Nude in Vermont
By Tuesday, the story had gone national: Gov. Jim Douglas ordered that the historic "Greek Slave" table lamp with a chained nude female figure be moved out of his Statehouse ceremonial office. When we spoke with gubernatorial press secretary Jason Gibbs, he had a phone message from CNN on his desk.
As you know, Friends of the Statehouse came up with the period lamp as part of its noble restoration effort. The artist, Hiram Powers, was born in Woodstock, Vermont, and was quite the acclaimed 19th-century sculptor. His "Greek Slave" piece was viewed as an anti-slavery statement at a time when human slavery was legal in the South.
Mr. Gibbs insisted the reason for moving the nude lamp figure off Gov. Scissorhands' ceremonial desk has nothing, repeat nothing, to do with sex. In fact, staffers joked among themselves, he told us, about Attorney General John Ashcroft's coverup of the big nude statue at the Justice Department two years ago.
Rather, said Jason, it has everything to do with the long cord that comes out of the lamp and connects to a fixture in the chandelier.
"It was only in jest," he assured us, that a female staffer had covered the nude figure with her hankie.
Ah, yes, the hankie that roared!
To prove it had nothing to do with prudishness, Gibbs said the governor's personal staff will appear in the nude at Wednesday's scheduled gubernatorial press conference.
Very Hot Water War -- Nothing gets Gov. Jim Douglas more upset. The very mention of "CLF" in his presence is like waving a red flag in front of a bull! A French fry in front of a seagull! Or a free drink in front of an Irishman!
The Conservation Law Foundation, a New England-wide environmental activist organization staffed with very smart lawyers, has long been demonized by Vermont's "business community." And for the last two years, Gov. Scissorhands has happily joined in.
Last August, CLF won a big one, shutting down construction of a new Big Box Lowe's Home Center in South Burlington that the governor had championed.
And in October, CLF won a landmark stormwater ruling from the same Water Resources Board. The WRB declared, in a unanimous 5-0 decision, that the Clean Water Act applies, and developers will henceforth need federal stormwater permits.
At the moment everything's on hold. Douglas and his developer pals are steaming mad.
"I think it's a shame," said Gov. Scissorhands the other day, "that an organization like CLF has retarded our efforts to clean up the waterways of Vermont. On several occasions, Lowe's being the most recent, we have had an opportunity to develop a state-of-the-art stormwater cleanup effort that's been stymied by this organization and others. So they are the story, in my view."
Our Guv insists responsible development should go forward, and charges CLF "is really not interested in cleaning up the waterways of this state."
It should be noted, however, that two of the WRB members in the unanimous decision were appointed by Douglas.
Not surprisingly, CLF lawyer Chris Kilian doesn't see things the way the governor does.
"The real story," said Kilian, "is that we have waterways that the public can't use, beaches that are increasingly closed, massive algae blooms starting to really foul Lake Champlain, and we've got polluters who have been let completely off the hook that are making hundreds of thousands of dollars by not cleaning up their pollution. That's just not fair."
As for the Guv's venom, Mr. Kilian replied, "I would hope the Gov would get behind bringing these people to the table, getting their money into the process so the taxpayers aren't bearing the entire cost and getting these waters cleaned up."
Don't hold your breath, folks. It won't happen anytime soon. The battle lines are drawn. In fact, on this one, Democratic Attorney General Bill Sorrell is happy to back our Republican governor.
Kilian says that's a little strange.
Usually, said Kilian, the AG's office "defends the decisions of the Water Resources Board. Usually, they come in on behalf of the people of the state, not any particular agency."
In this case, he said, "they appealed the decision of the Water Resources Board and are supporting the views of the Agency of Natural Resources, which are essentially that the Clean Water Act doesn't apply and should not be used to hold dischargers who are causing water-quality violations accountable."
