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Time Running Out?

Inside Track

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President George W. Bush, the most unpopular president in American history, returned from a trip to the Baltics this week. Did anyone miss him?

Here at home there was an unprecedented Senate no-confidence vote on Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez, which drew the support of seven Republicans along with the Democrats, and polls are, of course, showing enormous opposition to Mr. Bush's Iraq war. Yours truly gets the feeling the sands are running out of the Bush hourglass.

A Pew Research Center poll the other day showed a 61 percent disapproval rating for our current president. Only 29 percent approve. That's more than a 2-1 margin against Bush, and the largest disapproval rating since the Pew Research Center began taking polls on the question.

With the situation in Iraq getting bloodier by the day - with endless suicide bombings and daily American casualties - the dominant view on Capitol Hill is that the Bush White House has until September to show demonstrable signs of progress in Iraq. If it can't, the ranks of Republican critics in both the House and the Senate will grow larger. After all, many GOP senators and all of the incumbent GOP House members are up for re-election in November 2008.

Perfectly understandable.

Vermont, as you know, is the only state whose entire congressional delegation voted against the Bush Iraq war policy from the very beginning. That hasn't stopped the antiwar protests, though they have quieted down in recent weeks.

In an interview with Vermont Democratic Sen. Patrick J. Leahy over the weekend, we learned firsthand just how quickly our senior senator's patience is running out with the war policy.

In fact, it was the first time since his 1992 U.S. Senate re-election race that we've heard St. Patrick publicly take a shot at GOP Jim Douglas. [Leahy won that race in an 11-point landslide: 54-43 percent.]

"The governor has been a cheerleader for the war and the administration all the way through," said Leahy when asked about the antiwar protests. "Why don't they [the antiwar activists] go talk to him? And ask him what he says when he goes to the Republican Governors Association? I know he gets a huge amount of money from them for his campaigns, but what does he say when he goes there?"

Fair question.

On Monday, yours truly asked Gov. Douglas if he cared to respond to the Iraq war "cheerleader" charge.

"Well," replied Douglas, "I expect that the protesters are interested in the congressional offices because [the congressmen] have something to say about it, whereas I don't. They're the ones who authorize military action, authorize the expenditures for that action. I think [the protesters'] concern is directed appropriately."

But we told the Guv we were not aware he had ever commented that the Bush administration has consistently lied to the American people about the reasons to go to war in the first place. Saying something a thousand times does not make it true. The weapons of mass destruction that Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney repeatedly claimed were a threat to the U.S. simply did not exist. So far, Douglas will only say it's time for an Iraq "exit strategy," but he has not criticized the "entrance strategy."

"Well, your question was about the protesters," replied Douglas, "and I have nothing to do with the decision to authorize the use of force or fund it. Members of Congress do."

Perfectly understandable why Vermont's top Republican doesn't want to go near the Iraq war policy with a 10-foot pole, isn't it? But what about the dozens of Vermonters serving in the National Guard and the regular military who have been killed or injured because of the president's lies?

Just imagine the impact of a Republican governor, a longtime Bush supporter from the most liberal state in America, publicly criticizing the Bush Iraq war policy for what it really is.

Jimbo would be on network news, for sure!

As things presently stand on Capitol Hill, Leahy told us the signs of change are becoming more prevalent.

"Now, interestingly enough, as I go into these [Gonzalez] investigations," said St. Patrick, "some of the same Republicans who were muzzled by the White House are beginning to speak out. And nobody tries to stop me from getting the subpoenas on the Republican side. This is a lot different than it was just a year ago."

Yours truly predicts the political change in Washington is now on an irreversible track.

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Bernie & the Brits - Vermont's freshman Independent United States Sen. Bernie Sanders may not be getting much attention from the mainstream American press, but the British Broadcasting Corporation is giving him prominent attention.

Sanders was a featured guest on the BBC World Service radio broadcast on Monday (BBC-TV, too), prior to the U.S. Senate's unusual no-confidence vote on Alberto Gonzalez. As you know, the attorney general allegedly replaced federal prosecutors for political reasons and demonstrated extraordinary memory gaps when asked about it as he testified before Sen. Patrick Leahy's Judiciary Committee.

As we noted above, seven Republican senators joined with Democrats and Ol' Bernardo on Monday to vote "no-confidence." However, they fell short of the 60 votes needed for passage.

"This vote won't make any difference, will it?" asked the BBC interviewer.

"What it does is tell the president of the United States in a very unusual manner that the American people are sick and tired of the incompetence and the extreme right-wing drift of the AG's office," replied the Vermont senator. "You have an attorney general who basically believes that the president can do anything he wants so long as it's 'fighting terrorism.' I think that is a very, very dangerous situation."

Sanders told the BBC his "hope is that out of the pressure that's building up, the attorney general will resign."

Apparently, Sanders' viewpoint wasn't considered newsworthy by CBS, NBC, ABC, CNN or foxy FOX.

"We have got to deal with the reality," Sanders told the Brits, "that we have the most incompetent, reactionary administration in the modern history of America, and a president who will go down in history as one of the worst presidents, if not the worst president, this country has ever had."

Yes, indeed, the clock is ticking on Alberto Gonzalez.

P.S. Yours truly swung by the Sheraton Burlington Monday to catch Gov. Jim Douglas' welcome-to-Vermont opening speech to the National Association of State Medicaid Directors conference. It was a first-time visit to Vermont for most of the attendees, and yours truly conducted an unscientific survey of their Vermont political knowledge. The best-known figure? Everyone answered "Howard Dean," while about 75 percent mentioned "Patrick Leahy." But none of them had heard of Bernie Sanders.

