This year’s election will trigger a turnover at the top perhaps unprecedented in Vermont history. A new governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, and new heads of the House and Senate will all be in place by next January. And heading into the campaign, Vermont’s two major parties are offering completely different visions of the state of our state and the mood of its people.
Republicans see Vermonters as tired of high taxes, government intrusion, and the restless reformism (as they see it) of the Shumlin administration.
You’d expect Democrats to be treading cautiously. They are in the tightrope position of simultaneously defending their tenure in power, and crafting a distinctive profile going forward. Not to mention its persistently strong incrementalist tendencies.
However. Driven by Bernie Sanders’ overwhelming success in our primary, the party is moving leftward. There is a sense that Vermonters are ready for even more decisive change, even more government, a more aggressive push to lift up the downtrodden and blunt the sharp edges of capitalism.
Not too long ago, raising the minimum wage to $10.50 incrementally over three years’ time seemed like the best we could do. Now, $15 is the new standard.
This year, Democrats patted themselves on the back for passing a very modest paid sick leave bill. Now, gubernatorial candidates are openly calling for paid family leave, a much more radical step, and one that would be unthinkable under current Statehouse leadership.
A year and a half ago, Governor Shumlin threw in the towel on single payer health care. Since then, there’s been little progress on further reform. Now, Democrats aiming to succeed Shumlin are trumpeting the steps they would take toward universal coverage.
So, who’s right? The Republicans or the Democrats?
It’ll make for a study in contrasts we’ve rarely seen in recent years. Going back at least to the Howard Dean administration, our governors and would-be governors have actively triangulated: appealing to the center, and seeking to distance themselves from their parties’ outward wings. When they haven’t sought the middle (see: Ruth Dwyer and Randy Brock), they’ve been soundly rejected by the voters.
This year is looking like a real showdown between mutually exclusive visions of Vermont and its people. It’ll be an interesting campaign, and arguably decisive for at least our near-term political landscape.