July 12th, 2011

SUN-DRENCHED SIXTH ANNUAL HAMBURGER SUMMIT GOES OFF WITHOUT HITCH; No Incidents of Drunk, Lewd, Or Disorderly Conduct Reported; Weather Mysteriously Cooperative; And Finally, The Enduring and Existential Mystery of One Jake “Pappy” Perkinson

by Philip Baruth

For whatever reason, the Gods enjoy the Hamburger Summit, and they always clear the skies routinely when the time comes. Granted, the Gods are capricious, and sometimes they wait until they’re damn good and ready. Case in point: the Sixth Annual Hamburger Summit, this past Saturday, July 9, 2011. Weather reports — from the 10-day forecast, to the five-day, to the three, and then to the daily forecast had all agreed: the weather would be killer.

Yet Saturday morning there it was, a massive dark cloud bank rolling slowly and ominously over the lake. Of course the hourly break-down showed the clouds rolling out at noon, an hour before we were to light the grill, but still these were dark, heavy clouds and they brought the cold with them. Which can produce anxiety and doubt in a lesser crew.

But VDB and Green Mountain Daily have been through tough waits before: the 2000 Florida recount; the anxious interval when it looked as though Norm Coleman might steal the vote from Al Franken; and the even more tense moments when it looked as though Tom Salmon Jr. might change his mind about becoming a Republican.

So needless to say, we gritted our teeth, and we waited. And then, come 12:14 pm, right on schedule, the dark knife’s edge of the long cloud bank appeared, the sun lit the beach like a Frankie Avalon movie and we never looked back.

The day’s Profile in Courage? GMD front-pager Sue Prent, who stepped in at the last moment and dominated on the grill. And not just grilling — Sue did set-up and tear-down, and everything in between. A rock, that Sue Prent, and it’s fair to say that with her performance on the beach this year she has catapulted herself into the Summit pantheon, with other master grill artists, like Maggie and Arnie Gundersen.

So many thanks again, Sue.

We had the stalwarts who make every Summit, and we had some new friends, drawn by the prospect of free warm Labatt’s. On the State Senate side of things, we had Democrat Sally Fox and Republican Joe Benning, in his leathers, who had decided on a whim to interrupt his long motorcycle trip from the Northeast Kingdom to Virginia for a little conversation. Ashley Grant, John Campbell’s majordomo, was there to drop sly, cryptic remarks and lift the occasional eyebrow meaningfully.

As always, once the grill was turning out burgers and sausage, and the sun had been sitting in the sky a while, we forgot about the time, and just yakked about politics, non-stop. We had your bloggers, your Twitterers, and your Facebookers. We had app developers, and renewable energy types, and we had renewable energy app developers. Pretty much any combination thereof.

Did anyone manage to record the entirety of the BBQ in real time using a mind-numbing staccato of 140-character tweets? That would be @CouncilorAdrian, who functioned as the lone paparazzo until VDB-wingman Don Shall arrived with Selene Hofer-Shall and began snapping pics.

A lovely time in the dappled shade, to catch up with folks we don’t seen often enough. But was it entirely trouble free, entirely without anxiety and doubt? Nothing in this life is perfect, friends, and we’ll be honest: there was a moment where fear flowered on the Beach.

It began with the arrival of one Jake Perkinson. Jake is a former Chair of the Burlington Democrats, former Chair of the Chittenden County Democrats, and was recently elected Vice-Chair of the Vermont Democratic Party. And of course Jake’s political consulting firm, Theseus Advisors, was a driving force in VDB’s own campaign for the Senate last time out. Have spent many, many hours with the man, talking through the mine-fields of a County-wide run.

A friend. Or so VDB thought.

Because as he came through the crowd, people shook his hand and called him — Scout’s honor — they called him “Pappy.” Pappy made to rhyme with “happy.”

You know, what children in early Gunsmoke episodes call their grandfathers.