So we rang up AG Sorrell on Tuesday. Sorrell, a.k.a. "Landslide Bill," is currently playing out his year of fame as president of the National Association of Attorneys General. General Billy's focus is on the prescription-drug trade, and next month he's hosting a big two-day conference on the issue in Chicago.
As for the suggestion by CLF's Kilian that he is carrying the wrong client's water on this one, Sorrell expressed his surprise. He pointed out that in the recent past CLF has publicly praised him for suing the Bush administration on drug prices and the EPA on air-quality rules.
"But when it comes to stormwater," Sorrell told Seven Days, "they're saying we've got to leave it to the feds. However, the feds are sitting on their hands."
Sorrell said the Vermont Legislature had put together a bipartisan stormwater plan last session.
"I guess that CLF doesn't want that program to go into effect," he said, "They don't want to give it a chance and see if it works."
Not so, countered Kilian.
"The attorney general doesn't understand that the legislature exempted existing polluters from having to clean up their act. The legislature's plan simply won't work," he insisted.
As for Gen. Billy's suggestion that CLF is hypocritical in using federal law to make their case, Kilian noted our state environmental agency takes federal money to implement federal clean-air and clean-water programs.
"If we take federal money," he said, "we're obligated to comply with federal law."
This could go on for a while, eh?
GOP Makes "Right" Move -- Ah, how the mighty have fallen! The gang that rode to power on the electoral backlash against civil unions in 2000 is back where they belong. Vermont, folks, is really not a right-wing state choked with religious fanatics. Republican control of the Vermont House for the last four years was truly an aberration.
Sure, sure, a lot of folks got uptight over the idea of same-sex marriage. It's human nature to resist change and fear darkness. But everybody's gotten over that now. The proof's in the pudding.
Not one, repeat, not one of the Sodom-and-Gomorrah predictions about how civil unions would destroy the family and destroy Vermont has come true. No influx of thousands of homosexuals, either.
Instead, we all have a right to be proud to live in a state that leads the nation in making equal rights for all citizens a cornerstone.
The only negative result of extending marriage rights to all couples in love was the elevation of Republican Walter Freed to Speaker of the House. Walt spent the last four years ducking the press while doing his best to protect the business community. Stop for a moment and try to think of the greatest accomplishment of Speaker Freed.
Go ahead, take a few more minutes...
That's OK. I can't think of one, either.
The Freedmeister, we always felt, knew he didn't belong in the Speaker's Office (where he sat most of the time with the door closed). Freed had no love for reporters, or other people, for that matter. "Sullen" was his middle name. Walt hated being questioned. In fact, in four years, Speaker Freed only spoke at one press conference that he called.
Freed's gone now. And so is the scripture-quoting Rep. Nancy Sheltra, although their combined spirits will live on.
The new House Republican Caucus, which holds 60 seats in the 150-seat chamber, slipped into the Statehouse Sunday afternoon to elect their leadership team for the coming session.
Rockin' Rick Hube (pronounced u-bee) of South Londonderry defeated Pistol Peg Flory of Pittsford for leader. And Rep. David Sunderland of Rutland won assistant leader, defeating Al Krawczyk of Bennington and Kurt Wright of Burlington in a three-way contest.
On first blush the new House GOP team looks like more of the same. Hube is tight with Freed's old "inner circle" that included Reps. Judy Livingston and Patty O'Donnell.
And Sunderland is definitely in tight with the GOP God Squad. Last session, Sunderland's first, he cosponsored a number of Sister Nancy Sheltra's bills restricting abortion access and requiring parental notification.
Another was H. 415, which would have required public-school kids to observe a daily moment of silence while seated at their desks so those who wanted to pray could pray.
God bless us and save us!
Since health care is at the top of the Democratic agenda, we wondered what Sunderland's views were.
We found an article he wrote a couple years ago describing Democrat Doug Racine's call for single-payer, universal coverage, "a state run, Soviet-style, tax-funded health-care system."
A little red-baiting will certainly liven things up.
Congratulations, J. Edgar Sunderland!
