April 23, 2018

Bonus money comes in hard cash12/24/08

Employees figure out how to divide $20,000

Dec. 24, 2008

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

What to do with $20,000?

That was the tough question employees of Hampton Direct Inc. had to answer last Friday during an unconventional holiday bonus giveaway. And true to the spirit of the company’s employees, it took only a few short minutes to figure out an equal and creative way to distribute the money.


    Observer photo by Ben Sarle
Hampton Direct’s human resources manager, Mary Wylde of Stowe, explains the guidelines for how the company’s employees must divide up their holiday bonus.

Steve Heroux, the company’s president, handed out stacks of $10 bills as many employees laughed at what was about to take place. Others didn’t know how to react at first.

“I was totally shocked,” said Sherrie Lucia after all was said and done. “I thought he was joking.”

Employee Al Diem also thought the joke was on him and his coworkers.

“I thought it was Monopoly money,” Diem said.

This is the first time Hampton Direct has had such an unusual way of delivering holiday bonuses, Heroux said. A similar tactic was used at a company he worked for in Connecticut in the early 1990s.

“It used to get everybody excited,” Heroux said. “I knew that it would work here.”

Hampton Direct, an international distribution company that employs 33 people, ships hundreds of household products sold on the QVC network and on direct response television infomercials. The company also sells to specialty stores, with the Vermont Country Store in Weston being its only in-state customer.

Holiday bonus

After learning they had one hour to decide who would receive what amount of bonus money, the employees squeezed into a conference room to hammer out the details. Envelopes with employees’ names on them were taped to the window of the room as snow fell outside. All management had left the room to avoid swaying decisions. That left 25 non-managerial employees to make the crucial decisions.

The ground rules were simple: everyone had to participate, everyone had to agree on the final choice and everyone had to get some amount of money in their envelopes. Also, the company’s accountants had to know each employee’s final amount at the end of the process for tax purposes.

Within minutes, employee Jolene Ciosek had figured out each person would get $606 dollars if split evenly. Since the denominations were $10 bills, it was quickly decided to give each employee $600.

“We’re all part of the same team,” Ciosek said. “We all contribute.”

Diem wondered if everyone thought it was a good idea to split the money equally, since some employees only recently started working at Hampton Direct. Diem, for instance, had started at the company only two weeks prior. But no one seemed perturbed by the original decision and only seemed more enforced by the team camaraderie.

“The people that have been here less than six months can pay our taxes!” Ciosek joked.

Another easy and quick decision was what to do with the leftover cash. Employees opted to give the remaining $200 to the Williston Community Food Shelf as a charitable contribution.

The fun part came as employees grabbed the stacks of $10 bills, counting out the fresh money.

For employee Lisa Sherman, the bonus came at a great time. Sherman joined the company in October after losing a marketing job earlier in the year. She said she feels very much at home at her new job.

“I’m really blessed,” Sherman said. “It’s a wonderful group here.”

Employee Janet Pendris also praised the company and its president, Heroux, especially in his choice of the interesting bonus system.

“He’s made it more fun,” Pendris said.

Heroux said he wasn’t surprised by the end result and was especially proud of the fact some of the money was donated to the food shelf.

“We’re a good team here, and that’s how a team would react,” Heroux said.

Heroux said there was less money in the bonus pool this year because of the slow economy, but he believed Hampton Direct would be successful in the new year.

The company has grown so fast in recent years that it’s outgrowing its space on Pioneer Drive. Heroux said he plans to move Hampton Direct to the former KBA building on Hurricane Lane sometime in the spring.


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Eight CVU football players earn Division 3 honors12/18/08

Dec. 18, 2008

All-Division 3 honors went to eight members of this fall’s Champlain Valley Union High football team, divided between the offensive and defensive side of the ball.


    File photo by Karen Pike
Tommy Powers of Champlain Valley Union High carries the ball against Mount Abraham Union in October. Powers was named to the coaches’ All-Division 3 second team and earned honorable mention for the Burlington Free Press All-State team.


    Courtesy photo by Terri Zittritsch
Champlain Valley Union High football player Matt Gault (64) sets a block during a game against Winooski earlier this fall. Gault was named to the coaches’ All-Division 3 first team and the Burlington Free Press All-State second team.

In addition, offensive lineman Matt Gault was named to the Burlington Free Press All-State second team, while running back Tommy Powers earned All-State honorable mention.

