While climbing the retaining wall in front of the State Office Building in Montpelier for a good photo of the May 1st Putting People First Rally across the street, I happened to meet a nice gentleman who introduced himself as “the sacrificial Republican opponent to Bernie Sanders.” You have to respect a man with a sense of humor. He knows he doesn’t stand a chance in hell, but he’s willing to run a good race anyway. Why? Well, the way he got on the ballot sort of answers that question.
I guess I should explain first what a Vermont Town Meeting is. On the first Tuesday in March, Vermonters in the smaller towns assemble to vote on the town’s budget, elect town officials, and conduct the town’s business. It is democracy in its purest form. You will find similar town meetings in New Hampshire, but in fewer towns. It is real governance, not the campaign stops that are called Town Meetings these days. Now that we have that out of the way….
On Town Meeting Day, H. Brooke Paige approached the citizens of his hometown of Washington, Vermont, with the petition he needed to get on the ballot. He needed just 50 signatures. He got 101 of the 135 voters in attendance. They felt the same way Paige does, that no one should be elected unopposed, that there should at least be a debate on the issues. So, Republicans, Democrats and Independents all signed Paige’s petition. That’s Vermonters for you. We love Bernie to death, admire his passion for his constituents, but we acknowledge that he’s a bit over-the-top on some issues. From time to time, we would like to remind him that there is something to be gained in moderation and compromise, and that he doesn’t always have to yell to be heard.
Moderation and compromise. That ought to be Vermont’s motto. We tend to elect mixed governments on purpose, though in recent years, with the rise of the Tea Party in the rest of the country, we have swung very Democratic in Vermont. But Vermont remains the only state with no balanced budget amendment, and a budget that usually comes much closer to balanced than those states that have them. Though we have had a few Tea Partiers come out of the woodwork, and have a handful of representatives with ties to ALEC, our Republicans tend to be moderates, old-fashioned Republicans whose ideas precede even those of Reagan.
Brooke Paige is that kind of Republican, more Javits, Rockefeller and Eisenhower than Bush. He readily acknowledges the power of the big pharmaceutical companies have overpowered the needs of Americans and the problems of the cost of our healthcare delivery. He advocates a form of “networking” with low-cost and free clinics acting as satellites to hospitals to divert the uninsured from emergency rooms. Frankly, our experiences with such an idea in my hometown have led us to believe that this idea, while basically good, needs some major tweaking. There is too much reliance on physician surrogates and not enough involvement by physicians in critical care decisions. But the basics of the idea are good. We just need more doctors in this country willing to participate in such a program. See – both sides can agree on an idea, even if for different reasons.
Humana HMO used to run such a program in Brandon, Florida. It was extremely good. It attracted newly graduated doctors who wanted time to pay down their student loans before trying to establish private practices and older doctors who wanted out from the burdens of running such practices.
Paige made a good case for reforming the insurance system, but not the health insurance system. His point was the cost of malpractice insurance was driving up the cost of health care. Good point. Doctors pay enormous premiums for malpractice insurance, among the highest are those paid by obstetricians. Even nurses are getting hit with having to carry a million dollars in malpractice insurance. The insurance industry claims these policies are needed because of exorbitant awards made in malpractice cases. Hospitals and doctors claim that they have to order extraordinary tests to protect themselves from malpractice lawsuits. Having been a legal secretary in the dark ages, I can tell you that there would be fewer malpractice cases if the medical profession did a better job of policing their own. No doctor should be allowed to continue practicing after having settled a half-dozen cases out-of-court. There should not be a system in place that protects bad doctors because the state medical board is not informed of pending lawsuits. See — we agree on this one as well, only disagreeing when right wingers insist that there has to be tort reform without protections for patients.
I would love to include a picture of Mr. Paige in this story, but I can’t find one. Even the state GOP hasn’t posted one. That’s sad, really. Mr. Paige told me that he expects he will not get enough donations to run any television ads, but maybe enough to run a couple of ads in the weekly free newspapers, you know, the local “Shopper.” So far, his biggest contributor has been his mother, who gave him $100. Mr. Paige is under 6 feet tall, a bit overweight (more Gingrich than Christie) and much better dressed than Bernie, who somehow manages to always look like he slept in his suits. He was a small business owner who commuted between a chosen home in Vermont and his businesses in Philadelphia. His campaign headquarters is his home and the address is P.O. Box 41, Washington, Vermont 05675.
I’ll still be voting for Bernie, but it was nice to meet a Republican who understands the self-destructiveness of his own party, who thinks John McCain should have asked Kay Bailey Hutchison to be his running mate instead of Sarah Palin if he wanted a female running mate, who believes in bi-partisan co-operation and compromise. I expect this to be Pat Leahy’s final term, so maybe Mr. Paige might consider running for Congress in 2016. Our Congressman Peter Welch will undoubtedly be running for Pat’s seat, leaving the house seat open. Vermonters tend to think of being in the House as on-th-job training for the Senate. Electing Mr. Paige would restore Vermont’s three-party balance in Washington.
The Federal government could use more than a few moderate Republicans and the last thing this country needs is for New England’s moderate Republicans to just give up, the way Olympia Snowe has. If they believe in their party and the idea that bi–partisan co-operation has produced some of the best ideas in our history, then they should be fighting for the soul of their party, not going toes-up.
On the other hand, speaking as a Democratic-leaning Independent, the more the Republicans keep moving to the right, the more they turn off moderate Americans, so maybe those moderate Republicans should just join the moderate, center-left party that still appreciates their positions – the Democrats. As several old-time politicians have said since 2000, “I didn’t leave my party, my party left me.”