With the Democrats’ sweep of seven out of the eight statewide offices and greater control in the Vermont House and Senate, one might think Dems will have their cards lined up in orderly fashion to push through a pre-ordained agenda.
It may not be that easy.
With a supermajority in the House and Senate — Vermont Democrats now have a 23-7 majority in the Senate and 96-42 advantage in the House — the concern is that Senate President Pro Tem John Campbell will have trouble keeping a more liberal group in the Senate on track to address the key issues facing the state.
In particular, the five new members of the Senate replace what a few pundits have deemed the “old guard” — Randy Brock, Vince Illuzzi, Sara Kittell, Harold Giard and Hinda Miller — with a newer contingent that includes Progressive David Zuckerman from Chittenden County and adds strength to a more liberal contingent composed of fellow Progressives Anthony Pollina and Tim Ashe as well as more liberal Democrats. Some pundits have suggested that more than half of the Democrats in the Senate would lean liberal while the other half could be termed moderate.
“It’ll be very interesting to see how Zuckerman and Campbell get along or don’t get along,” political commentator and Addison Independent columnist Eric Davis told Vermont Digger. He continued: “I think there may be a critical mass of people – I’d call them Progressives and progressive Democrats – who, particularly on taxing and spending issues, may take some position together.”
Added Davis: “It’s going to be a difficult job for whoever is president pro tem, whether it’s John Campbell or Ann Cummings, keeping a very large Democratic caucus working together. They’re not going to agree on every issue, but even having them proceeding in the same direction, that’s the big problem next year.”
Political discussion and argument is a natural part of the process, but for Progressives and liberal Democrats to hamstring progress on key issues in the upcoming biennium because of internal squabbling would be an enormous mistake — a lost opportunity that would likely spark a backlash against liberal candidates in the next election. (Witness the national election in 2008 and what happened in 2010. With landslides and complete control, voters expect results.)
With such a commanding majority in Vermont, the biggest problem facing Democrats is the perception that they failed to deliver effective legislation on the key issues facing the state.
Four of those key issues are:
• Job growth: two years isn’t a lot of time to make a difference on this front, but the groundwork can be put in place. That includes completing Gov. Peter Shumlin’s promise to get broadband to every corner and mile of the state, as well as other specific incentives they can enact that can make a quantifiable difference.
• Carrying through on health care reform in a way that drives down costs for individuals and businesses, and covers a greater number of Vermonters. If they can focus on this one issue, successfully, it could possibly do more good for the business community than any other initiative on the table today and spur job growth.
• Education: The Legislature must follow the governor’s lead in making Vermont the Education State. Inspiring our schools to be among the top in the nation must be a priority, as is getting more of our high school graduates to pursue higher education and providing them with access to that training.
• Energy: The twin, and often conflicting, goals are to develop a stable supply of energy at a reasonable cost while reducing our carbon footprint and becoming less dependent on fossil fuels. Renewable energy must be pursued, but it’s a long-term game that requires legislators to factor in the cost of energy and its effect on job creation. In short, in the process of creating more renewable energy, we don’t want to chase away the jobs we have.
Many other issues will be taken up and discussed, but the Democrats and Progressives must have a razor focus on the big four and be able to point to measurable progress that makes Vermonters’ lives better. Letting petty squabbles on minor issues derail the solid front of support needed to accomplish those tasks is a common failing of supermajorities. Hopefully the newest faces in the Senate can be a part of the solution and prove the concern unfounded.
Angelo S. Lynn