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The Coming Midterm Elections: Vermont and an Early Analysis

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Editor's Note:  First in a series on the Midterm elections both in Vermont and the nation at large.

The people of Vermont are a divided people when it comes to the electoral process. But this is not an unusual phenomenon. Since the end of the American Revolution and before Vermont became a state within the Union, there were always differences between those who lived in the Northeast Kingdom, those who lived in the middle area of Vermont, and those who lived in the southern part of this New England state. Vermont was born of contention. Before the territory of what is now known as Vermont, there was a disputatious struggle between the states of New Hampshire and New York to acquire the New Hampshire Grants to the west of the Connecticut River, encompassing present-day Vermont. What should also be understood is that the territory of present-day Vermont was once a part of New France, and the territory was given up to the Anglo-Americans and the British Empire only afte being defeated in 1763 during the end of the Seven Years War.

The Coming Midterm Elections:  Vermont and an Early Analysis

One might ask what this has to do with modern-day Vermont and the Midterm November elections of 2018?  The answer is that in order to understand the election interests of the people of Vermont, it is necessary to know the various cultural, social and economic interests of the various peoples who live in Vermont. In relation to class differences and how that affects the Vermont electoral process let us observer the following statistics: According to Workingpoorfamilies.org, Vermont as listed below 200 percent below poverty by state (2011), there were 14% low-income working families, 59% of working families struggling for a living wage, 24% of a low-income situation. Vermont ranks 7th in the survey taken in terms of poverty and demographic trends.[i] On the other hand,  in 2016 a journalist observed in Vermontbiz.com, “The middle class is shrinking, but Vermont is the highest ranking state in the East for the 'Middle Class.' [ii] According to a 2015 analysis by Pew Research, for the first time in recent history less than half of American households are part of the middle class, with greater numbers of households moving into the upper and lower classes.”

And then, with the telltale facts of low-income poverty in Vermont not being mentioned, Pew's analysis further states, “The top-ranked eastern state for the middle class, Vermont ranks among the top 10 states for both the size of its middle class and the fairness of its tax system. 47% of households earn between $35,000 and $100,000 per year in Vermont, the ninth-largest percentage of any state. Meanwhile, Vermont’s tax system rates as the sixth-fairest for middle class taxpayers.”[iii]  What is also not included in the preceding statistics is that even though Vermont ranks high in the so-called middle-class range, property taxes are increasing to a confiscatory level in the Green Mountain State, which only leads to more class divisions and an increase in  growing poverty among the Vermont working class and the poor of Vermont.

Even the community news organization vtdigger.org downplays the grave economic impact of Vermont's spiraling property-tax situation: “More than half of the towns in Vermont, 135 out of 249, will see higher average homestead property tax rates than last year — although Gov. Phil Scott was able to harness surplus money to prevent a hike in the average residential property tax.”[iv] In other words, even among the struggling middle class and working class people who own their homes in Burlington, their income will be hard pressed to balance their daily needs with the funds they must save up for the payment of property taxes. So, all these class economic factors must be taken into account when considering how Vermonters will vote in the November Midterm elections.

The Coming Midterm Elections:  Vermont and an Early Analysis

In terms of social demographics, Burlington is the most politically correct and the most liberal area of Vermont where the eccentricity of the Vermont character, persona, and disposition is seen and heard in its full light, including within the electoral process. If the self-styled progressive politician, nominal Independent, kissing Democrat, and  faux socialist, Bernie Sanders, running for a third term in the U.S. Senate,  is seen as a bulwark for the Democratic Party in Vermont, then transgender candidate Christine Halliquest is the Democrats' choice in Vermont to unseat Republican Governor Phil Scott, who paradoxically signed sweeping gun control measures and has now seen his approval rating plummet precipitously, because  of disgruntled Vermont hunters and ordinary Vermont citizens who see any threat to their gun ownership as a sign of their individualistic independence being drastically curtailed. 

What should also be noted is the existence of Independent voters, putative progressives, also a major factor or "wild card" in the outcome of Vermont elections.  However, in Vermont's Northeast Kingdom and in the southern part of the state, these Independents tend to be more conservative, if not abstemiously pragmatic in the way they cast their votes.

Nevertheless, the Republican Party is not without its own eccentric albeit unpredictable or even bizarre behavior by various candidates. As the Burlington Free Press  sees it,  “Vermont’s Republican Party is working on getting candidates to run for five statewide offices, including the U.S. House, after a perennial candidate secured the GOP nominations in last week’s primary. H. Brooke Paige earned the party’s nomination to run for U.S. Senate and House, state treasurer, secretary of state, auditor of accounts and attorney general. He withdrew from five of the races on Friday, the deadline. He plans to run for secretary of state. The Republican Party chairwoman says the party has candidates for most of the seats and was still working on one or two. Vermont allows for alternate nominees.”[v]  The phrase “working on getting candidates to run” is especially important here, because of inertia, or perhaps a lack of will, for the Republicans to follow in the dangerous footsteps of Donald Trump. Since the Republicans form part of the patrician class in Vermont, they may be prone to more subtle ways of oppressing Vermonters both socially and economically. Time will tell.

The Coming Midterm Elections:  Vermont and an Early Analysis

Is the state of Vermont a bellwether for the November Midterm elections? I would say no. Essentially, not much has changed since the time of that visionary observer, French historian and social critic Alexis de Tocqueville, who commented about New England Town Meetings that one can still hear the murmurings, the outcries and the down-to-earth practical decisions of how Vermonters want or desire to lead their lives. It is almost as if Vermonters instinctually know of what Stalin had to say about elections: "It is enough the people know there was an election. The people who cast the votes decide nothing. The people who count the votes decide everything.” Here, Vermonters still count the votes.

Author: Luis Lázaro Tijerina