05-16-2011 by Linda S. Carbonell
The Rutland (Vermont) Herald has the distinction of being one of the smallest newspapers to ever be awarded a Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing. On Sundays, the Herald issues a combined paper with the Barre-Montpelier Times Argus, so I’m not sure whether to credit Steven M. Pappas of the Times-Argus or Randal Smithers of the Herald for the Sunday editorial analyzing the just-finished Legislative session and what Vermont could teach Washington about how to play nice in the sandbox.
Last November, Vermont elected a Democratic House, Democratic Senate, and in a squeaker, a Democratic governor. The House had a super-majority of Democrats for Republican Jim Douglas’ last term as governor, but the increase in Democratic Senators and the election of Peter Shumlin as the governor could easily have turned Montpelier into a one-party town that simply steamrollered over the Republicans. They didn’t.
Since the late 1960′s when the Republican Party lost it’s decades-old total control of our state government, Vermont has had a weird tradition of split governance. A Democratic governor with a Republican lieutenant governor, as we have now, or the reverse has been very common, as has a split legislature and a split cabinet. We do not tolerate attack ads or personal attacks in campaigns. We don’t tolerate flatlanders being brought in by a national party. We don’t tolerate misrepresentation of a politician’s voting record. We also tend to laugh our butts off when the patrol car dash-cam video of a politician being stopped for speeding hits the evening news, taking pride in the fact that the politician didn’t tell the cop “Do you know who I am?” and just paid the fine. (That’s called class, Gov. Kasich.)
We also, because we are such a small state, do not have a corruption problem. As Howie Dean once noted, we’re so damned small everyone knows everybody else’s business, so you can’t get away with anything. We’re small enough that our representatives can literally campaign door to door in their districts. We’re small enough that, yes, we do really call him “Howie” just the way we call our humorously self-styled “socialist” Senator “Bernie.”
The tradition of split government has left us with a deeply held belief in civility in Montpelier. Even our most contentious debates, like the vote to override Gov. Douglas’ veto of same sex marriage, never turn nasty. We’ve had to compromise too many times on too many things to think that any party’s position is written in stone and the only solution to our problems.
Our legislature actually adjourned a week early this year, in spite of having to iron out a, for us, massive budget crisis and passing the first stages of highly progressive health care reform. They found a way to solve a $174 million revenue shortfall without resorting to crippling program cuts or across-the-board tax increases. We all knew that we would have to make sacrifices, and some of them are really hard, but as long as they were shared, our legislators could agree on them. The Democrats listened to the concerns of the Republicans, and made alterations when the concerns were valid and doable.
As the Herald-Times Argus editorial, noted referring to the Republican minority, “They did not initiate a fear-mongering campaign of distortions and lies. They did not shout angrily from the floor of the House. They did not promote grass-roots unrest designed to undermine the legitimacy of the executive. They engaged in the serious work of government.”
The editorial also noted that “The more idologically strident Republicans who dominate the party at the national level would not countenance that sort of cooperation…..At the national level, the minority has greater opportunity for obstructionism.” They most certainly do. In the United States Senate, Rand Paul of Kentucky has threatened to destroy the national credit rating and push us past a recession into a full-blown depression by filibustering the debt ceiling increase vote unless the House and Senate pass whatever it is his Libertarian fantasies and his Tea Party fanatics think the budget should be. The filibuster has become both a weapon of choice for obstruction as in the blocking of 300 bills in the past two years’ Congressional session, or the cudgel wielded by one spoiled brat with no sense of reality.
Watching men like Mike Pence, Jim DeMint and John Boehner hold our nation hostage to their personal agendas is frustrating. We elected a President who is not an ideologue, but a man who understands the nature of the 21st century, the realities of our competitors in the global marketplace and how much we have lost our capacity to compete because of shortsightedness in the last administration. He has offered us fair and reasonable ideas for securing the future. He is running headlong into a brick wall set up by the Republican Party who will do anything to protect the interests of the people who fund their campaigns (and their golf games), the very people who created the economic crisis that has held up the President’s agenda.
It’s not easy to live in Vermont. Very few people get rich in this state. The weather is crappy most of the time. One literally can’t get from here to there without going around a mountain or two. Tourists can’t find a place to pee in the middle of the night, even along our only interstate. Prices are high because so much has to be trucked in. Taxes are high. We came through the recession fairly well because we don’t have boom times to go bust, we just plod along the way we always have. One must consciously choose to live here.
Maybe the fact that our political parties understand the meaning of the phrase “loyal opposition” is one reason we choose this life.