Punch, Poetry and Progress?
Rookie Republican Gov. Jim Douglas performed his best President Franklin Delano Roosevelt impersonation on Good Friday as he invited one and all to celebrate his first 100 Days of Progress.
The governor's staff set up a stage and sound system in the Statehouse ceremonial office and rolled out a big spread of punch and cookies in the Cedar Creek Room.
The attendees consisted mainly of Douglas campaign donors, cabinet members and folks on the Guv's personal staff. Joining Douglas on the stage were the leaders of the Vermont House and Senate.
The difference between Douglas in 2003 and Roosevelt in 1933 is that FDR had actually accomplished a great deal in his first 100 days. Meat-and-potato items like the Farm Credit Act and the National Industrial Recovery Act.
Jim Douglas' plate hardly compares. His meat-and-potato issues of reforming Act 60 and the permit process are still in the legislative oven. And health-care reform isn't even on Jimbo's to-do list.
Republican House Speaker Walter Freed used the occasion to bash the press for not writing glowing stories about his great leadership. Wally, you see, is not known for his communication skills. The antipathy our favorite oil and tobacco dealer has for the press goes way back. It's a chip on his shoulder he simply cannot shake off.
Senate president pro tem Peter Welch, a Democrat, followed Freed to the mike. Given the Guv's public bashing of Senate Ds in the last couple weeks, it was a bit of a surprise to see Welchie participate in the Douglas love-fest. Peter's diplomatic skills shone brightly, however, as he stressed the need for cooperation and putting the people of Vermont first.
And he praised Gov. Jimbo for being a leader who "knows the difference between honest political debate and political rhetoric."
You see, what Sen. Welch didn't tell the gathering of Douglas supporters was that the new governor, while knowing the difference, had chosen to go with "political rhetoric," rather than "honest political debate."
Welch later explained that in a political campaign a candidate speaks thematically. "That's the poetry of politics," said Welch.
But after the election, the winning candidate for CEO of Vermont must move into the legislative arena.
"In the legislature you speak about details and the specifics," said Welch. "That," he said, "is the prose of politics." Our new governor "has stayed on the poetry and didn't sit down to the prose."
Instead of sitting down with the Senate leadership to collaborate on permit reform, said Welch, Gov. Jimbo went on a speaking tour around the state bashing Senate Democrats for not passing out a bill that had yet to reach the Senate.
Hints of the coming 2004 campaign can be seen in Douglas' public threats that Democrats should pay the price if the legislature does not pass his permit "reform" legislation this year. Last week, Gov. Jimbo told the TV cameras Vermont voters will have a right to be "upset, unsatisfied and unforgiving" of Welch & Co. if the Guv's agenda is not adopted.
But many are questioning the Guv's proposal.
"We don't want to sell out the environment," said Sen. Welch, "and be put in a position to rubber-stamp a bill that at this point is pretty much a mess."
Good point, eh?
Speaking of Permit Reform -- The sacred scripture of permit reform is a dubious "study" conducted in 2000 by the Department of Economic Develop-ment. The department hired the O'Neal Group Inc., an out-of-state "brand-identity firm" that had earlier done surveys for the Department of Tourism and Marketing.
The O'Neal Report is regularly cited by Gov. Douglas as proof that businesses across Vermont are crying out for permit reform. Really?
An examination of the O'Neal Report indicates that interpretation is in the eye of the beholder. For example, it found a whopping 76 percent of manufacturers of Food/Apparel/Wood products believe the state of Vermont is friendly to business!
It also found that High Tech companies love it here and more than 80 percent of them hope to expand in Vermont!
And all business sectors cited Vermont's quality of life, excellent workforce and "political access" as the three top advantages of doing business in the Green Mountains.
In fact, almost two-thirds of High Tech businesses say the state is already business-friendly. Rather than permit reform, their top concern is rapidly escalating health-care costs, an issue the Douglas administration has no plan to address.
The O'Neal Report's political spin was developed by a carefully selected 20-member "working group." In addition to six state tourism and economic development officials, there were three members of Paul Kaza Associates, a South Burlington advertising/marketing agency, John O'Kane of IBM, John Kimball of Vermont Gas, and Wayne Roberts of the Lake Champlain Chamber of Commerce.
Also on the distinguished panel was Jack McMullen, the Massachusetts millionaire who moved to Vermont six years ago to challenge U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy.
Is it any wonder all they saw in the data was negativity? For them the glass is always half empty, not half full.
A closer look at the over-hyped O'Neal Report shows Vermont is not nearly as antibusiness as some politicians want you to think.
Pants On Fire? -- Word from Hospital Hill this week is that the chairman of Fletcher Allen Health Care's board of trustees, Louise McCarren, remains at the helm. This despite the fact that she was caught last week violating one of the most important tenets of the Mary Fanny's "Statement of Values."
In its Mission Statement, FAHC boldly declares: "We communicate openly and honestly with the community we serve."
For many Vermonters that statement rings hollow this week. In fact, it's laughable.
Everybody knows that hospital management repeatedly lied to state officials about the true cost of the massive Renaissance Project.
Everybody knows that Congressman Bernie Sanders and Gov. Jim Douglas demanded the tarnished trustees step down.
Everybody knows that all the sitting trustees left over from the Renaissance Scam did resign in disgrace two months ago. All but McCarren and the dean of the College of Medicine, that is.
