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Vermont's Impeachment Cry Gets National Attention

Inside Track

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It's a most interesting week on the Vermont Impeachment front. At 11:30 on Wednesday morning, shortly after this edition of Seven Days hits the streets, a few leaders of Vermont's "Impeach George W. Bush" movement will meet for "five minutes" with the Democratic heavies of the Vermont Legislature.

They'll be led by a 27-year-old baker/ nanny from Richmond named Liza Earle. The small contingent will make the case that, not only have almost 40 Vermont towns voted in favor of the impeachment resolution (including Gov. Jim Douglas' hometown of Middlebury), but the Vermont Democratic State Committee voted overwhelmingly in favor of it, too, at its recent state committee meeting. And that vote came after a rousing pro-impeachment speech from Sen. Peter Shumlin who at the time passionately rode the impeachment train.

"The President deserves to have impeachment hearings," said Shumlin to his party faithful. "He lied about the war, lied about why he was going there, lied about 9/11 and Iraq's involvement, lied at every level. He made America the laughing stock of the world."

Hard to argue with that, right?

Of course, Shummy was also simultaneously using the delay tactic of claiming that legislative rules required an impeachment resolution had to start in the House, similar to the way it works in the U.S. Congress. When pressed, he said he was having it researched.

Well, as Shumlin knew going in, the research eventually showed that in Vermont, an impeachment of the President of the United States resolution could start in either chamber, much like a resolution honoring a state high-school basketball champion.

Sen. Shumlin's next fallback position was to play the perfect gentleman. As everyone knows, Speaker Gaye Symington has never looked kindly on the Bush impeachment matter. She prefers to focus on "important matters." The Speaker has claimed repeatedly that her chamber simply "does not have the time" to deal with it. Much more pressing items on its plate, she argues.

Sen. Shumlin's next excuse, says Earle, was saying he still would love to do it, but he has to maintain a good working relationship with his opposite number in the House and therefore won't take any action on the Bush impeachment matter.

Such a gentleman!

Ms. Earle, the pro-impeachment baker/nanny told us on Tuesday, "It seems like between last week and now, [Shumlin's] talked to Gaye and she said, 'You can't use my name as your excuse!'"

Now, it appears both Democratic power brokers are using the "We don't have time" excuse to duck and dodge at a truly grassroots Vermont effort to do the right thing.

Earle dismisses the "no time" argument in about two seconds flat.

"There's no part of the oath they took when they took office that says, 'I solemnly swear I will support the constitution of the United States if there's time.'

"They take an oath that they will support the constitution of the United States, so help me God," said Earle. "And to say there's no time - there's never going to be a time when the Vermont state legislature doesn't have other things to deal with. But there's also never been a time more urgent for calling for an investigation for impeachment."

She does make a good case, does she not?

So good a case, in fact, that "Doonesbury" got on the Vermont Impeachment Train this week. The nationally syndicated, Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoon strip about the impeachment battle in the Green Mountains will run through Saturday. It features reporter Roland Hedley visiting Vermont - a "picturesque setting for proud, tightly knit communities of civic-minded citizens, right?"

He notes that last month 35 of these "civic-minded" towns voted to impeach George W. Bush.

"Who are these rebels? What drives them to give comfort to America's enemies by tearing down her commander-in-chief?"

To learn more about the locals, Roland goes into a diner attired in body armor.

There he meets Donnie LePuc.

"The people of Vermont are coming together to demand accountability," says LePuc the Vermonter. "We consider it our patriotic duty."

Sixties flashback time, eh? Thank you, Garry Trudeau, the best cartoonist to ever come out of Saranac Lake, New York. There's a whole lot of 1967 in the air we're breathing right now, eh, Garry?

What Democratic Senate President Pro Tem Shumlin and Democratic House Speaker Gaye Symington need to realize is that this week's Vermont Impeachment "Doonesbury" is running in 1400 newspapers coast-to-coast, as well as on the Internet. This is no time to be shy and duck. A little backbone, please!

Of course, Republican Gov. Jim Douglas will criticize you for wasting time, but what of substance have you accomplished in the last three months, anyway?

And everybody knows there is still plenty of time. Time for Shumlin and Symington to decide if they'll pay any attention to Vermont's grassroots. Decide if they'll continue trying to ignore the obvious. And decide if they want to be Sen. Eugene McCarthy Democrats or Vice-President Hubert Humphrey Democrats. Both McCarthy and Humphrey were from Minnesota, and they went head-to-head for the 1968 presidential nomination of their party (after Sen. Robert Kennedy was assassinated).

Clean Gene McCarthy's message was pure and simple: "End the war in Vietnam. Bring the troops home." The grassroots knew the Vietnam War was based on lies and a threat that did not exist.

Humphrey played to the center, fearful of being dubbed "soft on communism." (Yes, indeed, those Viet Cong in black pajamas were the "WMDs" of their day.)

Hubert Humphrey won the Democratic nomination at the riotous convention in Chicago that August. The Democratic Party establishment won. However, Republican Richard Nixon beat them in November. Lucky us, huh?

The Vietnam War dragged on another six years, until America finally accepted that it was an unwinnable war fought for ignoble reasons - just like the one we continue to fight in Iraq.

