a non-physician serve as Vermont's health commissioner. In fact, Sorrell pointed out he currently has a niece, Andrea Villanti, in the PhD program in public health at Johns Hopkins.

A spot in the future Sorrell administration, eh?