And word spread that this was a nickname that all Jake’s friends used. In fact, later that night, we would find a press release from the State party, which concludes as follows: “Known to his friends as ‘Pappy,’ Perkinson resides in Burlington, Vermont with his family where, among other things, he is on the Burlington Fire Commission and a coach for the Burlington American Little League.”

So there was a two-fold problem, almost existential in scope. First, this average Joe, a guy we’d eaten and drunk with as “Jake,” was now somehow also some sort of neo-Walter Brennan, a “Pappy” with possibly unpredictable new qualities. Who, then, was this “Pappy”? What might he do?

Second, and maybe more to the point emotionally, it seemed clear that anyone Jake considered a friend was already in on the secret of his, well, Pappyness. That he’d never felt the need to share his secret with VDB seemed to indicate that we never had been friends, not really, no matter how it had seemed at the time. We’d been only acquaintances on a more formal basis, a “Jake” basis.

And that hurt. That hurt wicked bad.

But again, this was the Summit, and negative emotion tends to evanesce, to vanish and leave in its wake only sun and good fellowship. So we forgot all that, and returned to the gossip about the Mayor’s race, handicapping the Treasurer’s run, and a general anatomy of Barack Obama’s current dishwater version of Hope and Change.

Again, thanks to all who made, and make, this event possible. It exists only to bring together in three dimensions the people who give politics a vibrant, digital life in the state, which is to say that if you didn’t attend, the community would be measurably poorer. And thanks again to Don Shall, and to Councilor Ed Adrian, for supplying the key shots here.

Aloha. Until next year, which, if memory serves, is not simply an election year, but a Presidential election year. And that means a Summit to end all Summits. Expect anything and everything on that day of convergance. Will VDB even manage to become full-fledged “friends” with Pappy Perkinson on that fateful day?

Only time will tell.

July 9th, 2011

R.I.P. “Hobbes,” The Soul of the Summit

by Philip Baruth

Tomorrow is the Hamburger Summit, after weeks of planning. Don’t forget: 1-5 pm, North Beach, Burlington. Look for us all together under the biggest tree on the beach. You’ll see many old friends, but one will be missing, and sorely missed: the Gundersen’s big dog Hobbes — the soul of the Summit in many ways — died just yesterday at the age of 9. Not just a wonderful dog, but a wise political dog, Hobbes was there not only for the yearly beach gatherings, but greeting guests at every candidate party Maggie and Arnie have thrown. Rest easy, Hobbes. You were a very good dog.


July 7th, 2011

Forecast: Big Sun For the Summit

by Philip Baruth

Look, you don’t want to jinx things, but the weather for the Hamburger Summit is nearly always good. Not sure why that is — and there has been at least one event where we saw a drop or two of rain — but by and large the dates we’ve picked have been dry and sunny. Granted, long-range forecasts can drive you mad with the way they shift back and forth, but we’ve got a solid 5-day forecast out past this weekend now, and guess what? On the afternoon of the 9th, it’s looking like the best day of the summer. And you’re invited to a party on the beach with free beer and sausage. Just saying.

July 6th, 2011

Santorum Berates Iowans, For Stupidity

by Philip Baruth

The point of Iowa and New Hampshire, as primary openers, is that each somehow magically encapsulates the wisdom of the average retail American voter. Candidates who break through in either place — current wisdom holds — have accomplished the equivalent of pulling the sword from the stone: they have revealed themselves to be the Chosen. So if you’re a candidate who has decided to play aggressively in Iowa, you’d think you’d want to talk up the sagacity and discernment of Iowans at every turn. But not Brother Rick. From the Des Moines Register:

Spencer, Ia. – Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum completed a two-day, eight-city swing through western and central Iowa Tuesday, reminding supporters that the state played a key role in electing the current president and urging them to help undo that mistake.

“You folks in Iowa have a special obligation … certainly some in Iowa gave us Barack Obama,” Santorum said, adding that Iowans this election should provide the nation an antidote.

That’s right. Santorum’s approach seems to be two-fold: 1) point out that Iowans are as prone, if not more prone, to error as any other people less seemingly enchanted, and 2) remind these kindly rural folk they owe the country a Santorum in exchange for their insanely bad judgment of three years ago.