How many more must die or be maimed?

******

Closer to Home - The Democrats on the Burlington City Council echoed the current anti-impeachment conservatism of the Democrat leaders of the legislature Monday night by throwing their weight behind a conservative Republican in the race for city council president.

State Rep. Kurt Wright, 51, from the city's New North End, defeated 30-year-old Progressive Tim Ashe 8-6, even though Republicans only occupy three seats on the Burlington City Council.

What explains it?

History.

Yours truly and Council President Wright go back a ways. When we landed on Burlington's Marble Avenue in 1979, Kurt had just started behind the counter at Kerry's Kwik Stop. The Vergennes native is a chatterbox now and he was a chatterbox then. And two years later. in, 1981, when Independent socialist Bernie Sanders pulled off the miraculous upset over Democratic incumbent Mayor Gordon Paquette, Burlington had no shortage of things to talk about.

Kurt Wright is the only Republican holding a seat in the Vermont Legislature who hails from the "People's Republic of Burlington." And it was back in 1981 when Garry Trudeau gave the city that title in his comic strip in the wake of Bernie's mayoral victory.

Kwik Stop Kurt has been a thorn in the side of the Sanderistas and the Progressives for more than two decades. One reason he's been so successful is that he's something of a rare political commodity in these parts: a blue-collar Republican. Even though his Kerry's Kwik Stop days are behind him, he's still no high roller; he's currently employed as a sales rep for Ben's Sandwiches in Hinesburg.

But why, in the Age of Bush II, and in the hometown of both Sen. Bernie Sanders and Democratic National Committee Chair Howard Dean, would the Democrats back GOP Kurt?

It all goes back to that night in March 1981, when that screaming champion of "poor people, working people and the elderly" unseated the confident incumbent Democrat by just 10 votes. (In fact, an attorney named Bill Sessions was Bernie's lawyer that night; he quickly got a court order sealing the ballots for a recount. Now Sessions is Vermont's seasoned federal judge sitting on the big global warming/auto industry lawsuit that kicked off this week at U.S. District Court in Burlington.)

From the moment Sanders took the oath of office as mayor, you could cut the rancor and bitterness in Contois Auditorium with a hockey stick. Council meetings at Burlington's City Hall meant the Monday-night fights, and they went until midnight.

The fights were between the Democrats and Bernie and his Independent/Progressive Coalition city councilors from the Old North End. The Republicans from the Hill Section just sat back and enjoyed it.

Twenty-six years later, things have not changed one bit between Democrats and the descendants of the guy with the Brooklyn accent who began the downfall of the Queen City's vaunted Democratic "Old Guard."

Time marches on, and this week's votes of four of the five Democrat councilors proves it.

Ashe the Progressive Loser had no personal criticism of Wright. Rather he said the vote showed "the council Democrats are a conservative group." He said it also showed how disconnected they are from rank-and-file Burlington Democrats.

"The city Democratic Party doesn't look a lot like the city council Democrats," Ashe told "Inside Track." "Basically, every Democrat outside this room doesn't look much like the city council Democrats."

Good argument?

Not to the Democrats he's knocking.

"The disconnect," said Democrat Joan Shannon (Ward 5), "may be this is not about supporting anybody's agenda, but more about supporting a process on the council rather than an individual's agenda. And I chose a person who I think will serve us better procedurally."

She insisted political divisions on the city council are often along ward lines rather than party lines. Sometimes the lines are drawn between the administration of the mayor and the city council.

"It's important," said Shannon, "to make sure the council gets the information it needs from the administration and is consulted in decision-making. That hasn't always been the case," she noted.

Hint, hint.

Think a Progressive City Council President Ashe will keep the same watchdog-style sharp eye on the Progressive Kiss administration that a Republican City Council President like Kurt Wright will?

Sure.

*****

No Charcoal Cookouts? - Prog Mayor Bob Kiss made little eye contact during his State of the City speech Monday evening, delivering a 20-minute read from the printed pages in front of him. He was much livelier that morning at a press conference, promoting a campaign to get folks to stop idling their vehicles for more than five minutes.

Yes, indeed, everyone's suddenly out to save the planet from global warming! The Burlington idling ordinance has been on the books since the current president's father was president, back in 1990. Police Chief Tom Tremblay, however, was not aware of cops ever writing a single ticket.

Ad-libbing, Mayor Kiss said the incremental approach was the way to go in fighting global warming. He recalled visiting Los Angeles back in 1969. He heard a news report of a body found under a viaduct.

"An autopsy showed there were no measurable lung deposits," said Kiss. "So they knew he had not been in Los Angeles for more than three weeks." Da Mayor acknowledged it was a long time ago, but, he said, "My point is, it really does describe Los Angeles, and it may describe Burlington. We need to do whatever we can to clean up our atmosphere."

What's next, asked yours truly, a ban on charcoal cookouts in summer?

Eyes widened.

"We haven't discussed that," replied Kiss, "but we need to take it seriously."

Banning charcoal cooking? Summer barbecues?

"It might be," said Kiss, "we'd take that into account."

Stay tuned. The whole world is changing!

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