by Joe Shea
November 4, 2010
MOURNING IN AMERICA
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- While the rest of the nation seemingly rushed headlong off a cliff on Tuesday night and allowed the party that got us into the economic mess we're in back into power, Vermont followed its own political path.
Democrats suffered big losses in statehouses and congressional districts around the country, while the party held onto its veto-proof majorities in the Vermont Legislature and elected a progressive Democratic governor.
Our two Democratic Congresscritters who were up for re-election, U.S. Rep. Peter Welch and U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, absolutely obliterated their Republican rivals.
How did all this happen? For starters, the Tea Party movement is non-existent in this state and the large sums of corporate money that flowed into Vermont races had virtually no affect on the outcome.
The Republican candidate for governor, Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie, went negative early and hired staff from outside Vermont that waged a standard issue, fear-and-smear GOP campaign. But Vermonters expect politicians to treat them with respect, and not insult their intelligence with attack ads and dirty campaigning.
The Democrat who narrowly won the gubernatorial race, Senate President Pro Tem Peter Shumlin, managed to brush aside the attacks on his character and waged a campaign that was focused far more on issues than on personal attacks.
That was what I think made the difference for Shumlin, and his victory offers lessons to other Democrats around the country.
First off, Shumlin never shied away from the word "politician." He told me in an interview a couple of months ago that he considered it an honor to be called a politician.
"If you mean someone who makes tough decisions, builds coalitions and delivers results, I'm a politician, I don't apologize for getting tough things done and for being political to get them done. People are fed up with spineless politicians ... there are times you have to take a stand, stick with your beliefs and not compromise on those beliefs."
Marriage equality was a notable issue for Shumlin. While Vermont was the first state to allow same-sex couples to form what came to be known as "civil unions in 2000," other states went a step further and allowed same-sex couples all the rights and responsibilities of marriage. In 2009, Shumlin got the Vermont Senate to take a vote on same-sex marriage, convinced his House counterparts to do the same, and then worked to override the veto of outgoing Gov. Jim Douglas to make it law.
Making tough decisions is one thing. The other thing Shumlin had going for him was having a clear vision for Vermont as a state that will play a leading role in reshaping the nation's economy.
"Vermont is leading the rest of the country in so many areas," Shumlin told me. "We can do things here that you can't do in the rest of the country. That's why America needs what Vermont can give it more than ever."
Renewable energy, single-payer health care reform and expansion of early education programs were among Shumlin's main issues. He believed that if Vermont makes a significant commitment to these things, the state's economy will be strong and prosperous.
"Vermont missed the Industrial Revolution and we missed the tech boom, but we have a chance to get in front of the green transformation of our economy and get our share of it," he said. "Huge money is going to be made on renewable energy and there is going to be some huge opportunities for Vermont."
Shumlin backs a universal Vermont health care system, saying "it would unleash the largest economic development program in our state's history. Companies are going to want to move here." He believes a single-payer system, similar to Medicare, will deliver health care more effectively to Vermonters at a lower cost.
Early childhood education is just as crucial, he said. He supports universal early education for all Vermont children as a way to level the playing field for children of all socioeconomic backgrounds, and to reduce child care costs for working class families.
By clearly stating what he believed in and how his policy goals would be achieved, Shumlin made an effective case to a Vermont electorate that wanted to see progress and change on issues that directly affected their lives.
That's not a bad platform to run on if you are a Democrat. It helped that Shumlin was fearless, well-spoken, intelligent and brimming with confidence. That allowed him to always be on the offensive and never be afraid of what the other candidate was doing.
In the post-mortums from Tuesday's elections, all we heard is how the results were a repudiation of President Obama and his agenda. Nonsense. It was a repudiation of conservative and moderate Democrats who obstructed the president's agenda with as much vigor as the Republicans.
With a few high-profile exceptions, Democrats who were true to progressive ideals held on to their seats. That's how the conservative Blue Dog caucus went from 54 members to 26 in one election cycle, while 95 percent of progressive House members won re-election.
Give voters a clear choice and candidates who are clear about what they are going to do for working families, and the Democrats will win. That's how Peter Shumlin won in Vermont. That's how the Congressional Progressive Caucus increased its size, while the Blue Dogs faded. That's how the Democrats will bounce back in 2012.
Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for more than 30 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.