As the deadline for filing for political office in Vermont nears its June 12 cutoff, the Vermont Republican party is largely missing in action. A gubernatorial candidate is yet to be named. No notable party leaders have stepped to the fore for down-party offices, and while there is talk about working to take legislative seats, there has been little action. By comparison, the Progressive Party’s filing for 21 statewide seats and offices is far more impressive and makes the GOP look weak and disorganized.
That’s bad for the GOP and for the state. Our form of representative Democracy doesn’t work as well as it could when the minority party has a weak presence.
A stronger Republican Party in Vermont should be front and center on today’s stage not just challenging the governor and the Democratic majority (plus a strong Progressive Party pushing issues further to the left) in the Legislature on a host of issues but, more importantly, proposing compromise solutions or tackling neglected issues. For example:
• Health care reform: Vermont is in the midst of a major transformation. The effort is not to stop it (the minority party doesn’t have the votes for that), but rather to help ensure that what gets rolled out is no worse for the state’s economy than what other states will see through Obamacare, and that, in a best case scenario, actually benefits the state in the long-term. Harping on the governor’s missed deadline for a budget is a whiner’s complaint that does nothing to advance the issue. Rather, the Republicans could take the lead in advocating for a New England-based insurance pool that would put Vermont’s residents into a larger demographic where multiple insurance companies are competing for the market. That would help drive rates down, if it could be put into place. Bringing more competition to the marketplace is a Republican platform; making it work in Vermont is the challenge the state party has to resolve.
Furthermore, Republicans could be bringing many questions about health care reform to the fore. What happens, for instance, when MVP pulls out of the marketplace and Blue Cross/Blue Shield is the lone insurer? Does the state pull levers and consider BC/BS like a utility and regulate rates; treat them like Vermont Gas Systems in a semi-regulated process; or let them be a corporate monopoly and hope they keep ratepayers’ best interests at heart?
Businesses want to be assured that whatever happens on the road to reform they are kept abreast of the potential changes soon enough to adapt smartly and won’t be placed in jeopardy by political whims. On both issues, a stronger Republican voice could lead those discussions, knowing that many Democrats and Progressives would join their concerns.
• Education finance reform: Rep. Heidi Scheuermann, R-Stowe, has filed what she considers comprehensive reform legislation for the past several years, but it’s gone nowhere. That doesn’t necessarily mean it doesn’t have merit, but that it doesn’t resonate with enough legislators to even get it out of committee. What Republicans should do is take the good aspects of Scheuermann’s bill, modify it and take that on the road for public input. Modify it again, take it back on the road, get more input and keep doing it until the party builds consensus around the idea. That’s what minority party’s do: they work at building consensus on new ideas to solve old problems; those ideas gain traction if the problem is not being solved by the party in power, and, in the process, the minority party learns what other pockets of the state actually think about their positions.
What doesn’t work is to propose the same bill year after year and call it the answer to finance reform as if no other solutions can be found.
Ironically, one of the failings of today’s hyper-digital environment is that politicians and political parties too often post comments and proposed legislation on their Facebook pages, web sites and Twitter feeds until they are blue in the face thinking their message is reaching the masses. Not so. A few members of the same choir might read it, but few others do. The hard work of being in politics is to engage constituents in a personal dialogue, to listen and learn from others and to craft that information into policy that represents a broad spectrum of support. That does not happen on a website, a Facebook post or through a Twitter feed — all mediums that attract like-minded followers.
• School consolidation: The issue is controlling the cost of education spending. Consolidation is one scenario that addresses cost. Others avenues abound. There are as many opinions as there are current school districts. Republicans could play an effective role by getting their constituents to focus on better ways to deliver educational outcomes while keeping a lid on rising costs — an issue right up their ideological alley. It’s another tough issue, but it’s one that all Vermonters are concerned about and want to see reasonable solutions proposed. Hiding behind the status quo for fear of alienating voters is not a winning strategy for the GOP. Minority parties regain power by being bold enough to come up with the answers to such vexing problems.
In short, for every issue in politics there is an effective role for the minority party to play. Republicans across the state need to question if the role they are playing is effective and, if not, what changes need to be made to get back on track.
As for candidates in the upcoming election, the GOP’s indecisiveness is understandable. This will be a tough year for Republicans to win any statewide contests, except for the lieutenant governor spot that Phil Scott’s should be favored to hold. But not to field viable candidates for the governor’s office, in particular, would be an historic low point for the Republican Party, and would forego a critical opportunity to develop a deeper bench within the party leadership. With Rep. Scheuermann out of the picture and Rep. Randy Brock straddling the fence, it may be up to businessman Scott Milne to pick up the lance and see how effectively he can tilt at the forces that be.
Angelo S. Lynn