Gault, a senior, was placed on the coaches’ All-Division 3 first team. Powers, wide receiver Michael Bonfigli and place kicker Andrew Lieberman were named to the second team. All are seniors.

From the defense, junior Matt Long was named to the All-Division 3 second team by coaches. Honorable mentions went to sophomore defensive back Konnor Fleming, senior linebacker Josh Duncan and senior lineman Tyler Hulbert.

— Mal Boright, Observer correspondent


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Girls hockey journeys to St. Albans12/18/08

Dec. 18, 2008

After Wednesday’s contest against Burlington High, the Champlain Valley Union High girls hockey team will embark Saturday on a trip to St. Albans for the first meeting of the young season with Bellows Free Academy. BFA St. Albans took a 4-1 record out of last weekend’s action.

CVU’s Wednesday game was set to be played after press deadline.

The 1-3 Redhawks are hoping to reduce the penalties after trips to the cooler Saturday proved costly in a narrow 3-2 loss to Essex High in the Hornets’ arena.

Three power play goals by Essex erased a 1-0 CVU lead. Maggie Ryan scored her second tally of the day to get CVU close. The Redhawks’ goalie, Nicole Bonneau, came up with 33 stops, while CVU fired 15 shots on the Essex net.

Last Wednesday, coach Tom Ryan’s team unloaded an 11-0 trouncing on Rice Memorial High. Molly Howard and Lizzy Betz knocked in two scores each to lead the onslaught.

— Mal Boright, Observer correspondent


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Boys hockey eyes rematch of last year

Dec. 18, 2008

The unbeaten-in-the-U.S. Champlain Valley Union High boys hockey team had business on Wednesday against South Burlington High before setting its sights on the first meeting of the year with the Essex High Hornets, the team that nudged the Redhawks in the Division 1 championship match last March.

The two teams will meet on Tuesday at 5 p.m. in Essex.

The Hornets came out of last weekend’s play with a 1-1 record after a 5-1 victory Saturday over Colchester High.

CVU is 3-1 against all comers, after losing 3-2 on Saturday to Lower Canada College in Montreal, where LCC is the reigning city champion.

Ben Soll and Brady DeHayes had the Redhawks’ goals as they out-shot the Canadians, 35-17. Mark Albertson, Miles Grunvald and Chris McGinnis shared the CVU net minding duties.

Last Wednesday, Nate LaCroix proved to be great late by popping in his first two scores of the season with less than five minutes left in regulation to snap a 2-2 tie and give the Hawks a 4-2 win over Burlington High. DeHayes and Eric Robinson also potted CVU tallies.

Albertson made 17 saves between the pipes.

— Mal Boright, Observer correspondent


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Patience, defense give CVU boys big hoop triumph12/18/08

Dec. 18, 2008

By Mal Boright

Observer correspondent

When undefeated (4-0) South Burlington High rolled into Bremner Gymnasium on Tuesday night, Champlain Valley Union High boys basketball coach Scott Bliss might have felt a little apprehensive.

His 2-1 Redhawks were a work in progress and he was still nettled as to how an 18-point lead Friday night at Missisquoi Valley Union fell to a mere five before his team rallied for a 60-48 victory.

But whatever lessons Bliss gave his team Monday stuck, as the Hawks turned a gritty and persistent defense plus a cool patience on offense into a 55-42 win over the at times befuddled Rebels.

“Our defense was not quite there in the first quarter,” Bliss said after the noisy (big crowd) victory. “But after that, with the exception of early in the third quarter, it was good.”

How good? The Redhawks nose-to-nose quarter-court hustle held South Burlington to just two shots at the hoop and no baskets in the second quarter, turning an 11-10 lead at the end of the first period into a 29-21 halftime advantage.

For the game, South Burlington fired just 31 shots and hit 10, only three from beyond the three-point arc. The Redhawks, on the other end, flipped up a more normal 54 shots and canned 19, one of those a trey by senior guard Paul Poirier on CVU’s first shot of the game.

South Burlington’s primary point production came from the foul line, where it notched 19 of 31 tries, including 11 of 16 in the second reel to keep the game close. CVU committed 15 fouls in the first half, but judicious use of the bench by Bliss kept the principals out of serious foul trouble.

Offensively, CVU moved the ball with great coolness against multiple South Burlington defenses.

