Please consider this an open letter to Vermont voters.
What are the valid selection criteria we should be using to screen Congressional applicants?
During the 1970s orchestras across the United States became concerned that members weren’t chosen by ability, but handpicked by the conductors. They designed an interesting, novel and effective solution to screen applicants. Auditioning musicians played music from behind a curtain. Judges listened and rated the musicians ability unaware of the age, gender and the musician’s appearance. The results? Using this blind test meant ability and talent were the deciding selection factors and women’s participation in orchestras dramatically increased. The winners? Female musicians and audiences hearing the best music played by the best musicians.
Let’s imagine Vermonters decide to screen Vermont’s Congressional applicants using a similar blind method. The voters occupy one side of the curtain, and the applicants occupy the other. We don’t know their age beyond 25, who they know, their relationship status or other non-relevant factors. We can’t see them and they can’t see us; there’s no cheerleading, no visual cues, no clapping. All applicants receive the same questions on a written form and answer questions via laptops.
However, exactly what are the valid selection criteria Vermonters should be using to screen Congressional applicants?
We were taught the best predictor of future performance is past performance. So perhaps we should be judging the applicants based upon their accomplishments, problems faced and overcome and solutions they provided to help Vermonters. Not what they want to do, but what have they actually done? Oh, and no conductors allowed.
Here are some sample categories and questions voters might present to the applicants.
- Economy and jobs – Give us an example of when you created a job. Tell us what factors made it easier or more difficult to create. What specifically have you done to strengthen your local economy or the Vermont economy? What were the measured results?
- Covid 19 – What steps have you personally taken to lessen Vermont’s Covid-19 pandemic impact? What made it effective? Please share with us the how the effectiveness was measured.
- Education – School boards and Vermont citizens need to address concerns such as remote instruction and curriculum choices. Tell us about a situation where you balanced competing interests. How exactly did you craft the process? What factors did you consider?
- Health care – Describe a health care solution/idea you have crafted to any of Vermont’s present health care problems. How did you involve Vermonters/stakeholders in this solution? Name a time when you addressed a facet of Vermont’s health care system. What exactly did you do?
These categories aren’t mine. They are the top four issues Virginia voters considered during their recent election. I live in rural Lamoille County, and we have the same issues. Should November elections be decided on answers to questions like those above? Might we select different applicants using this method?
If it were up to me, I’d add one category and these questions as my greatest concern: inflation. The prices of gasoline, food and services increase almost daily. What steps and actions have you personally taken to lower the cost to Vermont citizens? Tell us how they were effective and what was the actual impact on Vermont citizens? Please begin with rising energy costs.
Let’s shift for a moment and look at routine problems our citizens face. It’s January and you have a frozen water pipe. Do you care what the plumber looks like when they arrive to unthaw your pipe? Should looks be a selection factor when choosing anyone to work on your home or in any other occupation? (BTW, I’ll bet you’re thrilled when they knock on your door!)
Your “late model vehicle” has a mechanical issue. You take it to a local mechanic to fix. Do you consider the mechanic’s religion, gender or race? Or do you care that they can fix your clunker for under $500?
Your teenage daughter has a medical issue and needs to see a health care professional. Do you choose them based upon their age or martial status? Or do you choose them for their bedside manner, questions they ask, explanation of treatment options, etc.?
Congressional openings are a generational opportunity to choose the very best leaders for all Vermonters. Shouldn’t the selection process be at least as fair, rigorous and impartial as choosing a musician in an orchestra? Can we agree they shouldn’t be treated like coronations, entitlements, or political beauty pageants? Should Vermont media help facilitate an open, honest, and inclusive discussion? And do we have an obligation as voters to spend as much time on the relevant selection factors as we do looking for our plumber, our mechanic, and our health care provider?
Matt Krauss, Stowe
Editor’s note: Krauss is a happily retired state employee (by his own definition) and former Vermont legislator.