ELECTIONS PROMPT REFLECTION IN VERMONT POLITICS

 Vermont’s unique history of independent politics with a vibrant populist tradition often leaves Vermonters feeling immune to many of the uglier national trends in politics. But 2014’s midterm elections have been a wake-up call for many. In the post-Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission world, money is proving to play a more influential role in US politics than voters and the situation in Vermont isn’t really any different.

     As reported in the Burlington Free Press, the state experienced record low voter turn-out leading to  a change in the composition of the legislature with Republicans and Progressives picking-up seats over several Democrats. Polls indicate that the results were less a matter of Republicans winning the battle for hearts and minds in Vermont and more a matter of Democratic voters staying home. In the aftermath there is much speculation as to why but no definitive statistical evidence has been conducted yet to provide firm answers.

     Governor Shumlin, reclaiming the Governor’s office after an incredibly tight race, told press that he interpreted the election as a referendum on his administration and that he “heard the people of Vermont”. With many of his former supporters withholding their vote, his interpretation seems reasonable. The question that remains to be answered: Does the election result indicate that voters are moving away from Shumlin due to his liberal stance on several critical issues, including Vermont’s universal healthcare legislation, in favor of conservative up-and-comers or is it the case that Vermonters don’t believe that Shumlin was forceful enough in implementing such popular policies?

     While Republican gains have been receiving a great deal of media attention, the often over-looked Vermont Progressive Party also made significant gains across the state. However, Progressives are taking their victories in stride. At the annual meeting of the Progressive Party, held at the historic Labor Hall in Barre on November 15, candidates and other party supporters reflected on the “big picture” meaning of the overall results. Some Progressives conclude that Vermont is being caught-up in the national trend toward political polarization due to intensified partisanship as out-of-state money floods in to bring Vermont voters into line with larger national agendas. Others added that low turn-out for Democratic candidates is a result of Democrat administrations across the nation failing to make good on promises over issues ranging from ending the “war on terror”, preserving collective bargaining rights of employees and the growing dissatisfaction with the Affordable Care Act as a national health policy.