THE PETER WELCH PROBLEM
by Joyce Marcel
American Reporter Correspondent
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- Democrats specialize in forcing people to hold their noses while they vote. The name John Kerry springs to mind, but there have been so many others along the way. Progressive Democrats have come to expect this from the national party, but I never expected to get it from Bernie Sanders, Vermont's heroic lone ranger in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Sanders, who is running for the Senate, and his close friend Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., came to town last Saturday for what turned out to be a lively revival meeting. There was Sanders, on the stage, flames shooting out of his mouth, the defender of everything I hold dear, railing against the Bush Administration and its many sins, while telling the audience, in no uncertain terms, that the best man to replace him was president pro tem of the Vermont Senate, Peter Welch - a man who, literally, yawned throughout the meeting.
Like most Vermonters, I dearly love Sanders. I understand he's a one-of-a-kind kind of guy who will be difficult to replace. I certainly want him to be my senator. Even more, I'd love it if Feingold, co-author of the McCain-Feingold Campaign Finance Act, the one person who voted against the Patriot Act, the man with balls of brass - ran for president. In fact, a Feingold-Sanders national ticket - two Jews for the price of one - would make my heart beat very fast.
Also, clearly, this is a serious time in our nation's history. It is critical to our future that the Republicans lose control of the House and Senate in the upcoming 2006 election, and that a new Congress reins in the Bush Administration's trashing of the Constitution, its dreams of Empire, its wanton spending, its deep corruption at home and its murderous activities abroad. It really matters who we send to that cesspool known as Washington.
But why, at a time when political courage and creative thinking are so essential, and also at a time when the Vermont Democratic Party is so rich and deep with talent, do we get a candidate like Welch?
Even Sanders couched his support for Welch in "stop Bush" language instead of listing his qualifications. So what do we know about him? We know that he plays to the polls, and that back-door politics are his standard M.O. He struck a closed-door deal with Entergy for example - the parent of Entergy Louisiana, which declared bankruptcy and cut power to the city of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina in order to protect its huge profits everywhere else. The deal allows Entergy Nuclear Vermont Yankee to store dangerous nuclear waste on the banks of the Connecticut River for many lifetimes to come. It also insures that this soon-to-be out-of-code plant will run much longer than its 2012 decommissioning date. Welch also stalled plans to get Vermont started on any kind of universal health coverage plan.
So I ask again, why Welch? Is he the only person who would run? Does he feel that higher office is his right, based on the time he's served in the Statehouse? Did back-door Statehouse politics close the door to anyone else? No one is willing to say.
Only a short time ago, one of Welch's probable opponents, popular Vermont National Guard Adjutant General Martha Rainville, was a Democrat. It's been said that she was wooed by both parties when she decided to run for national office. It's also been said that she wanted a straight shot at the title - no primary - and the Democrats wouldn't promise it to her. So now she's a Republican and there's still no Democratic primary. Was that Welch's work?
I'm not a virgin when it comes to politics, and I know how things are done. What I don't understand is why Vermont's Democrats have such a death wish. We've seen it happen before. A few years ago, we had excellent people lined up to run for governor. It looked like a great primary fight would produce a great candidate. Then a deal was cut, the weaker man was anointed because "it was his turn," the Progressives took away some of the vote in the general election, and we've had Republican James Douglas, a man who never saw an insurance company he didn't like, ever since.
Saturday the audience, with boos and signs, made its angry feelings about Welch very clear. What happened next was classic. On Monday, Welch quietly came to town, met with the organized anti-nuclear people, poured some honey on the troubled waters - did he say, "I feel your pain?" - and cut yet another back-door deal, this time for their tentative support.
In the end, I will vote for Welch because I understand the importance of stopping President George W. Bush. But he is being called upon to play a historical role at a critical time, and he has yet to convince me - in open meetings - why he deserves the vote that I will hold my nose and give him.
Joyce Marcel is a free-lance journalist who writes about culture, politics, economics and travel. She can be reached at email@example.com.