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The Rutland Herald - Douglas Turns His Attention to Challenger Pollina

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Location: Montpelier, VT

The Rutland Herald - Douglas Turns His Attention to Challenger Pollina

Louis Porter

In the final week of the campaign for governor, incumbent James Douglas is going directly after independent Anthony Pollina, an opponent the Republican has been largely ignoring until now.

"I want Vermonters to understand the clear contrast that voters are facing in this election," Douglas said Tuesday. "Anyone who seeks the confidence of the voters, especially to serve as chief executive of the state, must be accountable."

Pollina has his own reason for why Douglas has, really for the first time in this campaign, turned his attention to the Progressive-turned independent.

"I think the governor is getting very nervous," Pollina said. "We have built a lot of momentum."

Until recently Douglas has been answering Pollina's charges only during debates or when asked directly about them. But the governor has reserved advertising time and statements from his campaign largely to trade blows with Democrat Gaye Symington, the speaker of the House.

In recent days, however, Douglas has put out a television ad that criticizes Pollina — as well as Symington — and issued at least two press releases challenging Pollina.

Douglas leads his two opponents both in fundraising and in the few polls that have been released publicly. But the Vermont Constitution creates an unusual situation in races with more than two candidates. If the incumbent does not win 50 percent of the vote, the state's Legislature will decide who will be the next governor.

A new poll by CBS affiliate WCAX Television released Tuesday evening showed Pollina gaining ground and Douglas with less than 50 percent of the vote. A previous poll by the television station showed Pollina lagging behind Symington, but the new survey of 400 likely voters by the Maryland firm Research 2000 has Douglas at roughly 47 percent, Symington with 24 percent and Pollina with 23 percent.

Douglas this week has gone after Pollina's experience helping to found the Vermont Milk Co., the Hardwick dairy company that did not immediately pay farmers or other vendors as much as promised. The farmers have since received their money.

Douglas said as he has toured the state he has met "not only farmers but other vendors" who were owed money from the company — a problem he holds Pollina responsible for.

"I think that is a record that is important for Vermonters to know," Douglas said.

"As founder and director of the Vermont Milk Company, Pollina left Vermont farmers waiting for their milk checks and vendors unpaid — walking away from the company to pursue a run for statewide office at a time when the company's debt mounted," according to a Douglas campaign statement entitled Got Paid?

He was responding, in part, to Pollina's criticism of his record on agricultural issues, said Douglas, who has worked on his wife's family farm.

"Dorothy grew up on a dairy farm. My in-laws run that farm still," he said. "There is no better friend of the farmer in government than I have been."

But Pollina did not shrink from Douglas' newly combative approach to his campaign.

"The governor in the last days of the campaign is trying to hide from his record," Pollina said. "He is hiding behind his attack ads."

That record is a poor one when it comes to farmers, Pollina said this week.

For instance, a state study that indicated a large share of state government food purchases were made locally counted local distribution company purchases, Pollina said.

"Clearly a local distributor does not mean you are buying local goods," he said.

Instead the state should be buying food grown in Vermont for its schools, prisons and other facilities and putting more money into in-state processing of agricultural goods, Pollina said.

And the state should create and market a "Vermont Fair Trade" milk label, for which consumers in Boston and other New England markets would be willing to pay more, Pollina said.

As for the Vermont Milk Co., although he helped farmers get it started, he did not run it, Pollina said. It is no surprise that the start-up — like other companies — has had a rocky start, he added.

"The Vermont Milk Co. is there, it is making products and it is treating Vermont farmers well," he said.

Douglas has also criticized an idea Pollina has suggested of creating a Vermont credit card that would return money to a Vermont development fund, instead of airline miles or cash back.

"Vermonters have a very high level of credit card debt, which is troubling," Douglas said. "It is bad enough to get all of these solicitations flooding our mailboxes from banks around the country. Imagine getting them from the state of Vermont. It is unseemly."

But Pollina said Douglas has been intentionally misstating that his proposal is to add to credit card debt when it is, in fact, to replace credit cards now being used by Vermonters with a different one that would benefit Vermont businesses.

"People are going to continue to use credit cards," he said. The Douglas administration has been low on substance, Pollina added.

"It is all about slogans," he said.

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