Observations From the Statehouse – Part 1 of 3 – Party Pressure, Propaganda and Emerge
by Alison Despathy
I am the oldest of four girls. My Dad always said he could teach women studies better than anyone, he’s probably right. He had three lines he would repeatedly use with my sisters and I. “Have fun, nothing stupid”, “Shape up or ship out” and then when we really tested him, it was “Try that again and you’ll be on the outside looking in”. Maybe it was fate because this last line sums up my experience at the statehouse this past session. I am not a legislator or a paid lobbyist –I was definitely on the outside looking in.
As a concerned citizen of Vermont, mother of three children and new grandmother who cares deeply for people and the future of Vermont, I decided I was going to visit the statehouse weekly; Check out the scene, attempt conversations and see how the “sausage was made” so to speak. I share my humble experience and observations here with the hope that for those Vermonters not paying attention, please wake up, it’s time, Vermont needs you.
- The statehouse is a microcosm, a little planet with a big impact. Every decision has tremendous influence on the lives of Vermonters. We know this, we feel it and see it. Literally, it is a ‘make it or break it’ situation. Everyday is intense and dramatic due to the nature of the work. Some take it seriously and put in the time and energy, others are along for the ride, and some simply have no idea. Multiple conversations revealed that I understood some bills up for vote better than some legislators. This is a problem
- With a supermajority in place, many Democratic legislators stated that if a bill made it through committee then they trusted it was solid. What if members in the committee do not understand the bills? S.5 was a prime example, many legislators cannot explain this bill. In Senate Natural Resources, Senators McCormick and MacDonald often voiced confusion without resolution. I attended a zoom call with three legislators, Rep. Bobby Farlice-Rubio (D), Rep. Monique Priestly (D), and Rep. Carl Demrow (D). Due to the convoluted and controversial nature of the bill, they had lobbyists in full support of this bill briefly explain and answer questions from their constituents. Talk about a biased conversation. I attempted to contribute but was shut down.
- As legislators it is their job to understand both the intention AND details of the bill. It cannot simply be a matter of catchy sound bytes. To not hold a clear picture of the impacts on constituents is a disservice. If you don’t do details, you shouldn’t be there. This coupled with party line voting and massive propaganda campaigns is why this past session was exceptionally destructive.
- When you have been intensely pressured by supermajority leadership to vote a certain way, what will you do? Can you stand up to party pressure? Lobbyists aggressively work the legislators day in and day out, often marketing their agendas behind a false narrative of preventing discrimination or achieving environmental or social justice ‘solutions’. Can legislators identify special interest propaganda and remember they serve their constituents?
- Regarding S.5, thousands of constituents reached out to their legislators in opposition and were ignored. They were told “They don’t understand” or “The fossil fuel dealers are lying”. They were given the, “Trust me I know what I am doing” line. Senator Ruth Hardy showed me a massive stack of messages left with the Sergeant at Arms from her constituents urging a No vote on S.5. This was on top of hundreds of emails, yet she still voted yes on S.5, along with over one hundred Democrats and Progressives. Do that many legislators really think that S.5 is a good idea? How many letters would it actually take for legislators to listen to and respect their constituents? Vermont is losing representative government due to a super majority of drones who are now blatantly ignoring their constituents and falling prey to special interests.
- Behaviors differed greatly between the Democratic supermajority and the Republican, Independent and Libertarian legislators. All legislators care for their constituents, they are public servants, but on the whole it was the Republicans and the lone Libertarian, Jarrod Sammis who regularly acted on this concern. Their questions, floor speeches and attempted amendments were geared at protections of Vermonters’ livelihoods and constitutional rights and supporting economic viability and access to a wide variety of options to serve all Vermonters.
- Most Democrats fell in lockstep party line with their votes thus failing to represent the people and bringing harm to Vermonters. There were several noteworthy exceptions to this pattern. Rep. Joseph Andriano had the strength to buck party line voting multiple times in service to his constituents when voting No for S.5 and Act 45. Senator Starr and Rep. Jed Lipsky also chose their constituents in their S.5 No vote. In the House Committee on Environment and Energy, Rep. Christi Morris asked key questions on the S.5 funding structure and economic impacts. With no clear answers offered, he voted No on S.5. Representative Dennis Labounty held steady on his S.5 No vote despite intense pressure from leadership and lobbyists. Senator Kitchel took action in the Senate Appropriation committee to move S.5 to a study. This offered some time and scrutiny but sadly didn’t kill the bill with its guaranteed outcome to increase heating fuel costs, waste taxpayer money and interfere with home heating options. There are a handful of Democrats who voted for their constituents and conscience over the Democratic party demands. There are just not enough.
- Why is there an intensely coordinated voting pattern in the supermajority? In part it is pressure from majority leadership and special interest propaganda but then I learned about Emerge. Former Governor Madeleine Kunin began this program with intentions to help support women in politics. However, it appears to have devolved into a Democratic party indoctrination camp with candidates trained in group think and cookie cutter campaign messaging and talking points. They join a party tribe while their constituents suffer. Emerge graduates are heavily focused on environmental and social justice causes. Real answers to these issues we face are critical. Special interest versions run rampant in the statehouse and many, really all Emerge graduates latch onto these fake and destructive solutions. A sampling of Emerge graduates includes: Senator Becca White, Representative Gabrielle Stebbins, Attorney General Charity Clark, Senator Martine Gulick, and US Senator Becca Balint. For anyone tuned in; enough said, I think this list speaks for itself. Mono-cropped thought is dangerous and prone to exploitation by predators. This is currently part of the problem in the statehouse.
Recognizing that no party is immune to special interest propaganda is key. Right now the Democrats are in deep and don’t even realize it. Instead many believe they are actually achieving environmental and social justice. This is delusional. They have fallen for industry driven agendas and will literally make the people pay. Party line voting is void of representation and holds loyalty to a party versus the people. It chooses agendas over constructive ideas, ideology over service, and sacrifice over solutions. At this time, it is ironic and hypocritical to hear the Democratic party scream about holding onto democracy, yet right here in Vermont the Democratic supermajority has stepped away from the representative aspect of our constitutional republic, fallen for propaganda campaigns and chosen special interests over Vermonters.
The author is a clinical nutritionist in St. Johnsbury.