Guess they don't get their news from the BBC, eh?

By the way, the world of state Medicaid directors appears a wee bit topsy-turvy at the moment. Since the NASMD's last national meeting in November 2006, 26 out of 50 directors have left their posts.

Vermont's Director, Josh Slen, is a rare exception, having been at the job since 2003.

A seasoned veteran, eh?

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Cheney vs. Douglas? - Yes, it's true, only it's not that Cheney, but rather State Rep. Margaret Cheney, a Norwich Democrat and member of the House Natural Resources and Energy Committee.

Rep. Cheney's op-ed appeared in daily papers around the state this week, surgically repudiating Gov. Douglas' veto of H.520, the Dems' big climate-change bill.

A former journalist, Rep. Cheney tells "Inside Track" that the governor has been putting out "misleading" arguments against the bill. For one thing, he continues to refer to it as a tax bill, not an environmental bill, and highlights the tax it places on power generation by Entergy Vermont Yankee, the nuclear power plant in Vermont, while ignoring the generation tax it places on wind power production. Same tax for both.

In truth, Vermont Yankee's taxes have declined significantly over the last decade as their property values in Vermont have escalated.

According to Cheney, VY's total payments to the state's general fund in 1997 were $3.25 million. Its 1997 payment to the state's Education Fund was $2.9 million.

A decade later, in 2007, said the Norwich rep and former school board member, VY's General Fund payment has shrunk to $2.7 million, with almost $1 million less going into the Education Fund.

Vermont Yankee Nuclear, said Cheney, "has been getting a tax holiday. I don't think any other Vermont business can say that."

Now under new ownership - Entergy Inc. of Louisiana - Vermont Yankee has put $100 million in upgrades and improvements into its very profitable Vermont nuke.

"VY's property taxes," said Rep. Cheney, "have been going down as their property values have been going up."

"Is Gov. Douglas lying?" we asked Cheney.

"I don't know if he's lying," she replied, "but when I read his veto, I wondered if he had read the bill."

P.S. Democratic Rep. Cheney, unlike her GOP namesake in the vice president's office (no relation), is not a household word in Vermont. Yet.

Margaret is a Harvard University graduate and was the managing editor of The Washingtonian Magazine from 1977 to 1989. Her dad, a native Vermonter, was in the Foreign Service; she grew up around the world in Malaysia, Holland, Nicaragua, India, Peru and Washington, D.C.

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Self-Censorship? - As Gov. Douglas was continuing his incessant trashing of the Democrats' global warming/climate-change bill, H.520, the other day, we learned an interesting detail about just what kind of global-warming information the guv feeds his brain.

Would you believe Gov. Jimbo has still neither seen Al Gore's 2006 Oscar-winning flick, An Inconvenient Truth, nor read the book?

"There are millions of books I haven't read," replied Douglas when we inquired about it.

Sure, but An Inconvenient Truth is the most popular and acclaimed environmental book and movie of the moment. We asked our Republican governor if Gore's Democratic Party affiliation is the reason for his boycott.

"No," said Gov. Douglas, "I just don't go to movies. I'm too busy doing the people's work."

"So, you have no intention of seeing it?" we asked.

"That's right," said our Guv.

Interesting.

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Media Notes - After 17 years with the Associated Press and 15 years of solid, reliable duty at its Montpelier bureau, reporter Ross Sneyd bid farewell to the company on Sunday. Sneyd has been the AP's top political reporter in Vermont and a fixture at the Statehouse every winter.

John Curran, the Associated Press bureau chief who replaced Chris Graff last year, told "Inside Track" that Mr. Sneyd's departure "will be a huge loss" for the AP.

"Ross is a great reporter," said Mr. Curran, "and his institutional memory will be sorely missed."

Curran confirmed that the AP will not be filling Sneyd's position. Seems like everywhere you look, the "news business" is shrinking.

Three seasoned Vermont journalists remain at the AP's Vermont bureau: Wilson Ring, David Gram and Lisa Rathke. And veteran photojournalist Toby Talbot is still taking the pictures that go everywhere.

Mr. Sneyd told "Inside Track" on Tuesday that he's going to take three weeks off before starting his new position as a "newscast producer" at Vermont Public Radio in Colchester. He says the new post "will involve coordinating various local newscasts."

Though Ross has been writng "broadcast" news copy for the AP all these years, radio will be a new world for him and he says he's looking forward to it.

Ross covered the civil-unions battle back in 2000. In 2003, he and partner Warren Hathaway, a clinical social worker, obtained their own civil union.

The pair also operate a bed-and-breakfast in Plainfield: http://www.comstockhousebb.com. And they raise sheep, too! Ross was stringing fencing when we caught him on his cellphone Tuesday.

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Media Notes II - Radio talk-show host Mark Johnson at WDEV-AM & FM in Waterbury is heading to China on Saturday with Gov. Jim Douglas and the Vermont delegation. And though it's a 12-hour time difference, Mark tells "Inside Track" he plans to call in for the first half-hour of his Monday-Friday program. He tells us the delegation consists of 17 members, including two state troopers. It's a 13-hour flight from Chicago, he says.

"I'm cramming like I have a final coming up," says Mr. Johnson. "I'm totally psyched!"

Bon voyage. We'll be tuning in!

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