The Tarrant Shuffle
He's tall like Democratic U.S. Sen. John Kerry and he has a great haircut, too.
But unlike Democratic Sen. John Kerry, IDX medical software whiz Richard Tarrant is a Republican gazillionaire -- "self-funded" as they say in political circles. The mere mention of Tarrant's name among Vermont Republicans stimulates the blood flow like a triple dose of Viagra. Richie is a stand-up guy.
Mr. Tarrant is 61 and winding down his supremely successful international business career at the Vermont company he co-founded in 1969. His IDX stockholdings alone -- 2,700,165 shares -- are worth more than $70 million. Richie's done good. Real good. He obviously thinks he's got a few good years left, and he's eager for a new challenge.
This week we all learned it ain't going to be the 2004 U.S. Senate race.
Tarrant put the word out last Friday that he would be scheduling one-on-one 15-minute interviews with local press representatives on Monday afternoon. Speculation mounted over the weekend, particularly on WGOP, er, sorry, WCAX, which jazzed things up by reporting the station had learned from "sources" that Tarrant might announce a U.S. Senate bid!
Wishful thinking, eh?
"Inside Track" readers know we've been keeping an eye on Tarrant's political plans for some time. A few weeks back Seven Days broke the news about Mr. Tarrant's negative telephone push-poll. At the time, Tarrant wouldn't discuss it.
On Monday, Richie let it be known that he had taken a "serious" look at his chances against incumbent U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy. Tarrant wisely decided that a head-to-head with St. Patrick would be nothing less than an ugly Republican suicide mission.
"As I do in business," Tarrant told Seven Days, "I did my homework, did a lot of due diligence. Hired the right pros just like we would do here if we were investigating a product or a company."
So it is like selling soap after all, eh?
"I had consultants," boasted Tarrant, "and I had pollsters and I had opposition researchers. I think I did a pretty good job of finding the top-of-the-line."
Nothing like having more money than God, eh?
"We just went through all the processes and so forth that you do analyzing whether to get into politics," said Richie, "I'm new at this and I'm applying more business principles than politics."
Politics is, after all, just a business, isn't it?
"The net of it, when all is said and done," explained Richie, "is I did not want to challenge Pat Leahy. Very simply, what I was told was that in terms of how this works, with someone that's as ensconced as Pat is, you need to go very negative in order to beat him. In fact, the word that was used was super-negative.' And I just wasn't about to do that. It's not my style and I don't think it's Vermont's style, either."
Well, Richie Tarrant's no dummy.
How much did Mr. IDX shell out for his testing of a possible War on Leahy?
"I don't want to say how much I spent," replied Tarrant. "You don't have to report it, anyways. But I got the best. I hired the best."
Top shelf all the way, eh?
But how rich is Rich Tarrant, future political-something-or-other?
"I'm very fortunate," said Mr. IDX. "I got a great education at St. Michael's College and I got into the right business at the right time and got lucky."
Around $150 million?
"I don't talk about it. I grew up with no money and it's a funny feeling," said the immigrant's son. Tarrant's father hailed from County Kerry, Ireland.
That's right. Unlike John Kerry, Rich Tarrant actually is Irish.
Seven Days was last on Richie's interview list Monday. He was relaxed and happy to chat about the strategy he would have employed had he run.
"What I had hoped," confessed the non-candidate, "was I could run a campaign based on my qualifications and the issues of jobs for a rural state' and health care.' In fact, health care is the biggest issue. Health care is a real problem in this country. And I've got 35 years of doing nothing but health care and jobs.
"In terms of a resume, I thought that was very strong at a time when those are the two biggest issues in America and Vermont.
"Leahy may have 10 other issues that he's better than me at," said Tarrant, "but if I could ride the two most significant issues in America, I might have a shot."
Man with a Plan, eh?
Don't worry, Richie, jobs and health care will still be on the front burner in 2006. So will our troops in Iraq. You never did take a stand on that one. Maybe next time?
Tarrant's decision leaves a clear path for Jack McMuffin, er, McMullen, to snag the GOP nomination.
