Nice to be Important, Important to be Nice

Not that you’d know it by the national media, but we had a primary election in Vermont Tuesday. Pretty exciting, but lacking in tea parties, billionaires trying to buy their way into office, wrestling executives and so forth.

What we had was a five-way contest for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination. Our four-term (two-year terms) Republican governor is declining to run for re-election and anyone with ambition and a “D” after their name saw this as their opportunity. (Our congressional delegation consists of two Ds and a lefty I, none of whom is over 90, so no one expects those seats to open soon.)

A five-way primary campaign and everyone was so… nice. Perhaps it was a Canadian contagion; we are a border state. The rivers flow north, the manners head south. Debate after forum, the five limned policy differences so precise one had to be a wonk to appreciate the nuances. (“Oh and before I finish, I’d like to thank my fellow candidates for the great campaigns they’re running…”)

So, of course the national media didn’t pay attention. Where’s the conflict? Who’d care about that race? Vermonters, apparently. Despite moving the date of the primary from September to August for the first time (“Everyone’ll be on vacation!”), voter turnout exceeded all predictions. About 70,000 ballots cast. (“Seventy thousand? I had more people than that in my high school!” I know, I know, but it’s Vermont. We’re tiny.)

Election night served up a three-way tie, with the margin of less than 700 votes between first (Peter Shumlin) and third place (Deb Markowitz) finishers (less than 200 votes between the top two – Mr. Shumlin and Doug Racine). The lead among the top three shifted throughout the evening, allowing each victory party to boogie down, at least for a while.

Two days later, everyone’s still nice. The second and third place finishers have not conceded and are waiting until the vote is made official (probably early next week) before deciding to ask for a recount (as is their right). But it’s good, all five candidates appeared at a unity rally Wednesday, hugging and mugging for the cameras and although there were speeches plenty, none of the candidates took the mike. Political pantomime. When’s the last time you saw that?

The supposed beneficiary of all this neck-and-necking is the Republican candidate Brian Dubie, who’s been Lite Guv for the past eight years and unseen in public throughout the primary season. Although invited to participate in several of the debates with his Dem counterparts, he’s passed on every opportunity. He was to finally meet the Democratic nominee in debate tonight, but now that’s been postponed until 26 September. (Democrats in some form of disarray, Republicans hiding from the public and press – we have that in common with tea-party states.)

As Jimmy Breslin said of the ’62 Mets bullpen, I think he’s afraid to come out. I think the only way our Lite Gov could make his profile lower would be by transferring his residency to another state. The rare glimpse the public gets of his goings-on is when his campaign treasurer is forced to file a fiscal disclosure form, revealing Mr. Dubie is socking away gangs of cash. (He is, after all, Republican.) He was for a while running ads on the New York Times web site saying that Vermont is in 47th place among states friendly to business.

Not to harsh your mellow Brian, but

a) isn’t that what every Republican says about his or her state? (“We HAVE to stop being so mean to business! They paid for this ad!”)

b) ummm, you and your GOP overlord have been running state government for the last eight years. If things are that bad, ain’t it your fault?

c) as one of the Dems, I think it was Doug Racine, pointed out, the states Republicans think are “good for business” exploit their workers and trash their environments. There’s a reason we don’t live in Alabama and it’s not maple syrup. (Well, partially.)

So anyhow (cutting off the digression and getting back to the main point): conventional political wisdom is wrong. Vermont proves American politics don’t need name-calling, mud-slinging or outlandish costumes to engage voters. Multiple-candidate primaries don’t turn people off (although they may confuse them). The decline of decorum in American politics is not the fault of tee vee, it’s the fault of cynical political operators.

The bottom line is good news – we can act like adults if we choose to.

© Mark Floegel, 2010

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *