Vermont's three-term Republican Gov. Jim Douglas is taking nothing for granted, but he certainly looks darn near unbeatable in 2008, doesn't he?
Just look at how the "Vermont Left" is struggling to find a credible potential challenger to the GOP governor of the only state President George W. Bush won't set foot in?
Former Democratic State Sen. Matt Dunne of Windsor County, defeated in the 2006 Lite-Gov race by the Republican incumbent Brian Dubie, is looking like the Ds' best shot at the moment. But Dunne is holding off on a decision about a gubernatorial bid until November.
It's quite clear that Gov. Scissorhands is a shoo-in for reelection in a three-way contest. Democratic State Sen. Peter Shumlin of Windham County, the colorful senate president pro tem, has even been publicly floating the name of GOP State Sen. Vince Illuzzi from the Northeast Kingdom, as an "independent" candidate Democrats could possibly back.
This week "Inside Track" learned that Shumlin has also been quietly floating the name of Progressive Anthony Pollina as a gubernatorial candidate Vermont's Left could unite around.
Progressive State Rep. David Zuckerman of Burlington told yours truly that Shumlin first broached the subject of a Pollina nomination last April.
"He came up to me at an event in Montpelier," said Zuckerman, "and said we've really got to talk about how we're going to get rid of Jim Douglas, and I think Anthony Pollina should really consider running."
Dave the Prog, chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, said Shummy told him he would "be willing to talk to other Democrats about getting behind Anthony if we don't have someone else."
Zuckerman said he found the leading Democrat's pitch "mildly surprising." After all, there's been some bad blood between Democrats and Progressives - "remnants from the past," is how he phrased it. But, said Farmer Dave, Peter from Putney suggested that if the Dems and the Progs "talk together and get over some of that stuff, he could put that behind him and they could move the state forward."
Jim Douglas, are you listening?
Rep. Zuckerman said Sen. Shumlin also called him a couple months later.
Shumlin "was still interested but didn't want to be public about it, since he'd been doing so much public work about getting Vince [Illuzzi] to run. Shumlin was calculating and trying to figure out who the best candidate to beat Jim Douglas would be."
Certainly Pollina has been sounding like a candidate of late, giving fiery "Bernie Sanders-style" speeches around the state.
"Jim Douglas is always telling us what we can't do, whether it is about health-care reform, energy efficiency or economic development," Pollina told the Vermont Labor Council last weekend. "I want Vermonters to start talking about what we can do. The governor should be Vermont's leading cheerleader, but Douglas is always saying something negative about the future of our state," said Pollina.
Shumlin could not be reached for comment. He did not respond to voice messages left on Tuesday.
But Lindol Atkins, president of the Vermont Labor Council, told yours truly on Tuesday the issue of a Douglas opponent did come up at their annual meeting in Killing-ton on Saturday. The state AFL/CIO, said Atkins, "appointed a committee" to sit down with the Democratic State Committee and discuss a Douglas challenger.
"We keep hearing they have a viable candidate," said Atkins, "but we want to know who the hell they're talking about."
Atkins denied rumors the state labor council had taken any action whatsoever on a resolution supporting Tony the Prog's candidacy. Asked if he thought Pollina would have a shot in a head-to-head against Gov. Scissorhands, the state labor leader replied, "Personally, I think so, but I haven't made a choice yet."
Vietnam Flashback - Sorry, but yours truly could not stop the "déjà-vu all over again" feeling during Independent U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders' Monday presser at his Burlington HQ.
On either side of our favorite Capitol Hill socialist sat the leaders of the major veterans groups in Vermont: the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the Disabled American Veterans and the American Legion.
The purpose was clear - get the word out that Congress is thumbing its nose at President George "WMD" Bush when it comes to the pending veterans' budget.
The Senate, like the House of Representatives, is pumping $3.6 billion more into the budget for the next fiscal year than our presidential disaster said he would permit. Ol' Bernardo said it was "the greatest increase in veterans' spending in history."
And at the moment, it looks like President Bush, who dodged Vietnam service by using family connections to get into the Texas National Guard, has caved. Bush now says he will allow the spending increase for vets if Congress finds somewhere else to make it up.
"I think we gave him an offer he couldn't refuse," said Sanders. "I think he understood that he would look very, very foolish, not only to the veterans community but to the American people, by saying, 'Oh, gee, we have money available for tax breaks for billionaires, but we don't have a few billion dollars for our veterans.'"
Thank God for small victories, eh?
Because the bigger picture, as you know, isn't as positive. Despite the fact that a large majority of Americans and Vermonters want our men and women out of Iraq ASAP, Mr. Bush appears to have enough votes in the 100-member Senate to continue funding his fraudulent Iraq war indefinitely. With his White House departure now 16 months away, he openly and shamelessly talks of passing his war of mass deception onto the next president.
What a guy, eh?
Question: How can it be allowed to continue?
Answer: The fact is that in the Senate, the Democrats need 60 votes to halt a GOP filibuster that would block a vote calling for serious withdrawal by certain dates. Right now, the 51 Democrat senators (including Independents Sanders and Joe Lieberman of Connecticut) can only get two or three Repub-licans to defect and cast antiwar votes.
There surely is a point down the road where enough Republican senators will wake up, smell the coffee, and realize their continued pro-war stance will have a personal political price. Unfortunately, we're not there yet.
The fact is, the Iraq war remains a touchy subject. The big antiwar protest march in Washington on Saturday got scant news coverage. Hey, Saturdays are for college football, right?