Prog Departure -- Progressive Party Executive Director Chris Pearson told friends on Friday that he's packing up and moving to the Washington, D.C., area.
"It's a big loss for the party," said Burlington City Councilor Phil Fiermonte.
Since achieving "major" party status, the Progs have taken three much-heralded statewide shots: Anthony Pollina for Governor in 2000 (9.5 percent), Pollina for Lite-Gov in 2002 (25 percent) and Steve Hingtgen for Lite-Gov in 2004 (7 percent).
"Third-party work," said Phil the Prog, "is tough work."
At the moment the best beneficiary of all that Prog work looks to be Republican Lite-Gov Brian Dubie, who won his post in 2002 with just 41 percent of the vote.
Pearson described his move to D.C. as a "walkabout." He's got a girlfriend there, he said, and plans on looking for work in labor circles.
Good luck, Chris!
Dubie Silence -- Still no response from Republican Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie to our calls last week, or to our report about his little "job-hunting" trip to Washington.
Since last week's column, the drums have only gotten louder about the Doobster looking for a federal job that would require his resignation from the podium in the Democrat-controlled state senate.
Obviously, Brian doesn't want to talk about it.
Freeps Flag Update -- Walking by the Gannett-chain outpost on College Street Friday, we were a wee bit startled to see the paper's American flag lowered to half-staff.
After all, our local nonunion daily has never shown much respect for their Stars and Stripes. It flies night and day, in sunshine and rain. We've previously noted how the newspaper's red-white-and-blue had become caked with grime and grease over the years and looked more red, black and blue.
Our report on the paper's soiled American flag apparently sparked some genius at the Freeps to order up a new one. Unfortunately, the new one's been left flying 24/7 just like the old one. And with no illumination at night.
Real patriotism, eh?
Anyway, the sight of the Freeps' flag at half-staff made us wonder. Especially since all state and federal flags are not. Could it possibly be to mourn the fact that the paper reported last week on the drunk-driving arrest of its distinguished editor?
Yes, indeed. No cover-up here, folks, though last Tuesday's news brief appeared five days after Metro Editor Ed Shamy pleaded not guilty in Vermont District Court to the charge of driving under the influence. The Shamy arrest story was not posted on the paper's Internet edition.
Our local daily reported Mr. Shamy had been stopped on Route 7 in Milton on November 14 after a Milton police officer noticed his vehicle weaving. Mister Ed blew a hefty .19, more than twice the legal limit. The paper reported Shameful Shamy would be back in court on January 5 for a hearing.
Good for the Freeps to air its dirty linen! In fact, many lament the lack of crime news in our local daily. Since veteran reporter Mike Donoghue was switched to sports a few years back, crime coverage has practically disappeared.
One beneficiary of late was a former Freeps staff photographer who copped a plea to a sex charge this fall. It was another sad case of a "dirty old man" trying to pick up a 14-year-old Lolita on the Internet. The 14-year-old, however, turned out to be a grown-up cop. The paper did list Adam Pike Riesner's conviction in "Day in Court" listings, but did not find the crime worth a news story, not even a "brief" like Editor Shamy got.
Funny, since the paper -- and local TV news -- made a very big deal out of the arrest of a Burlington social worker last year under similar circumstances.
Anyway, back to Old Glory at half-staff. On Monday, yours truly telephoned the newspaper to inquire. A pleasant receptionist surmised it was because of the war in Iraq, but had no specifics. She forwarded us to the newsroom.
A female editorial assistant thought it might be for a Vermont soldier "who either died or was buried last week," but she didn't have a name or hometown. She kindly forwarded us to Managing Editor Geoff Gevalt.
Gevalt wasn't in -- maybe out pounding down a few with Shamy?
In fact, Mr. Gevalt's voicemail message was sparky-bright and friendly. We left our name and number with Mr. Happy, and our question about the Freeps' flag being at half-mast.
Unfortunately, Mr. Gevalt has been too busy to get back to us.