By Angelo Lynn
As political partisanship reaches an all-time high in the country (recent studies show the nation’s two major political parties have never been further apart in terms of their priorities and ideology), Vermont’s political leaders offered a different scenario on the opening days of this biennium.
In Gov. Phil Scott’s inaugural address on Thursday, he said the “national political environment [has] brought out the worst in the public process” as “too many value political points over policy solutions.” He noted that “social media still overflows with negativity and hate, and politics as a whole still seems to divide us more than it brings us together,” but that he “truly believes that in Vermont, we can set a standard that others across the nation can aspire to… as a better way… to go about the work of the people.”
In her address to House members the day before, House Speaker Mitzi Johnson welcomed the 40 newest members with the hope that they “grow to cherish and deeply respect this place, this institution [Legislature] and especially the many Vermonters who contribute: elected officials across Vermont’s government, statehouse staff, the independent press, state workers, and the many people participating in our shared government for work, for passion, or both.”
Johnson noted that Vermont’s “human-scaled and accessible democracy is a shining feature of our brave state. No matter your party, or independent status, we are all here because we want Vermonters to succeed.” She then turned to House Minority leaders Pattie McCoy and Robin Chesnut-Tangerman to congratulate them on their leadership roles, and pledge to value their perspectives. “You have a vital role in bringing a range of perspectives to the table and I am committed to working to make sure all voices are heard. We cannot lead this state without you.”
Cynics may dismiss these early season overtures of cooperation and mutual respect as overly optimistic and naïve: Just wait, the cynic might say, until push comes to shove and see how cooperative the two parties are then. But that misses a crucial point: You can disagree in politics without being disrespectful. You can focus on policy differences without it becoming personal. Vermont has that ability.
Just verbalizing that everyone in the room wants Vermonters to be successful, and accepting that premise, has everyone pursuing a similar mission. How we accomplish that is then a matter of framing policy initiatives. That’s not as easy as it sounds, and is at the root of political differences, but at least we’re not starting – as is true on the national level – from a position of demonizing the opposing party as evil, incredibly stupid, fascist or anti-American.
Remember that – as we tackle the thorny issues of the upcoming session – and be grateful we live in Vermont.
Angelo Lynn is the editor and publisher of the Addison Independent, a sister paper of the Mountain Times.