It was clear that Bernie and the vets had agreed beforehand not to get into a public discussion of current Iraq war policy in front of the cameras. All anyone on the panel wanted to talk about was what a great job Sanders and Congress had done in thumbing their collective noses at the White House for shortchanging veterans in the proposed budget.
Ed Laviletta of Highgate, Vermont's national legislative officer for the Veterans of Foreign Wars, said they were "not talking about our current war per se. We're talking about the wounded and the people that need it and the people from previous wars that need to be taken care of. This is what we're praising Bernie for. Nothing else.
"Our delegation from Vermont is top-drawer when it comes to these issues," said Laviletta. "We don't look to the right or the left of it. We're looking right down the center to veterans' issues and nothing else."
"That's what we're talking about today," confirmed Sanders, "and I'm very proud of the work the committee has done."
Afterwards, out in the hallway, one of the veterans' group leaders, a Vietnam-era vet, said he'd had gone back and forth on whether the Iraq war was the right thing to do. Despite the presidential lies that got us into it in the first place, at the moment he said he felt that supporting the current Bush budget request to keep our troops in Iraq and the war going was "the right thing to do."
That probably explains why the senator did not want to get into questions about Iraq war policy.
But last week, when Gen. David Petraeus, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, made the Bush administration's continued war-funding pitch on Capitol Hill, who did the British Broadcasting Corporation turn to in the U.S. Senate for a reaction?
Bernie Sanders of Vermont, that's who!
"This war has been a disaster from Day One," Ol' Bernardo told the BBC's Katty Kay. "It is a disaster today."
Sanders made no bones about it, telling the Brits that the United States "has got to bring our troops home as soon as possible. We need a whole new approach to combating international terrorism. While we are bogged down in Iraq spending billions and billions of dollars, Osama bin Laden remains free. Al-Qaeda is growing in strength. The Afghanistan situation is deteriorating. Pakistan is deteriorating. Al-Qaeda is growing all over the world. It was Al-Qaeda that attacked the United States of America. We have got to address that and get out of Iraq as soon as possible."
Certainly most Vermonters - most Americans - agree with him, eh?
But Sanders wasn't going to go there at Monday's presser, and his reluctance to do so was a reminder of the 1960s when the White Houses of Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon and the Military Industrial Complex they represented, equated "support for our troops" with "support for the war."
True support for our troops means not sending them to fight and die for a lie, doesn't it?
As the classic tune "Where Have All the Flowers Gone" asks: "When will we ever learn?"
Democrats' Future? - Looking beyond 2008, one name that regularly pops up in Democrat circles as a future something-or-other is that of our current freshman State Auditor Thomas M. Salmon.
After all, it's in his genes!
The 44-year-old rookie from beautiful Bellows Falls is the son of Thomas P. Salmon, Democratic governor of Vermont in the 1970s and president of the University of Vermont in the 1990s. Young Tom has also been getting good reviews for his work as auditor. Smart guy. Rubs a lot of people the right way, is what we hear.
And this week yours truly learned something about Young Tom we did not know: He's a member of the U.S. Navy Reserve serving as a builder second-class, in the Seabees. He signed up back in 2000. In fact, Salmon just returned from two weeks on the U.S.-Mexican border, helping to install a 15-foot wall to keep out the bad guys smuggling drugs and other things into America.
"It was like any good mission," said Young Tom. "The military is very uncomplicated. They call, you go. You do what they say. Stay on mission and you come home."
This mission involved "14-hour days pouring concrete." He also "cut some steel and drove the commercial bus a little bit moving people to and from the airport . We got a lot of traction and a lot of work was done."
Salmon the Seabee told us he "had always been interested in the military, but I had a knee injury from high-school football, didn't think I could get in."
But the Navy had a special program for older folks, and in 2000, just before his 37th birthday, he gave it a shot.
"I passed the physical and got sent off to the Seabees," said the Vermont State Auditor, "and I didn't know what the Seabees were!"
Live and learn, eh?
He soon found out the Seabees are "the dirt-sailor division - the construction battalion." Salmon informed us, "There's a lot of pride around the Seabees since World War II, and the attitude is can-do. No matter what tools you have, you get it done."
What - didn't the son of a governor sign up to be an officer?
"In reality," Salmon told us, "I was too old for the officer program, but I wanted to serve anyhow. It's been a great experience."
Salmon's name also came up at last Thursday's Obama for President rally/fundraiser in Burlington. Endorsing Obama were Attorney General Bill Sorrell, State Treasurer Jeb Spaulding and former Burlington Mayor Peter Clavelle. Salmon could not attend, but his statement was read to a cheering audience.
Salmon told yours truly he thinks Obama is "a catalyst." He said the Illinois senator "is unafraid of addressing problems in the United States. One of the problems politicians have is, they like to address apparent problems and not drill down to real problems," said Young Tom. "So I like him for that reason. I think we're ripe for a change. We need renewal and, from reading his book and watching him operate, I know he has full commitment."
But what's wrong with Hillary Clinton?
"Not the right person for the job," he replied. "It would be wrong person, wrong job."
When we mentioned his name is often mentioned as a future governor, Salmon quickly deflected the question, saying he's focused on the annual state audit. But what does our Democratic Auditor think of Democrats, Progressives and Independents getting behind an Anthony Pollina gubernatorial bid?
"Oh, yeah, I see that as a possibility," said Young Tom. Tony the Prog would be "running in the same vein as Bernie," said Salmon.
Meanwhile, State Party Chair Ian Carleton insists the Democrats will absolutely, positively have a gubernatorial candidate to take on Jimbo.
Maybe it'll be Carleton himself? Just kidding.