More like a probation officer than a candidate come a’ courting, but pure Santorum, all the way.

July 3rd, 2011

Frequently Back-Asswards Questions About The Hamburger Summit: What Is The “Ryan Test” And How Dangerous Is It Typically?

by Philip Baruth

Dear VDB:

Longtime reader, first-time back-assward questioner here. What exactly is the “Ryan test,” and also why is it typically referred to on VDB as the “dreaded” or the “infamous” Ryan Test? Is this J.D. physically overpowering or something, and if not, how does he “test” everyone? Does it have anything to do with LSD, like the famous Acid Tests? I want to come to a Summit, but am not sure that I want to be, you know, “tested.”

Thanks for clearing this up,

Questioning in South Burlington

Dear Questioning:

You’ve really got it all wrong. The Ryan Test is a phenomenon — still more or less unexplained — that first came to light in 2006, at the inaugural Hamburger Summit. It has nothing to do with drugs or violence. The short version is this: at that event, a particularly discerning blogger named J.D. Ryan engaged in a particularly involved discussion with then-Congressional candidate Peter Welch.

Given J.D.’s reputation for straight talk and his nose for even the most refined political bullshit, those in attendance began to search Ryan’s face — as the conversation continued — for signs as to Welch’s general electoral viability.

JD and Peter
File Photo: Welch faces Ryan Test, 2007 BBQ

The ultimate consensus was that Welch had “passed,” and those of us who were watching carefully read Ryan’s expression as signifying not just a win for Welch but a big win, somewhere between 7 and 10 percentage points over Republican Martha Rainville.

On Election Night, Welch in fact cruised with 9 percent, and the Ryan legend was born.

At subsequent Summits, Ryan has continued to prove himself eerily accurate as an electoral bellwether. In 2008, for example, Ryan was approached by Anthony Pollina, who at the time seemed like a solid contender against Jim Douglas. But the consensus — again, in real time, among those present and watching J.D.’s expressions — was that Pollina would somehow fall short of the Governor’s office.

the crowd, huddled
File Photo: Pollina faces Ryan Test, 2008 BBQ

But here’s the interesting part of the Pollina story.

Later analysis of the photographic evidence led VDB-researchers to a subsidiary conclusion: J.D.’s expression in the Pollina photo signified a 2008 loss in the gubernatorial race, but a later win somewhere down the line. And when Pollina was handily elected to the Vermont Senate this past November, both Ryan and VDB’s research arm were vindicated.

Has Ryan ever forecast a win below the Congressional and above the State Senate levels? That is, has he ever nailed the Governor’s race? Absolutely. Take a careful look at this photograph from last year’s Hamburger Summit, circa July 2010:

Note the way that Peter Shumlin — only one of a number of gubernatorial candidates in attendance — doesn’t shy from the Test. Shumlin had been well-prepped, and clearly knew that for all the hands he might shake that day, one mattered more than the others. One would determine nearly everything. And Shumlin stepped up, and brought it.

If you’ll look closely at J.D.’s eyes, you’ll see it all reflected there: the extremely narrow primary victory, the Dubie campaign’s scorched earth tactics, the ultimate twilight of the Douglas era and the rise of Governor Shumlin. It’s a humbling experience, seeing the political future pass across the sometimes bearded, sometimes clean-shaven face of one humble blogger. Like seeing the Virgin Mary in a piece of French Toast, or Elvis in your sunnyside eggs at the Memphis airport.

Will the Test take place this year? Without a doubt.

Does VDB have any inkling as to who or whom will be so tested? Not the slightest. But suffice it to say that the crowd will be generously leavened with future Mayors and Treasurers and Lieutenant Governors, and any one of them may well find themselves on the receiving end of J.D’s only seemingly confused stare.

And it will be a sight to see. Guaranteed. So be there: Saturday July 9, 1-5 pm, North Beach, Burlington. And there’s free beer, so you have that going for you.

Which is nice.

« Previous Page —