The Vermont Democratic Party took a punch to the solar plexus this week with the revelation that State Auditor Elizabeth Ready has fudged her resume since the day she first entered the state senate way back in 1989.
In a Vermont mini-version of the Great Impostor, Chainsaw Liz claimed she had a bachelor's degree from the University of Vermont.
No one doubted her.
That's because the biennial Statehouse publication containing the photos and bios of legislative members, euphemistically referred to by regulars as "The Stud Book," is regarded as being as sound as the Bible. The information it contains is provided personally by each member.
A few years later, as she rose in prominence as one of the leading legislative critics of Gov. Howard Dean, Sen. Ready apparently decided a bachelor's degree wasn't good enough. As she entered the 1997-98 session as the new chairman of the Senate Natural Resources Committee, Chainsaw Liz awarded herself a master's degree from Norwich University!
No one doubted her.
After all, why on Earth would a state senator and committee chairman feel a need to lie about her academic credentials?
Only Elizabeth Ready knows the answer to that question, and so far she has chosen to keep it a secret. We do know from similar cases that the fraudulent embellishment of one's resume is an all too common occurrence in society. Chainsaw's not the first to engage in personal puffery by flaunting fake academic degrees.
Tyrone Willingham would not be the football coach of Notre Dame today if the university's first choice to coach the Fighting Irish had not suffered from the same ailment as the Irish-American lass running the auditor's office in the Green Mountains.
In Coach George O'Leary's case, he claimed a master's degree from NYU that he did not have. The price he paid for his dishonesty was the loss of the premier college football coaching job in America. Today, two years later, O'Leary coaches at the University of Central Florida.
But unlike O'Leary -- and the state poet of California who resigned two years ago for likewise faking a degree -- Vermont's Ready remains in her high-paying post of state auditor, safe and secure.
The story of Ready's deception broke in Saturday's Rutland Herald/Times Argus. It turns out that Randall Brock, the Republican Party candidate for state auditor, had previously pitched the story of Liz's lies to several news organizations, including WCAX and the Freeps (Seven Days was not among them), but was brushed off and advised to hold a press conference instead.
What does that say about the state of investigative journalism in Vermont?
Dirt-dishing by reliable sources is the foundation of most good political reporting. Without accurate information from countless unidentified sources, media coverage of government would be no more than the recitation of press releases.
My personal rules for accepting such anonymous material are simple:
1. Tell me the truth and nothing but the truth.
2. You lie to me and I promise you'll regret it.
3. If the facts verify what you say, I don't even know you.
Simple, eh? After all, the whole purpose of journalism is to find out and expose what the hell is really going on. Anonymous sources who want wrongdoers outed play a vital role!
When first confronted about the matter at Saturday's Vermont Labor Council conclave at the Sheraton Hotel and Conference Center in South Burlington, Auditor Ready chose her words carefully.
Look, Elizabeth Ready is a political pro. Outspoken, ballsy, you name it, there's only one Chainsaw Liz and she's never ducked a fight.
"If opponents want to bring up this kind of thing, God love 'em," said Chainsaw. "That's the way it is in politics in Vermont, but I don't think it's the Vermont way. And I don't think it's going to play here."
"So you never lied about your academic record when you were in the Vermont Senate?" we asked.
"If there was anything inaccurate or confusing," she replied, "I have corrected it and I will continue to do so."
Spoken like a college graduate, eh? Maybe even a Ph.D.?
Randy Brock, who has suddenly become a live horse in the state auditor's race, wasn't buying Chainsaw's non-explanation, and he wasn't alone.
"I don't consider it dirty politics at all," said Brock at a Monday Statehouse press conference. "I think Vermonters want to know whether their public officials are or are not telling the truth, particularly in official publications."
Brock, by the way, says he has a degree from Middlebury College. A friend who checked said he actually does. And, if I may say so, he also looks like an auditor.
Unlike the incumbent, Mr. Brock actually has a solid background in business, and pinstripe suits become him. And this week, Randall Brock is fast becoming a household word in Vermont.
Tuesday morning, Mr. Auditor-in-Waiting was on the Statehouse lawn shooting a TV commercial, striking while the iron is hot. Gov. Jim Douglas' campaign director Neale Lunderville appeared to be directing things.
Neale's the guy behind the devastating Douglas commercial that stars Democrat Peter Clavelle as a babbling idiot. Talented guy.
Few Vermont politicians have more familiarity with Chainsaw Liz than Gov. Jim Douglas. After all, Ready of Lincoln was one of Middlebury Jim's two Addison County state senators for a dozen years.
"These misrepresentations," said Gov. Douglas on Tuesday, "reflect poorly on public officials and on the state. It's a pattern of misrepresentation over a long period that is very disturbing. I believe the credibility of a public official is all that he or she has."
Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Peter Clavelle of Burlington, however, had a different take.
"I support Liz," Clavelle said in a Seven Days interview. "I think she's been a good auditor. She's made mistakes and she's owned up to them, and it's time to move on."
Mayor Moonie's in a tough spot. Liz is an old friend. However, let's face it, Ready's resume-padding is not exactly going to boost the Democratic ticket.