“They were fantastic,” said Bliss of the patience shown by his Hawks.

John Donnelly led the Redhawks’ scorers with 21 points, notching 12 in the game-changing second quarter with some adept power moves to the hoop. He also collected 12 rebounds in helping his team to a 34-18 advantage on the all-important boards.

Jack Jesset fired in 14 points and grabbed seven rebounds with an effective inside-out game.

Forward Chris Nigh (six points) and guard Jordan Duke (three points, three rebounds) got high marks from Bliss for their efforts in reserve roles.

Jake Donnelly had just two points, but his five rebounds and defensive work, which included a pair of steals, were huge.

The Rebels’ last gasp came early in the final quarter, when they closed the gap to 39-36 and appeared to be set to make a run. A Duke driving layup ended that sequence and started a CVU nine-point burst. The defense produced four Rebel turnovers and kept them off the board until Taylor Kaczor swished two charity shots with 1:48 left, the Redhawks’ lead by then a solid 48-38.

Junior guard Mark Mallory paced South Burlington with 16 points, hitting five of seven shots from the field.

Coach Seth Emerson’s junior varsity five hiked its record to 3-1 with a 42-37 win over the Little Rebs.

Next up for the Redhawks is a Friday night trip to 6-0 Burlington High, which is on a 30-game winning streak.

South Burlington (42)

Dubuque 2 2-2 7, Mallory 5 4-7 16, Varney 1 4-5 6, Kaczor 0 4-8 4, Nedd 2 5-9 9, Chu 0 0-0 0, Chichester 0 0-0 0, Corbiere 0 0-0 0, Cassidy 0 0-0 0. Totals 10 19-31 42.

CVU (55)

Jesset 5 4-7 14, Ja. Donnelly 1 0-0 2, Jo. Donnelly 8 5-6 21, Poirier 3 0-0 7, Beaton 0 0-0 0, Bunbury 0 2-2 2, Duke 1 1-2 3, Nigh 1 4-4 6, Hurd 0 0-3 0, Russ 0 0-0 0, Rensch 0 0-0 0. Totals 19 16-24 55.

South Burlington    10    11    11    10 — 42

CVU        11    18    10    16 — 55


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Girls hoops team undefeated after three games12/18/08

Route 116 rival next on schedule

Dec. 18, 2008

By Mal Boright

Observer correspondent

After maintaining their unbeaten record through some tough going Monday night against invading South Burlington High, the 3-0 Champlain Valley Union High girls basketball team will take to the Route 116 asphalt slab Thursday night to meet Mount Abraham Union High at its Bristol digs.


    Observer photo by Karen Pike
Champlain Valley Union High’s Allison Gannon (center) battles for the ball during the second half of Monday’s game against the South Burlington Rebels.


    Observer photo by Karen Pike
Champlain Valley Union High’s Kendal Kohlasch (21) and Shae Hulbert (5) stifle South Burlington’s Katie Neff (3) during the second half of Monday’s game.

The varsity game starts at 7:30 p.m. It will be the first road trip of the campaign for coach Stan Williams and his jolly and youthful quintet.

After two blowout victories over Middlebury Union and Vergennes Union, the Redhawks were looking for something different when 1-0 South Burlington hit town, and they got it, with a 41-38 victory.

Led by senior center Kelsey Beynnon (16 points, 11 rebounds), the Rebels reversed the usual CVU script and ran off 10 straight points to start proceedings. In general, South Burlington stayed reasonably cool in the face of the CVU’s defensive aggression, which had driven the Redhawks’ two previous foes to exasperation with more than two dozen turnovers each.

South Burlington coughed up the ball only 18 times — a sizeable number, but far from previous CVU gains — and benefited from some Redhawk offensive chills that at times left one wondering if the shooting hands were in some frozen Siberian gulag.

But after each team had its scoring runs, the Redhawks, with junior all-court presence Allison Gannon taking charge, rattled off 12 straight points to start the final period, turning a 29-26 deficit into a 36-29 advantage.

Gannon and forward Becca Russ had two hoops each in the game-turning run, while Russ set up sophomore Shea Hulbert’s layup for the other score.

South Burlington, which used a deliberate offense for the first four minutes of the period and took only two shots while turning the ball over three times, then started finding Beynnon. The center dropped in a jumper and went four-for-four from the line to help bring the Rebels back to a 38-36 lead with 1:50 left in regulation.

