Op/Ed

Editorial: The voters’ vital role

ANGELO LYNN

As we enter the final six weeks before the Nov. 8 elections, both state and national, let’s all reflect on one point that should, by now, be uncontested: Who you vote for and who’s elected makes a difference. Never think it doesn’t.

On the national stage, ex-president Trump was first elected in 2016 by a few narrow victories in key states, with less than 11,000 votes (47.5% to 47.3%) votes separating Trump’s win over Hillary Clinton in Michigan out of 4.8 million votes cast. Meanwhile, Clinton squeaked past Trump in New Hampshire by just 3,000 votes — 348,625 to 345,790 or 45.8% to 46.5% out of 744,296 votes cast. 

While Clinton beat Trump in the number of popular votes cast nationwide (65,788,564 to 62,955,340, or by 2.8 million votes and 2 percentage points, 48.2% to 46.2%), Trump won the electoral count 306 to 232 by virtue of several close state elections.

In 2020, Biden would beat Trump by 7 million votes (81,268,773 to 74,216,728, or 51.3 percent to 46.8%) in the popular vote. Biden would also win the electoral college 306 to Trump’s 232 — what Trump had called a “blow-out” when he won the 2016 election. (He now, of course, disputes the election results in what is known as the Big Lie; another of the more than 30,573 lies told during his four-year term — an average of 21 per day.)

Back up a few years to the election of 2000, and the contest was razor thin. In that election, Democrat Al Gore won the popular vote 50,992,335 to 50,455,156 (about 500,000 votes) with tight elections in swing states that split the electoral college 271 for Republican George W. Bush to 266 for Gore. 

In what came down to a few hanging chads (spoiled ballots) in the drawn-out Florida recount, Bush won the state (and the presidency) by just 537 votes, 2,912,790 to 2,912,253, out of almost 6 million votes cast.

Had Gore won Florida, and because he was an ardent believer in the negative effects of a warming climate, the world may well be a different place and the United States could have been a global leader of renewable energy development and the jobs it creates. 

And it doesn’t take much of a political historian to recall that Sen. Bernie Sanders launched his political career as mayor of Burlington in 1981 when, as an Independent, he defeated Democrat incumbent Gordon Paquette by just 10 votes — 4,330 to 4,320. 

In short, votes matter — and who we elect matters far more than we might think. Imagine if Bernie had never gotten his start on Vermont’s political scene, or if Gore had defeated Bush, or if the GOP, and the nation, would have escaped Trump’s corrosive influence.

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That’s all a prelude to the elections Vermonters face on Nov. 8 as we elect statewide and congressional leaders, legislative representatives, and make important decisions on town and school issues.

This past week, most of the 16 Addison County candidates seeking legislative seats showed up at an Addison County Farm Bureau forum that featured just three questions: one on climate change and two on agricultural issues.

While the forum is unwieldly with more than a dozen candidates trying to address each of the issues in two-minute clips, it offers a glimpse into the importance of learning more about each candidate. 

On the climate change issue, for example, candidates were asked to identify one positive and one negative aspect of the state’s Global Warming Solutions Act, which was passed by the Legislature in 2020. The Act, as Addison Independent reporter Marin Howell wrote in today’s lead story, “transforms Vermont’s stated goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions into legal requirements, pushing the state to meets its reduction targets and prioritize economic and environmental resiliency.”

The question challenged candidates to know the law and to see both sides — the pro and the con. Candidates, unfortunately, had only two minutes to answer, but in that two minutes there was much to learn. Republican Richard Burton, who is running for one of two state Senate seats, said the law would not accomplish what proponents sought and, moreover, that “it (climate change) is not man-made, and it is not going to be man-solutioned.”

Agree with him or not, voters know where he stands and, partly, how he thinks.

Valerie Mullin, a Monkton Republican in the Addison-4 House race, countered that she thought the Act’s goals were worthy, but the hard deadlines were a detriment to Vermonters.

Again, agree with Mullen or not, voters know where she stands and the little tolerance she has for taking firm action to curb carbon emissions.

Three Democrats, on the other hand, supported the Act and the requirements needed to ensure state goals are met.

Jubilee McGill, the Democratic nominee for state representative in Addison-5, put it plainly: “Science has recognized it (climate change) exists. It’s a problem and we kind of haven’t done anything about it. The… Act requires us to do something.”

Incumbent Rep. Matt Birong, D-Vergennes, said the Act was a catalyst for needed change and would work well to push the state to invest in resilient infrastructure.

Incumbent Rep Caleb Elder, D-Starksboro, was more emphatic about the problem and the Act’s positive impact: “We have faced so much denial about climate realities, whether it’s blind denialism or whataboutism. The good thing about the Global Warming Solutions Act is, for the first time ever, we did something binding about climate. The bad thing is we didn’t do it 30 years ago.”

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Those are but a few of the comments made in a forum of 16 competing voices; all candidates of good intention, no doubt, but of sometimes vastly different ideas on how to serve their districts and the outcomes they expect. 

To that end, voters must roll up their sleeves to do the necessary work of democracy: learn about each candidate that represents your district, discuss the issues with them and with your friends and neighbors, and then vote for the candidate you think will move the state forward with the best possible outcome. 

The Addison Independent will continue to run stories about these races each week, and we’ll have an Election Guide that will be published on Oct. 20. In that Guide, we’ll feature each race in the county with side-by-side stories of the various candidates and where they stand on the issues. We’ll also cover the various local issues requiring a public vote, and a wrap-up of the state races. 

But don’t wait for the Guide. Start now by visiting with the candidates when they host community events; instead of watching the television for one or two nights, check each candidate’s website and review what they represent with a critical mind (question, think, don’t just believe); know the issues; and then use the Guide as a way to compare candidates side-by-side before making up your mind. That’s the due diligence needed of each citizen.

It’s the same on the national level, but complicated by too many national media outlets (and commentators) whose goal is to incite rancor and excite a political base through misinformation. That’s because it’s so much easier to inflame debate (and draw viewers) through exaggeration, misdirection and lies than it is to maintain ratings by serving the public good.

To that end, it’s the citizen’s job to understand the issues well enough to spot the lies and call out the perpetrators; to inspect politics from both sides and understand what reasonable goals vs. false promises are; and to determine what next steps will move the nation in the right direction.

That’s a huge job for a nation that has forgotten to seek both sides of the story, and instead prefers to revel in the muck of self-conviction rather than to pursue the greater good.

Angelo S. Lynn

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