.By Inge Schaefer
OLLI, a continuing education program at the University of Vermont, last week offered a class entitled: Vermont – Fall from Red State to Blue State, with former Vermont Public Television talk show host and columnist Chris Graff. With the upcoming election, it was an appealing class to take, so here are some of his comments.
Graff noted that Vermont politics in the last 30 years have changed from being the most Republican in the nation, until the 1960s when Phil Hoff was elected Governor (1962), to being solidly in the blue state (or Democratic Party) column today. In the two-hour discussion, Graff covered many points as to why this may have happened (growth and demographic changes, IBM, the Legislature shrinking from 246 members — every town a vote — to 150, the interstate) and offered some interesting tidbits as well. For instance, Graff says, “Without fail since 1962, the office of governor has alternated between a Republican and a Democrat. It is as if the voters have looked to the Democrats to push the state ahead on policy and then turned to the Republicans to ensure that the fiscal house remains in order.” He also mentioned how Vermonters favor maverick candidates such as Bernie Sanders, adding, “Perhaps it is because of Vermont’s small size that voters embrace unusual candidacies, hoping that those mavericks will make a mark,” in Washington, D.C.
Partisan politics in Vermont he traces to one man, Ralph Wright, a Democrat who represented Bennington. While he was not the first Democrat to be Speaker of the House (he succeeded Timothy O’Connor who was a moderate, conservative-leaning Dem admired by both parties), he did change the tone of politics in Montpelier. Graff adds, “There have been an increasing number of minor parties sprouting up in recent years … and money has played a greater role in politics, resulting in 1997 with lawmakers adopting a system of public financing for campaigns.” For example, the cost of U.S. Senate campaigns has passed the $1 million mark, while campaigns for governor hover around $400,000, and it appears Gov. Shumlin will far exceed that this year.
Graff notes – and here is your part — that general elections attract only 55-60 percent of voters (primary elections attracting far less or between 16-26 percent). During presidential election years that increases to 70-75 percent. So, on Nov. 4, when voters will determine Vermont’s future through the election of a governor, other statewide officers, and 180 legislators, close to half of the voting population will abstain, will not express their opinion, will simply not vote. A situation that you must agree is pathetic.
Frank Bryan, a popular Vermont History professor at UVM and the author of several books, said in a column in Window of Vermont, February 1987: ”Let it be clear, Vermont’s Legislature is the heart of our statewide democracy. It is to the state what town meeting is to the town. It is the voice of the people, the fruit of our electoral process, the extension of our local essences … As it is wise, we are wise. As it is good, we are good. If it lives, we live. If it dies, part of us dies.” So, what is my point in all of this? This is just my opinion, but more than ever, it seems to me, we need voices of reason and common sense in Montpelier. Everyone will tell you that’s what they will bring to the table once elected, but it just isn’t true. So, it’s not acceptable to vote for someone because they have a nice smile, or they like the Red Sox, or they talk like a fiscal conservative on taxes and spending. By the way, have you noticed how everyone is a fiscal conservative when running as a candidate for office: “We have to save the middle class, no more taxes, blah, blah, blah . . . and, by the way, I’ll fix your roads, pay for your kid’s college education, your family’s health care, and clean up the lake.” How do they propose to pay for all of this? Well … they’ll tax the rich! Somehow I suspect before the rich see their money go out the window for taxes, they just might move (they are rich, after all, so can afford, unlike most of us, to do that), but again, that’s just my opinion. What’s yours?
Bryan goes on to say that the “legislative process is by nature slow and deliberative. It is a place where conflict is inherent and reason and passion bash heads by design.” But times have changed since 1987. The Legislature is no longer slow and deliberative. The balance of power has disappeared. There is no more compromising, negotiating or bashing of heads to assure quality legislation.
Strangely enough, Bryan ends his essay in 1987 with “The truth of it is the Legislature is struggling for its very existence as a policy-making body. The hell of it is that it seems helpless to do anything about it. And make no mistake. Their problem is our problem. On its proper resolution rests the future of representative democracy in Vermont. We are in the 11th hour.” Certainly, the lack of interest by Vermonters in voting in this election will reinforce that dire prediction. So, whatever your opinion is, make it known on Nov. 4. If nothing else, it will allow you the privilege of grumbling and complaining for the next two years.
You may remember the flyer on Colchester’s proposed charter changes that came in the mail last week. It helps you to know ahead of time how those changes are worded and why they are needed. That information and the original language of each article will also be available to you when you step up to the voting booth on Tuesday, but it certainly will help if you have read the flyer beforehand. You may even choose to note on the flyer how you intend to vote on each item so that you can save some time when you get there. According to the Town Clerk, bringing the flyer with you with your notations on it is perfectly OK. Incidentally, should you have any questions between now and Tuesday on these changes, call their office, 264-5520.
Incidentally, in case you were wondering, OLLI stands for Osher Lifelong Learning Institute of UVM. For more info, go to their website: learn.uvm.edu/olli, or call 656-2085.
Dolly Mazza will be at the National Life Craft Show in Montpelier on Nov. 7, from 4-7 p.m., and Nov. 8, 9-3 p.m. If you miss that, she will have her last craft show on Nov. 23, 2-4 p.m., right here in town in the building behind Mazza’s General Store on W. Lakeshore Drive. Dolly makes an array of beautiful jewelry items and donates her sales to charitable organizations.
On Nov. 10, 7 p.m., at the Parsonage House on Main Street, the Colchester Historical Society meets to hear Jerry Fox speak on: “Suzie Wilson, Her Life and Her Myth.” Call Suzanne Furst, 658-3706 for more info. It is free and open to the public. All are welcome.
This proverb from Vermont Proverbs – Talk Less and Say More, by Dr. Wolfgang Mieder: “Snow on Mt. Mansfield and in six weeks the valley will be white.” One can only hope.
What would you like to know about Colchester? Or is there something you would like further discussed about town issues? Drop me a line – firstname.lastname@example.org.
VOTE Nov. 4. God bless!