For CVU, it was Gannon time once again.

The three-year starter nailed two charity tosses to tie the game at 38 with 1:33 left.

After a Beynnon miss (around and out) and Carlee Evans rebound, Kendall Berry found Gannon inside for a short swisher that gave CVU a 40-38 edge with 43 seconds to go.

A Rebel field goal miss and three fouls later — the Rebels entered prime time having been called for just three fouls in the second half — Evans got to the line and sank the first of a one-and-one for the final tally with 10.6 seconds to go. The game was still in doubt until South Burlington missed a three-point hold-your-breath try at the buzzer.

Gannon finished with a season high 16 points and 13 rebounds plus a pair of assists and two steals.

Helping the Redhawks recover from early 0-7 shooting woes was senior Kate Bashaw, who came off the bench in the first period and snared a deuce and a trey. The points greatly aided CVU’s recovery from the early 10-0 deficit to a 12-12 tie by the end of the first quarter.

The Redhawks fired blanks again in the second quarter (1 for 14) to trail 20-16 at the half, helped somewhat by South Burlington’s misfiring (0 for 7) at the foul line.

“We were hurrying our shots for a while,” Williams said. “Once we got a little more patient we were okay.”

CVU wound up with 16 buckets in 50 tries, just over 30 percent. The ball was moved well as seven players had assists and eight of nine scored.

In a 68-24 bopping of Vergennes High last Thursday, 10 Redhawks scored. They were led by Gannon with 13 points, Evans with 11 and Kendal Kohlasch and Renick Lalancette with 10 each.

Coach Matt Lutz’s mighty jayvees kept up their winning ways, crunching Vergennes 47-17 and South Burlington 50-31 for a 3-0 mark.


Taylor 1 0-2 2, Wimett 1 0-0 2, Beynnon 4 8-11 16, Harris 0 0-2 0, Neff 4 0-1 8, Chappell 3 0-0 6, Gloyd 2 0-0 4, Bishop 0 0-2 0, DeVarney 0 0-0 0. Totals 15 8-18 38.

CVU (41)

Kohlasch 0 1-2 1, Lalancette 2 2-2 6, Gannon 7 2-2 16, Berry 1 0-0 2, Kinneston 0 0-0 0, Bashaw 2 2-2 7, Russ 3 0-0 6, Evans 0 1-2 1, Hulbert 1 0-0 2. Totals 16 8-10 41.

South Burlington     12    8    9    9 — 38

CVU            12    4    10    15 — 41

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Frameworks members wade through details12/18/08

Dec. 18, 2008

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

In their last meeting of 2008, members of the Williston Conceptual Frameworks Committee spent two hours Tuesday night going over the fine details of a list of criteria they had previously compiled to evaluate configuration options.

Heading into the meeting, the idea was to take that criteria and determine which items impacted certain building configurations, of which five options are available. Instead, the committee spent the meeting intensely reviewing the top 10 list. Discussions centered on the merits of certain sentences and what definitions meant to different people.

Frameworks Committee Facilitator Mary Jane Shelley expressed regret that the group hadn’t worked out much of the debate before trying to move onto discussion about configurations of Allen Brook and Williston Central schools. She thought the group might have voted too early before there was clear understanding.

“We never vetted this fully enough as a group to know what some (items) mean,” she said.

The committee took the top 10 criteria from teacher and community forums, held a few weeks ago, to form their own top 10 criteria at a Dec. 4 meeting. The committee’s list mirrored much of the lists developed by community members and teachers.

More than 30 minutes were spent on the third item in the group’s top 10 list: “Fosters opportunities for flexible grouping and individualized, student-based learning. Flexible academic groupings meet individual student-differences. Allows for grouping students by ability levels within a grade for specific budget areas.”

Group members argued for and against splitting the criteria item into two different subjects. Some people felt the first and second sentence were two totally different subjects and should be treated as such. Others thought they went hand in hand in allowing different grade groupings, from single grades to multi-age classrooms.

Toward the end of the meeting, committee members voted not to split the item into two different subjects. Doing so would have changed the top 10 and bumped an important item off the list.

Also discussed at length were the differences of two criteria items dealing directly with transitions between grades, houses and schools. Committee members seemed split on the meanings, as well as what exactly constitutes too many transitions.

