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Status quo or bolder course?

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That’s the question to ask in governor’s race

In the race for governor, Republican James Douglas has the advantage of incumbency and a record of compromise and modest achievement, while Democrat Scudder Parker offers a candidacy of vision and bold leadership. In choosing the state’s next leader, Vermonters must ask if maintaining the status quo is sufficient or if the times demand a bolder course of action?

There is no pat answer. The course the state has maintained for the past four years under Gov. Douglas has been steady, if not visionary.

But problems remain unresolved. Dairy farms continue to fail at an alarming rate; the state’s energy supply hangs in a precarious balance and yet the state has no comprehensive energy policy; the state’s teacher/pupil ratio is low and drives expenses resulting in high property taxes; while the Catamount Health Care plan is a step forward, many say it does too little to cut costs leaving a heavy burden on businesses; the state’s Medicaid bill will put an increasing burden on the budget in future years; and while the state’s population has been increasing modestly, the number of school-age children has been on the decline, thus creating a future shortage in the labor pool.

None of these problems are new, but there is evidence to suggest that if they aren’t addressed forthrightly, the lack of action will make it harder and harder to correct at higher costs to taxpayers. Vermonters are right to ask the incumbent governor what he has done to address these problems. His answers suggest modest improvements, but no bold action.
Parker, a former four-term state senator from Caledonia County, an energy consultant and a former minister, has a grander vision, plus the energy and willpower to act boldly.

Consider Parker’s stands on these primary issues:

• Health care: He applauds Catamount Health Care as a first step, but says the state must do more to control spiraling costs. To achieve that he would untie employment from access to health care, make access available to all, and create a statewide self-insurance pool — as larger businesses do today. Among other items, Parker also would focus on preventative health care practices as a primary way to reduce future costs.

• Energy and the environment: As Director of the Energy Efficiency Division of the Vermont Department of Public Service from 1990-2003, energy and environmental issues have been Parker’s focus for the past 16 years. While failing to draft specific proposals, Parker’s vision would move the state to “a sustainable, much more self-reliant future.� He would offer incentives for new energy solutions and would help Vermont businesses “lead the way in the battle against global warming,� while transforming the state’s economy to attract “clean-energy businesses to Vermont.�

• Property taxes/Education: He opposes Gov. Douglas’ suggested property tax cap, saying local communities — not the state — should have control of their school budgets. The mechanisms are there to control school spending, Parker says; what’s needed is state leadership to demand full federal funding of special education, jettisoning President Bush’s ill-conceived No Child Left Behind act, and helping schools consolidate where desirable.

• Agriculture: Parker recognizes the continued loss of Vermont dairy farms as signs of a failed policy. He would provide incentives to diversify, think outside conventional farming practices to organic farming and create ways to promote local food systems. Passing emergency funding bills is not pro-active policy, Parker says, adding that more dairy farms will continue to fail unless Vermont moves aggressively to embrace new ideas.

Parker’s ability to lead on these issues is unknown, however, and represents a gamble for many Vermonters.

Gov. Douglas’ leadership, on the other hand, has been demonstrated over the past four years, and while adequate on several fronts he’s no Dick Snelling or Howard Dean. He ducks the hardest issues and lets the Legislature lead. When the obvious problem with education spending is labor cost and the solution is reducing the teacher/pupil ratio, he goes through the backdoor by suggesting a cap on spending — a “starving the beast� strategy — knowing the public will eventually get around to consolidation once their school programs are decimated. He was the brake on this past session’s health care reform proposal, not the leader. When every other candidate for state office had the courage to be at the largest political rally in recent state history and sign a pledge to support the fight against global warming, the governor was absent. His economic development program prefers spending on retention of current businesses, rather than a dual strategy to retain and recruit. Yes, that takes more funding, but if Vermont is going to succeed in developing a Green Valley of energy-related and tech-related businesses, the state can’t expect to do it on the cheap or just hang a shingle on the borders and hope businesses come. Aggressive recruitment is needed.

And, perhaps most unforgivable for some, Douglas has been a staunch supporter of President Bush’s agenda — serving as the state’s campaign chairman for George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004 — from the War in Iraq, to tax cuts to the wealthy, to anti-wilderness measures, to NCLB.

If Douglas does win reelection this year, we hope he chooses to act more boldly and progressively on the serious issues facing the state and think outside what have been his comfortable, even safe, positions. The state needs much bolder leadership if these critical issues are to be resolved.

Our support in this race, therefore, goes to Democrat Scudder Parker. We believe that, if elected, Vermonters could expect Parker to champion an energetic agenda with a supportive Legislature whose primary concern would be establishing policies that worked not just for the next election cycle, but for the long-term health of the state. Vote Scudder Parker for governor.

Angelo S. Lynn

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