Conservatives push back

Vermont conservatives organize in George Aiken’s hometown, call for Second Amendment sanctuary towns, introduce bill to hold public schools accountable, and call out media bias

By Guy Page

January 23, 2020 – It’s not easy being a conservative in a blue state like Vermont. Faced with powerful political opposition, a strong gun control lobby, ‘politically correct’ public schools that do not always prepare students academically, and a sometimes hostile media, it’s tempting sometimes to hunker down or even give up. But there are signs that conservative Vermonters are pushing back against…..

Political apathy – as of last night, there’s a Republican Town Committee in Putney, the Windham County hometown of former Governor and Senator George Aiken. It’s safe to say that Putney has become solidly Democrat since Aiken won the Putney seat in the Vermont House of Representatives in 1931. The current House member for Putney (and Westminster and Dummerston) is progressive Democrat Mike Mrowicki. No Republican has represented Putney since Phyllis Graham in 1983. The town committee has been inactive for two decades.

Kate Bowen (center) and the other attendees of the first Putney Town Republican Committee meeting in 20 years.

Enough is enough, local farmers Mark and Kate Bowen decided. “Over the past decades of elections conservatives in Windham County have had hardly any candidates running for public office. As taxes keep going up, local school control shifts, and the economy continues to stagnate we’ve seen liberal policy fail our community. We want to create a grass-roots network of support for future campaigns and help to give hope to Republicans who have given up on even going to the polls. There are like-minded folks here, but they’ve been so defeated decade after decade that they gave up fighting and just keep their nose to the grind-stone as a mater of survival.”

The couple called an organizational meeting in a room on the second floor of the Putney General Store. Yesterday, hours before the meeting, Kate worried that “It may just be my husband Mark and a recovering Democrat friend.”

Nine people turned out. Steve Whitman was elected Town Chair and his priorities are to “encourage conservative candidates to run for office and to increase voter turn-out for 2020,” Kate Bowen said.

“Putney has always been a place of political activism,” Kate Bowen said in an email to VT Daily Chronicle, “from a fairly strong Tory presence before the Revolutionary War, to experiments in communism by those practicing “Perfectionism” in the 1840’s by what would later be known as the Oneida community. After the closure of Windham College in 1978 many alum resettled in Putney and supported radical left-leaning ideology.

“Windham College had thrived during the draft-years of the Vietnam War as a place for draft deferments and notable counter-culture alumni published books such as the “Anarchists Cookbook” which described making explosives similar to the modern day IED’s. Many of these newcomer had the financial ability to pursue changing the local fabric of the community. As the state of Vermont changed agricultural laws and expanded Act 250, Putney saw the number of rural enterprises close which significantly changed voter demographics.” 

The actual process of organization was pretty simple, Kate Bowen said. “We contacted the VTGop who put us in touch with the chair of our county committee. He emailed us a packet of information and talked us through the process. All you need is 20 minutes to have a phone call, three people to serve, and be willing hold a meeting occasionally. It’s an easy process any Vermonter can do. There’s even a script to walk you through the first meeting.” For more information see the town committee’s Facebook page.  

Gun controlWPTZ reports gun rights advocates in five Vermont communities are organizing “Second Amendment Sanctuary” resolutions for March Town Meeting. The towns are Newport Town, Barton, Irasburg, Holland and Cavendish. According to FYI-VT.com, Second Amendment advocacy organization Gun Owners of Vermont recognizes the resolutions are non-binding, and are meant to encourage lawmakers in Montpelier to reject further limits on gun ownership, including proposed bans on carrying firearms in public places.

Inadequate student preparation by public schools – Sen. Randy Brock (R-Franklin) has introduced S.236, which would hold public schools financially responsible for not adequately educating students. Colleges forced to provide remedial education to Vermont high school graduates would be allowed to send their school districts the bill, due within 60 days.

“We want to hold their feet to the fire,” Brock said at a legislative breakfast in Swanton last week, as reported by the County Courier. Vermont high schools continue to graduate college-bound students who are unprepared. It’s uncertain whether S236 will progress in the Senate Education Committee, chaired by Sen. Phil Baruth (D-Chittenden).

Calling out perceived media bias – Agripublican gubernatorial candidate John Klar wants the Internal Revenue Service to investigate what he says is biased political coverage by VT Digger, which operates under a 501-C(3) not-for-profit IRS license. 501-C(3) licensees may not engage in ‘political’ activity.

In particular, Klar says, VT Digger has not published some campaign statements, has not sought comments on topics like the Transportation Climate Initiative, and has not mentioned Agripublican candidates in coverage about other party candidates announcing runs for office – but did on Jan. 21 publish 2018 Democratic gubernatorial candidate Christine Hallquist’s criticisms of ‘transphobic’ statements made in 2018 by Brooke Paige, who appeared at a January 6 press conference as an Agripublican candidate. (VT Digger has covered several Agripublican events, including the Jan. 6 press conference.)

When Klar submitted a critical response to VT Digger, the news outlet refused to publish it: “VTDigger will not be publishing the press release you sent on your reaction to our story on H. Brooke Paige. It includes baseless attacks and allegations that we know to be untrue,” news editor Cate Chant informed Klar by email Jan. 22.

Klar fired back in a same-day response published by True North Reports:

“Your article was a “baseless attack” which the public can see was so — now you deny me the opportunity to defend myself to that same public, and I am an active political candidate. Typical. 

“You have refused to post my comments complaining that you deny me a voice in articles that directly relate to my candidacy. Here, you are again doing the same. You are not journalists, you are propagandists. You attempted to manipulate the general public against a group of candidates, on behalf of a former Dem gubernatorial candidate. You decline to print my response because it IS true. 

“Vermonters deserve integrity in their media, especially when that media receives public benefits through 501(c)(3) status. You cheat, and I’m going to prove it.”

A letter of complaint from Klar to the IRS is dated January 22. VT Digger “represents itself to be a balanced news resource, but is in fact eminently biased, and essentially a propaganda arm of progressive political actors here. The vast majority of Vermont media exhibit a strong liberal bias, but they do not receive 501(c)(3) benefits,” Klar writes.