“Having these in the top 10 is a real point of difference that we’ll have to have discussions about,” group member Charlie Magill said.

In the end, after voting to re-word certain items for clarity, it was decided committee members would help create, via e-mail, two lists of criteria. One of the lists would essentially be a re-vote of the original top 10, now that there was further discussion and greater understanding, Shelley said. The second list would cull from the first to determine which items are most important in determining how building layout would support academics.

“Let’s determine which criteria we’ll look at for building (configuration) and which criteria we’ll look at when we pull the whole thing together,” Shelley said.

At the next meeting, the committee plans to look closely at each building configuration and determine which of the five designs best fits the second top 10 list.

Some committee members stressed the importance of this decision, since some services are offered at one school and not the other, thus skewing equity among houses and students. Shelley said once the building design was determined, work on house structures and age grouping would be discussed in depth.

Configuration options

The first option, Option A, would put students from pre-kindergarten through second grade at Allen Brook School, with grades three through eight at Williston Central School. A language math lab, special project room or special education space would have to be eliminated at Williston Central to fit the first configuration option.

Option B would have kindergarten through third grade at Allen Brook, with pre-kindergarten and grades four through eight at Williston Central.

Option C would put grades one through four at Allen Brook and pre-kindergarten and kindergarten, along with grades five through eight, at Williston Central. Allen Brook would have to convert into classrooms two rooms currently used for other purposes — choosing from a computer lab, art room, music room or support staff office.

The fourth option, Option D, would keep the current building setup, but with different grade span configurations and age groupings.

Another option would be to keep everything the way it is and focus on how to improve house equity. The committee will determine which building configuration best serves the criteria points of teachers, community members and the frameworks group.

The Frameworks Committee will reconvene on Thursday, Jan. 7 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Williston Central School. A second community forum, which had been scheduled for early January, is being postponed until a later date.


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Phased renovations possible for CVU auditorium12/18/08

Dec. 18, 2008

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

The Champlain Valley Union High School Board got a clearer picture Monday night of the price tag for renovating the school’s 40-year-old auditorium. The board heard a detailed breakdown of what each improvement would cost, including what a potential phased renovation would look like.

Jules Chatot of Banwell Architects gave the board a presentation about which renovations were a top priority and which ones could wait to be done in another year. Chatot and Banwell, a New Hampshire-based architecture firm, designed the high school’s 2003 renovations.

Principal Sean McMannon said last week the auditorium is the last part of the school still in need of updates from the past renovations.

Chittenden South Supervisory Union Chief Operations Officer Bob Mason also presented the board with three different funding options for the auditorium. The board took in all the information and is expected to make a decision by the end of January.

Currently, the board estimates there will be nearly $1.3 million available for renovations, through private donations and in capital funds. The updated total cost of the project, as estimated by Chatot, would be nearly $2.5 million.

Chatot said he looked at what money was available for the project and determined how phasing could look, as well as totaling up the cost of the project once it would be completed in two summers. The auditorium’s facilities committee helped determine which needs were most pressing, he said.

If the board chooses to split the renovations over two summers, the first phase could include a new orchestra pit and stage floor, loft improvements, new dimmers, lighting access through catwalks or tension wires and overall electrical improvements. The total cost comes to around $1.54 million for these items.

The second set of priorities includes new air conditioning and other mechanical improvements, a new sound and light booth, new booth equipment and aisle lighting. The total cost of the second phase would be $928,000.

Chatot also highlighted some “standalone” renovations that could be done at different times, including an improved sound system, box office, stage draperies and other repairs.

“These are portions of the work that could be done out of order, if you will,” Chatot said.

Installing steel catwalks instead of the more expensive tension wires could save money, and Chatot is hoping to get a cheaper bid on an orchestra pit. The savings could be upwards of $200,000, he said.

Mason spoke about different funding options, with two options calling for a bond from voters. But board member Meg Hart-Smith said after the meeting that a bond vote is pretty much out of the question.

That leaves the scenario of completing the first set of renovations for $1.54 million in the summer of 2009, and the second set, at a cost of $928,000, in the summer of 2010. Mason said there was money available to reach the $1.54 million.

The presentation of CVU’s auditorium costs came after Shelburne resident Ann Dutton spoke to the board about keeping costs down this year. She said she hoped the board would think about not increasing the budget. Dutton said she would probably vote for the budget “no matter what,” but she urged the board to be cognizant of the economic struggles some people are having.

