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Community Forum: Vermont GOP can regain status

This week’s writer is Fred Baser, who founded Bristol Financial Services in 1987. He ran as a Republican for the Vermont House in Addison-4 District in 2010.
The Vermont Republican Party has an identity crisis. What has caused the party’s image problems? Who are Vermont Republicans? What can the party do to change the current situation?
While there are likely many reasons for the decline of the Republican Party in Vermont, two factors really stick out. One is the conservative shift of the national organization. The second is the lack of leadership and grassroots development of ideas and new people within the party.
Republicans have been associated with conservatism for quite some time. Yet it was the Republican Party and its leadership that led the abolitionist movement and brought about many of this country’s environmental laws (think Teddy Roosevelt, and the Clean Water Act of the ’70s). The Vermont landscape, as we know it, was developed over the 100 years that the Republicans were the majority party in the state. However, in recent years a majority of the national party’s ranks has shifted to a more rigid thinking. The party is intransigent with its ideas. It has drawn lines in the sand on taxation and is associated with the minority point of view (at least among folks in the Northeast) on many social issues. The national party’s platform in general rubs a lot of Vermonters the wrong way.
By association, many independents and Democrats think of Vermont Republicans in the same way they brand the national party. This is a mistake. As a Republican myself, and knowing many people that call themselves Republican, we tend to be pragmatic and independent in our thinking. We have varying points of view on the major social issues of the day, and yes, we do tend to be fiscally conservative, as any good Vermonter has been for last 150 years. The state organization needs to make some distinction between itself and the perception of who a Republican is as taken from the national stage.
Why Vermont Republicans have lacked grassroots development and leadership along the lines of their competition is unknown to me. Perhaps it is because many folks that could fill leadership roles are too busy making a living. Just look how few “business” owners are in Montpelier. I think you can count them one hand. Whatever the reasons for the party’s decline, the state organization needs to grow the party in ways that today’s Vermonters can identify with and, at the same time, make a distinction between Vermont Republicans and people from the other side of the aisle.
While I’d like to believe otherwise, the Republican Party is likely to be the minority party for a few more years. As Gov. Phil Hoff and former Democratic Speaker Ralph Wright have said in their books, the Vermont political landscape has changed over the last 40 years as more and more people from down country have moved into the state. Many of these transplants have a more “liberal” and “progressive” bent. Students of social studies have noted “like attracts like,” and as a result, just as some states have grown more Republican, others, like Vermont, have grown more Democratic.
Even though Vermont Republicans are swimming upstream, there are many bright and gifted Republicans in our state — people that could make contributions to our state’s development and offer differing points of views on issues that have multiple solutions. To bring these folks to the fore the party needs a clearer vision of itself and the ability to express that vision. This is easier said than done. But it is quite likely the Vermonters that can achieve these ends are already available. They just need to get together.  

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