Nonetheless, we expect Chainsaw to oil her chain, dig in her heels and try to ride it out. Career-wise, her chances of rising up to the next political tier appear to be nil at the moment. Holding what she's got will require the toughest political fight of her life. And with Jim Douglas appearing comfortably en route to reelection, GOP state-auditor candidate Randy Brock just went from 10-to-1 to 2-to-1.
Also of concern for the Democrats is the fact that two years ago, Elizabeth Ready drew the lowest percentage of votes on the Democratic ticket -- 51.3 percent. Democratic Secretary of State Deb Markowitz got 61 percent.
Getting a majority to back Ready after her honesty-challenged character just became front-page news will be a mighty tall order. But clearly, Elizabeth has no one to blame but herself.
Hogan Quits FAHC -- The powers that be on Hospital Hill did not bother to issue a press release, but Seven Days has learned that Con Hogan has abruptly resigned from the board at Fletcher Allen Health Care.
The former state official and gubernatorial candidate in 2002 apparently decided that life is just too short and he didn't want to spend any more of his life helping Vermont's largest hospital get its problem-plagued act together.
Hogan quietly quit a couple weeks ago. He had chaired the board's Governance Commit-tee.
Remember, the current board was brought in after the previous one failed to exercise any oversight over former CEO Bill Boettcher. Big Bill concealed the true costs of the Mary Fanny's massive expansion from state regulators and apparently from most of the trustees, too.
The new board and new management team headed by Dr. Melinda Estes were supposed to turn the Good Ship Mary Fanny around. The sudden resignation of the well-respected Hogan is not a good sign, folks.
Hogan was perhaps the best-known member of the new, "clean" board of trustees. His years running Vermont's Agency of Human Services only enhanced his reputation as an experienced, proven leader. Losing him is obviously a big embarrassment for the honchos on Hospital Hill, which likely explains why no announcement of his departure was made.
Hogan could not be reached for comment this week. He's believed to be traveling overseas doing consulting work. But Bill Schubart, chairman of the Mary Fanny board, did confirm Hogan's abrupt departure.
Schubart said he had "a very good talk" with Hogan before he resigned. And based on that talk, Chairman Bill said Con Hogan had left in frustration because the Governance Committee proposal to dilute the power of the four "parents" who control the hospital was rejected. Hogan wanted to open up seats on the board to outside members of the community.
Pretty radical stuff, eh?
The four parents of FAHC are Fanny Allen, UVM, the Vermont Health Foundation and the University Health Center. Each group, said Schubart, picks four trustees. Big Bill said that Hogan's proposal to expand the board was supported by only two of the parents, though he declined to identify them.
A third, he said, "was willing to keep an open mind, and one was not supportive."
Apparently, Hogan took the lack of "parental support" as a sign of things to come and decided he could put his energies into more productive endeavors.
"I think," said Chairman Schubart, "that Con didn't want to be patient and see how it played out, and I understand that. Con is a person of action."
Big Bill told Seven Days that he "agreed absolutely" with Hogan's proposal to alter the structure of the hospital board and open up seats to community members.
"Being new to this," meaning the Mary Fanny, said Schubart, "I'm more patient."
Leahy Lets Loose -- It's not often that Vermont's senior Senator Patrick J. Leahy lets his hair down, as they say, but Saturday was one of those days.
St. Patrick was speaking to the state's labor leaders at the Sheraton, and it turned into one of the most fiery speeches we've ever heard him deliver. Since it got no press coverage, here are some of his best shots.
"At a time when we are fighting an insidious enemy abroad," said Leahy, "we find that insidious seeds are being planted in our democracy right here at home during the campaign. To hold on to power, to preserve their own political self-interest, President Bush and his political minions are now trying to smother debate about the policies on terrorism and on Iraq.
"They are implying somehow that a coronation of President Bush rather than a reelection would be the patriotic thing to do. I don't want to be lectured on patriotism by any of that crowd at the White House!" said Leahy with spit in his voice and anger in his face.
"They have the sheer gall to say that if you ask any question about their war on terrorism, or on how badly they've handled the war in Iraq, that somehow we are giving aid and comfort to our enemies. They even go on to say that terrorists have a preference in our election. Well, I'll tell them something!"
And tell them he did.
"Some of the same people making these vile attacks," said St. Patrick, "have yet to accept even basic accountability for their roles in the events described in detail by the 9/11 commission."
Leahy told the attentive crowd how "ironic" it was that Vice President Dick Cheney would attack John Kerry's patriotism and suggest there will be more terrorist attacks on America if a Democrat wins the White House.
"This is especially ironic," said Leahy, his voice cracking, "because he [Cheney] was in charge of the government the last time they attacked. And they have yet to accept any responsibility for that!"
"They have yet to answer the question why Attorney General Ashcroft on September 11th wanted to cut funds for antiterrorism, funds he was all for on September 12."
"My friends, the time has come to stand our ground. We are Americans just as much as they are, with our constitutional and God-given rights to speak what we believe, and nobody nobody should dare tell us to shut up!
"This is the American people's election. It's not al Qaeda's. It's not Karl Rove's, and it's not Dick Cheney's, and it's not George Bush's. It's the American people's, and nobody can take that away from us!"
Like I said, Leahy's heart and soul were really in this one. St. Patrick is personally living in the eye of the storm, and the two armed, plainclothes Capitol Police officers who accompany him everywhere remind us just how high the stakes are.