Politics 2005Week of May 9

After Bernie With Bernie Sanders all but announcing he will run for the seat of retiring Sen. James Jeffords (I.-Vt.) next year, speculation is growing over who will succeed him as the Green Mountain State’s lone U.S. representative. Since elected to his first term in 1990, self-styled Socialist Sanders has always run on an independent line and, more often than not, had the blessings of Vermont Democrats. Sanders, in turn, has voted with Democrats to organize the House, belongs to their conference, and has the same party seniority as if he actually were a Democrat. Surely such an unusual arrangement would not be repeated with Sanders out of the congressional picture–or so I thought, until I had a chat with professor Garrison Nelson of the University of Vermont, a seasoned observer of state political history. “Don’t be surprised if Peter Clavell runs on a progressive ticket and you have a real three-candidate race,” predicted Nelson. Clavell, Sanders’ protégé in left-wing politics and Saul Alinsky-style grass-roots mobilization, now holds his mentor’s old job as mayor of Burlington. Last year, he was the Democratic nominee against Republican Gov. Jim Douglas and was badly beaten. Democrats seem more likely to try to elect one of their own to Congress than go along with another Sanders-style cross-endorsement with Clavell. At this point, the most likely Democratic House candidate appears to be State Senate President Peter Welch, who lost a bid for governor in 1990. At 58 and first elected to the Senate in 1980, Welch has strongly hinted he will announce for Congress as soon as Sanders makes his candidacy official. Among Republicans, the congressional picture is unclear, with three middle-of-the-roaders mentioned for the nomination so far: Lt. Gov. Brian Duby, Richie Tarrant, head of the Burlington-based IDX high-tech company, and Charles Smith, state secretary of Human Services and a former Jeffords Senate staffer. Smith is also the younger brother of former Republican Rep. (1988-90) Peter Smith, who lost the House seat to Sanders after one term. All three can now also be considered possible Republican U.S. Senate hopefuls since Gov. Douglas, despite much encouragement from such national figures as Republican National Chairman Ken Mehlman and National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman Elizabeth Dole (R.-N.C.), last week announced that he will not run for the Senate in ’06. Douglas said he made the announcement early to end guessing about his political plans “so we can all go back to doing what Vermonters sent us to Montpelier to do.” Others believe the governor decided that Sanders would be almost impossible to beat. Given the scenario of a field crowded with moderates, conservatives may well determine that this is the best opportunity to nominate one of their own for Congress. The most talked-of possibility on the right is former State Rep. Ruth Dwyer, GOP opponent to Democratic Gov. (1991-2002) Howard Dean in 1998 and 2000. Dwyer, who turned in the best performance of any of Dean’s Republican opponents, ran hard in opposition to civil unions, for rolling back onerous environmental regulations, reducing the government role in health care and implementing school vouchers. Virginia’s Lowell Weicker Eighteen years after Joe Lieberman ended Lowell Weicker’s Senate career, and a decade after Weicker ended his one term as governor of Connecticut (and gave the state its first-ever income tax), Lowell P. Weicker is still remembered as one of the most disagreeable liberal Republicans to hold elective office. Indeed, national media attention seemed to be his for the asking, as Weicker (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 17%) frequently and loudly broke with his party’s conservative mainstream in Congress. In Virginia these days, the closest thing to a Weicker is State Delegate Harry Parrish. An elective office-holder for 54 years and a legislator since 1981, the 83-year-old Parrish has consistently moved to the left as his hold on the seat appeared to grow more secure. Rated only 60 out of 100 by the Virginia Family Foundation, Parrish has opposed offering “Choose Life” license plates for state drivers, voted against permitting public schools to post historic documents such as the Ten Commandments and voted against a measure to ban the teaching of sodomy in the family life education curriculum in public schools. Parrish also helped lead the charge on the House Finance Committee for the $1.4-billion tax increase favored by Democratic Gov. Mark Warner. Along with those of 16 other Republicans and every Democrat in the legislature, Parrish’s vote passed the budget that included the largest tax increase in Virginia history. Veteran conservative anti-tax leaders Grover Norquist and Peter Ferrara dubbed Parrish and the other renegade Republicans the “Least Wanted” for their vote and have created “Least Wanted” posters (like the “Most Wanted” posters in post offices) to remind Virginians of their notorious vote. (Even before the vote for Warner’s budget, Parrish was no virgin on the tax issue. He once voted to raise the state gasoline tax and supported the ballot question that would have paved the way to raise taxes in Northern Virginia for highway repair). Because of Parrish’s age and durability, Republicans in his Northern Virginia district have been forgiving of his apostasies. But the pro-tax alliance with Warner was too much for most conservatives, and Parrish is now being challenged in the June 14 GOP primary by Steve Chapman, who owns a successful power-washing business in Manassas. Active in local Republican politics since he was a teenager, the 26-year-old anti-tax Chapman is strongly pro-life, pro-family, and pro-man-and-wife marriage. Last month, Chapman was named “Republican of the Year” by the Prince William County GOP. The Chapman-Parrish primary is one of those defining races in party politics in which everyone who is anyone within the GOP universe takes sides. Sean Connaughton, chairman of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors and a candidate for the GOP nod as lieutenant governor, is supporting Parrish. John Stirrup, a county supervisor and well-known conservative activist, is strongly for Chapman. (Friends of Steve Chapman, P.O. Box 4343, Manassas, Va. 20108) Short Takes Applause for Envoys: Although the Bush Administration is sometimes criticized for putting too many career diplomats in key ambassadorships, two of the ambassadors named by the President last week are highly regarded on the right. Molly Bordonaro, formerly an official of the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council and a GOP U.S. House nominee in Oregon in 1998, was tapped to be U.S. ambassador to Malta. The new ambassador to Canada is David Wilkins, speaker of the South Carolina House and a stalwart conservative. Ollie Finds Other Opportunities: The political operative whom President Bush nicknamed “Ollie” has left the political vineyards (at least for a while) to work in the private sector. Jack Oliver, who headed the Bush-Cheney national fund-raising operation in 2000 and was later deputy chairman of the Republican National Committee, has joined the venerable Bryan-Cave law firm and will work out of their offices in Washington, D.C., and Missouri. Before signing onto the Bush team, Oliver was a close associate of such well-known Show-Me State conservatives Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder and former Sen. (1994-2000) and U.S. Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft. Oliver will also be associated with Lehman Brothers. Given Oliver’s encyclopedic knowledge of Republican politics nationwide and his record of orchestrating the most successful fund-raising operation for any presidential campaign, few pundits or pols expect him to stay out of the political fray for long once ’08 Republican hopefuls begin making him offers.