And everybody who read Seven Days last week knows that Ms. McCarren brazenly lied when asked why one of the newly nominated "clean" trustees had mysteriously withdrawn his nomination at the 11th hour.
McCarren said Chittenden bank CEO Paul Perrault made a "personal decision" to withdraw his nomination to the FAHC board. Asked why, she told Seven Days she "concluded" Perrault did so because he realized it was "in the best interests" of the hospital and the bank.
Perrault told us he withdrew his nomination because McCarren personally called him and asked him to withdraw.
It was a sad moment, a "liar, liar, pants on fire" moment, and McCarren's pants were smoking. And the flames ignited the hospital's policy to "communicate openly and honestly with the community we serve."
The truth is, hospital watchdogs like Rep. Anne Donahue and State Auditor Elizabeth Ready, among others, had raised questions about the apparent conflict of interest raised by Perrault's appointment.
They noted the Chittenden Bank, Vermont's largest, is the Master Trustee of the $150 million Renaissance bond issue. In fact, according to hospital officials, the Chittenden has been the Master Trustee on all Fletcher Allen bond issues since 1983. And since 1983, they said, the Master Trustee contract on hospital bond issues has never been put out to bid.
Rep. Donahue also pointed out former FAHC Chairman Philip Drumheller, president of the Lane Press, has a seat on the Chittenden Bank board of trustees and has the exact same conflict-of-interest problem.
Mr. Drumheller left the FAHC board in December when his term expired. While he publicly accepted full responsibility for what appears to be the largest financial scandal in Vermont history, Drumheller held onto his chairmanship until the bitter end.
Clearly the powers that be on Hospital Hill never considered Drumheller's Chittenden Bank conflict-of-interest a problem. But Mr. Perrault's suddenly is. In fact, Fletcher Allen considers Perrault's conflict serious enough to disqualify him from sitting on the hospital board.
It gets worse.
You'd think by now McCarren & Co. would get it. You'd think they would realize that the sleazy and deceitful scheming to build a $356 million Taj Mahal on Hospital Hill had cost Fletcher Allen the trust of the community it serves.
You'd think they'd accept the fact that Drumheller's board flunked Trustees 101. If they didn't know hospital management was lying to state regulators about the true cost of the Taj Mahal, they damn well should have.
Instead, last Tuesday evening, Fletcher Allen fêted its tarnished trustees with a gala farewell reception at Vermont National Golf Club. "Food and drinks were served," according to FAHC spokesman Maria McClellan. Both new and old trustees attended. The hospital spent $1950 for the event, she said.
Asked what FAHC was thanking its tarnished trustees for, McClellan replied, "their years of service."
Good grief. Wouldn't McDonald's have been more appropriate for that?
P.S. As Seven Days goes to press Tuesday, another controversy has erupted on Hospital Hill. On Friday, FAHC summarily fired an R.N. who is a member of the nurses' union bargaining committee. Marley Skiff (wife of former Champlain College President Bob Skiff) was recently nominated to the hospital board by Rep. Bernie Sanders and the union. The powers that be ignored her nomination.
According to the nurses, Skiff was fired for unspecified "union activities."
FAHC's McClellan declined to comment, saying it was a personnel matter and therefore confidential.
In response, the nurses' union plans a candlelight vigil Thursday evening outside Interim CEO Ed Colodny's condominium complex at the foot of College Street.
Deanwatch 2004 -- Just when you thought George W. Bush and his right-wing extremist friends were enjoying smooth sailing, one of the chosen ones opens his big mouth and says what he really feels.
This time it's Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, chairman of the Republican Conference in the U.S. Senate. Sen. Rick was being interviewed Monday by the Associated Press about a pending Supreme Court case that questions the constitutionality of the sodomy law in the great state of Texas. Two gay men were arrested and charged with having consensual sex in their own home.
"If the Supreme Court says that you have the right to consensual [gay] sex within your home, then you have the right to bigamy, you have the right to polygamy, you have the right to incest, you have the right to adultery. You have the right to anything," Santorum told A.P.
But Sen. Santorum, a rising Republican star, didn't stop with homosexuality. He lumped it in with "feminism" and "liberalism."
"All of those things are antithetical to a healthy, stable, traditional family," Santorum said.
Don't you just love it when conservative Republicans say what they really feel?
Our favorite presidential hopeful was quick to issue a statement expressing his outrage. Said Howard Dean on Tuesday:
"That a leader of the Republican Party would make such insensitive and divisive comments -- comments that are derogatory and meant to harm an entire group of Americans, their friends and their families -- is not only outrageous but deeply offensive.
"The silence with which President Bush and the Republican Party leadership have greeted Sen. Santorum's remarks is deafening. It is the same silence that greeted Senator Trent Lott's offensive remarks in December... Silence is an unacceptable response. By standing up against such divisive rhetoric --whether one is gay, lesbian, bisexual, or straight --we can begin to achieve the American ideal of equal rights for all people."
Ho-Ho was just as straightforward in the op-ed piece he wrote last week for Common Dreams -- http://www.common dreams.org -- a popular Web Site that posts "News and Views for the Progressive Commun-ity." Dean made his opposition to what Dubya's done in Iraq perfectly clear. Our favorite line:
"The next president will need to undo the work of this band of radicals currently controlling our foreign policy -- who view the Middle East as a laboratory for their experiments in democracy-building, where no such traditions exist."
"Band of radicals," eh?