In our election-year tradition of endorsing candidates, we offer our views not as much to encourage votes for these particular candidates as to provoke our readers to question the support of their own preferred candidates and to think through the reasons they support one candidate over another.
Our own views are shaped by the multiple interviews we have had with the candidates at the Addison Independent offices, extensive reading and study of their programs and accomplishments, and the routine observation of their ongoing work either at home or in Montpelier or Washington. Our goal is to help our readers be informed, and we encourage any healthy debate that fosters that outcome.
We begin with the race for the U.S. Senate.
Bernie Sanders for U.S. Senate
In an election year in which the vast majority of Americans are eager to elect a Congress that wonâ€™t continue to rubber-stamp President George W. Bushâ€™s radical agenda, an in which the balance of power in the Senate may tip to the Democrats, incumbent Rep. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., is the clear pick for the seat being vacated by Sen. James Jeffords.
Political movements that catch the publicâ€™s imagination can spread like a prairie fire across the nation. From town to town, state to state, the movementâ€™s idealism is spread by word of mouth â€” fanned by media coverage and todayâ€™s internet â€” and fueled by millions of people wanting to be part of the solution, not part of the problem.
The political movement that most fits this description today is global warming. Al Goreâ€™s book â€œAn Inconvenient Truth,â€? and the subsequent movie have done much to popularize the issue in recent months, taking off from previous works on environmental issues, including Bill McKibbenâ€™s landmark book, â€œThe End of Nature.â€?
In an attempt to harness the eagerness of people to embrace this issue and make it the number one cause on Americaâ€™s agenda, a well-publicized five-day walk is scheduled for Labor Day weekend starting in Ripton and ending in Burlington. That the walk starts in Ripton has much to do with the fact that McKibben lives there, that Robert Frostâ€™s writing cabin is there, and that Middlebury College student Will Bates and a few others who helped organize the walk, could imagine no better place to reflect on Earthâ€™s beauty and the reasons why it is so important to protect what is within our ability.
Last week, Gov. James Douglas identified another election-year issue that will stir the publicâ€™s interest and, he hopes, earn him a few sure-fire votes. The issue is property taxes; or, more specifically, high property taxes. He against them, of course.
The governorâ€™s plan is not to lower property taxes (heâ€™s honest in admitting the state needs the money and itâ€™d be reckless to cut taxes), but to keep the rate of the tax increases closer to the rate of inflation. For the past seven years, property taxes have increased an average of 7.4 percent annually, or double inflation, and the governor says thatâ€™s not sustainable.
Most Vermonters would agree. Just like itâ€™s not sustainable for health care insurance to go up by two or three times inflation each year, neither can Vermonters afford such steep increases in our property taxes.
What follows falls in the realm of the “It-can’t-possibly-be-true category,” but it is and it’s an outrageous example of how this nation’s political system has become increasingly dysfunctional. The issue is farm subsidies, and the salient fact is that the federal government spent $1.3 billion in subsidies for rice and other crops since 2000 to individuals who do no farming at all.
None. Some of the individuals collected hundreds of thousands of dollars in crop subsidies without even planting a seed. Mary Anna Hudson, an 87-year-old resident of the River Oaks neighborhood in Houston, received $191,000 over the past decade, according to research done by the Washington Post and reported in last Sunday’s edition. Houston surgeon Jimmy Frank Howell received a total of $490,709 over the same period, while 67-year-old Donald Matthews of El Campo, Texas, built his dream house in the heart of rice country on an 18-acre suburban lot and he receives $1,300 in annual “direct payments” on the 17 acres that surrounds his elaborate home. Matthews, an asphalt contractor, readily admits he’s “no farmer” and disagrees with the government’s policy, but his desire to give the money back to the government was fruitless, so he now takes the money and has created scholarships for the local school and 4-H club.
Political movements that catch the public’s imagination can spread like a prairie fire across the nation. From town to town, state to state, the movement’s idealism is spread by word of mouth — fanned by media coverage and today’s internet — and fueled by millions of people wanting to be part of the solution, not part of the problem.
The political movement that most fits this description today is global warming. Al Gore’s book “An Inconvenient Truth,” and the subsequent movie have done much to popularize the issue in recent months, taking off from previous works on environmental issues, including Bill McKibben’s landmark book, “The End of Nature.”
In an attempt to harness the eagerness of people to embrace this issue and make it the number one cause on America’s agenda, a well-publicized five-day walk is scheduled for Labor Day Weekend starting in Ripton and ending in Burlington. That the walk starts in Ripton has much to do with the fact that McKibben lives there, that Robert Frost’s writing cabin is there, and that Middlebury College student Will Bates and a few others who helped organized the walk, could imagine no better place to reflect on Earth’s beauty and the reasons why it is so important to protect what is within our ability.
In the Republican primary race for Vermontâ€™s lone U.S. Congressional seat, state Sen. Mark Shepard, R-Bennington, is happy to be tilting against windmills as the underdog candidate and the anti-establishment candidate.
â€œBeing the non-establishment candidate is not a bad place to be,â€? Shepard said in a Monday interview with the Addison Independent. â€œEstablishment candidates donâ€™t stir the pot and they donâ€™t ruffle feathers. Iâ€™m not doing this to be part of a club.â€?
That style of populist bravado potentially has appeal in a region enamored with the independent ethos that has long characterized the Green Mountain State. And Shepardâ€™s background fits his rhetoric. Heâ€™s a fifth or sixth generation Vermonter, born and raised on a small dairy farm, learned his hard-work ethic from his growing up a farmerâ€™s son, and his moral values were home grown as well. He graduated from Hartford High School in 1978 with little interest in a college education, but having learned how to wire a house with his dad at a young age, he had an affinity for electrical sciences and got his journeyman electricianâ€™s license in 1982. He stumbled into higher electronics, then took an interest in computers and ended up graduating from the University of Florida in 1986 with a electrical engineering degree and received a Master of Engineering degree following work at MIT and RPI. (See story, Page 1A.) In short, Shepard has a populist pedigree, but has leveraged his natural talent and home education into a lucrative electrical engineering business, which he formed several years ago and runs as an independent business. Heâ€™s married with four kids.
In his radio address to the nation this past Saturday, Vermont Sen. Peter Welch laid out the Democrats response in this election year on the war in Iraq: In short, President Bush, his administration and this Republican Congress have been irresponsible and accountability can only be restored by electing a Democratic House and/or Senate in November.
Unless we have a change in power in Congress in 2006, Welch said at the Addison Independent offices last Friday afternoon, none of the big questions facing the nation really matter because the Republican-led Congress has not exercised its role to oversee the executive branch and has instead rubber-stamped most of what the White House has dished out â€” including cover-ups and gross mismanagement of the war effort.
Welch, who was chosen to deliver the response to the presidentâ€™s weekly radio address, couldnâ€™t be more on target.
Of all the regrettable outcomes in the election of 2004, the fact that Congress has become ever more protective of the bumbling moves of the Bush administration will turn out to be one of the gravest errors in the Bush era. With deliberate intent, Congress â€” rather than pursuing the facts important to the formulation of policy â€” continues to allow the administration to classify documents and to deny worthy investigations that might contradict this administrationâ€™s claims, assumptions and purported facts. Without good information, however, the nation continues a downward slide with serious consequences.