What Mr. Tarrant didn't dare say, but many Leahy supporters were quick to note, is that St. Patrick is unbeatable because for the last 30 years, he's done an outstanding job in the U.S. Senate both for Vermont and for the United States. His seat is safe. It's the other Vermont Senate seat that's currently got everyone jawboning.
Among Vermont's political folk, the speculation grows over whether or not Indepen-dent U.S. Sen. Jim Jeffords will seek reelection in 2006. Like Leahy, he's been in Washington 30 years. But St. Patrick's 63 and Jeezum Jim will be 70 in a couple months. Sure, he's always had the trademark aw-shucks goofiness. But the current buzz is about how the distinguished Vermont legend appears to be slowing down a wee bit.
In addition, as one Republican player put it, there's been plenty of "subterranean chatter" echoing around political circles following Sen. Jeffords', shall we say, overly descriptive personal reminiscences at the recent farewell party for his longtime chief of staff Susan Boardman Russ. Everyone who's anyone (almost) was there that night at the Leahy ECHO Center on the Burlington Waterfront.
Officially, Sen. Jeffords, the Senate's only Independent, has given no sign this term might be his last. But it's a topic in many Vermont political minds.
Were Jeezum Jim to announce his retirement, the insiders we talked to say Independent Rep. Bernie Sanders, 62, would announce for the seat "within a nanosecond."
Among Vermont Republicans, the expectation is Richie Tarrant would be quickly anointed over Gov. Jim Douglas as the GOP's U.S. Senate candidate. After all, Tarrant's got the personal fortune to easily outspend everyone.
But what about the Democrats? What Democrat would possibly have a shot in such a three-way slugfest?
There's only one: former presidential candidate Howard Dean.
Oh, baby. And it gets even better.
Insiders suspect Republican Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie would quickly declare for Bernie's vacant House seat. Who would step up to run for Gov-Lite?
There'd be a boatload of hopefuls lining up for Bernie's House seat, too. Not enough space here to name them all.
And what about Progressive Anthony Pollina? Sooner or later, Tony the Prog's got to get a real job.
After a more than decade-long logjam, Vermont's political river is on the verge of running wild and free.
P.S. Democrats are smoking over recent political coverage on WCAX-TV. They say management's GOP bias was showing more than usual Friday evening, when Ch. 3 News previewed Democrat Peter Clavelle's Saturday campaign kickoff for governor with a report from the Vermont Republican Party fundraiser at Killington.
We're not making this up.
WCAX News aired remarks by GOP state chairman Jim Barnett questioning Clavelle's Democratic Party credentials and Gov. Douglas confidently predicting he'll attract voters of all persuasions in November.
Clavelle himself didn't make the Ch. 3's Clavelle preview story.
Saturday night at 6 o'clock, Ch. 3's report on the big Clavelle Campaign kickoff -- 500 enthusiastic supporters at the Champlain Mill -- was the 10th story on the newscast. Normally, a major party gubernatorial campaign kickoff gets top billing in Vermont.
The Clavelle report, however, ran below stories on Richie Tarrant's upcoming announcement, a repeat of Mad Dog Jimmy Barnett's Friday digs from the GOP dinner, and stories on maple syrup, UVM's increased enrollment and Black History Month.
In the shorter 11 o'clock broadcast, Clavelle's kickoff still ran below a hopeful report on Tarrant's upcoming U.S. Senate announcement:
"Some say a surprise political announcement is coming from IDX founder and CEO Rich Tarrant "
Actually, Tarrant's no longer the CEO. And his announcement surprised few who follow the game.
In WCAX's defense, it should be noted Mayor Moonie was the guest on Ch. 3's "You Can Quote Me" Sunday morning with Marselis Parsons and Andy Potter.
Unlike the evening news audience, however, only depraved political junkies tune in for a fix.
Moonie vs. Jimmy -- The games have begun!
Immediately after Democrat Peter Shumlin announced he wouldn't run for governor, the incumbent's strategy became clear. Both Mad Dog Barnett and Gov. Slim Jim quickly questioned Mayor Moonie's Democrat credentials. They wondered aloud whether the Democrats will be able to field a "true" Democrat for governor this year.
Meanwhile, Clavelle's strategy appears to be making his campaign a War on Republicans. Expect to hear a lot about George W. Bush.
No question, Moonie could beat Bushie.
The question is can he beat Jimmy?
Sports Arena Update --
Gov. Jim Douglas' blue-ribbon Sports Arena Committee met for the second time Monday. The goal is to find a way to replace UVM's aging sports facilities with a bigger and better new arena. UVM, of course, doesn't have a dime to pay for it. Determining if the money can be found is the committee's charge.
The two dozen or so local notables led by Commerce Secretary Kevin Dorn got a 45-minute Power Point presentation from a very sharp and savvy redhead from Texas.
Jay Lenhardt, a former soccer player at North Texas State, works out of the Dallas office of Minneapolis-based Conventions Sports & Leisure -- one of the top five consulting firms in the business (www.cslintl.com). Lenhardt gave a "just the facts" presentation on where the arena industry is today.
The big, 20,000-seat arena days of the 1990s are long gone, said Lenhardt. The NBA, NHL and NFL have saturated the market. Today consultants like CSL are focused on smaller game: college-size buildings that'll hold 6500 for hockey and basketball and 10,000-plus for rock concerts, wrestling and circus acts.
Lenhardt told Seven Days, "The key areas are the local market demographics in terms of:
"Is there a large enough local population to support the arena?
"Is there a high enough corporate base to buy the suites, the club seats, the sponsorships?
"What does the competition look like in the market? Will this facility be competing with or taking away from other events and facilities in the market?
"And how much it costs and how you can fund it plays a big role in the viability," said Mr. Lenhardt.
Yes, indeed, those are the questions.
And what about the alcohol question?
Currently one cannot get a cold one at a UVM hockey or basketball game. Beer, like cigarettes, are no longer in vogue. But when you're talking about making the numbers work on an arena this size, beer is key to the bottom line.
"If the university decides not to sell alcohol," said Lenhardt, "this project can go quickly from being viable to being nonviable."
Certainly, the booze would be limited to the luxury boxes and club-seating areas. No minors served. And the arena would not be owned by UVM, but rather some newly created Arena Authority.
Local accountant Mike Flynn, of Gallagher, Flynn & Company LLP, made a point of urging Sec. Dorn to use a competitive-bidding process before choosing a consultant for a feasibility study. The local press, said the Flynnster sarcastically, would have a field day if Dorn did not.
Sec. Dorn alerted committee members that he does not anticipate meeting the June deadline. "The timeline can slip a little bit," he said.
"We needed to hear from a consultant today," Dorn told Seven Days, "to allow the committee to understand the whole spectrum of issues that we really have to address." Lenhardt's presentation, said Dorn, "opened our eyes to the range of issues that we really need to go after and get our arms around."
P.S. Lots of talent on Gov. Douglas' UVM arena committee, as we've noted before. But it suddenly dawned on us at Monday's session that no one from the Burlington mayor's office was included. No one from the Community and Economic Development Office at City Hall. No one from the Clavelle administration.
Sure, City Councilor and State Rep. Bill Keogh's on board. But Kehoe tends to represent the Republican wing of the Democratic Party. No one would be surprised if Billy Goat Keogh, a former business lobbyist, popped up in a "Democrats for Douglas" ad down the line.
Sure looks like a "glaring omission," said Mayor Clavelle's assistant Bill Mitchell, "that neither the administration nor city council was ever contacted to participate."
He's got a point, eh?
Media Notes --
Vermont Press Bureau writer David Mace is departing this week for a public relations job with VELCO. Perfect timing.
VELCO's proposal to run a huge $128 million high-voltage power line through the Vergen-nes/Ferrisburgh area has the locals quite concerned. Time to hire someone with media skills.
Before moving to the State-house beat, Dave covered the Barre scene for the Times Argus.
Out of the frying pan, into the fire, eh, Dave?