“Please look at where we are this year,” Dutton said. “You really have to show concern.”

Hart-Smith said the board is waiting to hear what the final financial picture will look like in January before making decisions on a final voting article. Barring a bond vote, voters will still have to give permission to the board to use already existing capital funds for the auditorium project.

Hart-Smith said it was looking increasingly unlikely a complete renovation would take place this summer, but said something would get done.

“I think every board member wants to see something done,” Hart-Smith said.

Last week, members of the auditorium’s fundraising committee spoke about how private donations from individuals and businesses had slowed to a crawl in recent weeks. Hart-Smith said she didn’t expect any major donations between now and the end of January.

“It’s a tough time to ask for money,” she said.

One major fundraiser is taking place in February. The school will hold a Dance Marathon on Feb. 7 and 8 to benefit the auditorium. Participants will be looking for sponsors as they dance for 16 hours straight.

Hart-Smith said that while the event is occurring after the board will make its decision in January, the money raised could go toward funding a second phase of renovations.

Details of the Dance Marathon and information on how to sponsor can be found on CVU’s Web site, www.cvuhs.org.


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Recipe Corner12/18/08

Christmas cakes for anyone


By Ginger Isham

Two of my favorite cakes for the holidays come from a close friend who once lived next door and my best friend, Betty Crocker. As you will see, one of them is a fruitcake. You can substitute fruits of your choice. One reason I like this recipe is that it makes just one loaf. After all, one cannot have too much fruitcake! Best to serve fruitcake thinly sliced and cut with a non-serrated or electric knife.

Fruitcake jewel

8 ounces dried apricots (about 2 cups)

8 ounces dates (about 1 1/2 cups)

1 cup red and green maraschino cherries

9 ounces Brazil nuts (about 1 1/2 cups)

5 ounces red and green candied pineapple (about 1 cup), cut up

3/4 cup flour

3/4 cup sugar (I use only 1/2 cup)

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

dash of salt

3 eggs

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla

Mix all ingredients and pour batter into a 9-by-5-inch greased loaf pan and bake in 300-degree oven for about 1.5 hours. Can cover last 30 minutes to prevent from excessive browning. Remove from pan and cool. Wrap and store in fridge. Later make a glaze to pour over fruitcake: 1/4 cup apple or currant jelly, cooked over low heat until melted.

Almond eggnog cake

Make a 10-inch angel food cake (found in cake mix aisle of supermarket)

1 cup heavy cream

1 cup almonds, slivered and toasted (optional)


1/2 cup butter

3 cups confectioners’ sugar

3 egg yolks

1 teaspoon vanilla

pinch of nutmeg

1/3 cup rum, brandy or sherry

Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in egg yolks. Add vanilla and nutmeg. Gradually beat in the rum. Fold in 2/3 cup of almonds. Split angel food cake into thirds and spread filling between layers. Frost with unsweetened whipped cream. Sprinkle top with rest of almonds. Refrigerate for 24 hours.

Ginger Isham was the co-owner of Maple Grove Farm Bed & Breakfast in Williston, a fifth generation family farm on Oak Hill Road where she still lives.


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Right to the Point12/18/08

Political labels — pragmatic and problematic

Dec. 18, 2008

By Mike Benevento


As 2008 ends, I would like to thank you for reading my column this past year. Although each column is about 750 words long, they usually take over seven hours to write. Harking back to my college days, it is like having a term paper due every two weeks — except more people than just my teacher read the column. Thus, I hope you have enjoyed reading about the “right” side of the issues.

Since I have limited space to broadcast my message, I must carefully choose my words. Words that convey ideas and are full of meaning are extremely valuable. This makes words describing political philosophies very helpful in getting my point across.

Throughout my column, I use words like “liberal,” “conservative,” “independent,” “left” and “right.” These political labels represent a set of beliefs and ideas that help define an individual or a group. While most people in the group will share many of the same characteristics, the label may not apply to every individual in that group.

There are risks with labels. The word may contain deficiencies, be outdated or lack significant detail. Words can hold different meanings to different people. As President Bill Clinton demonstrated, even simple words like “is” can be open to interpretation. Further, labels can be stifling.

My wife Kristine dislikes generalizations because she wants to leave room for individualism. Kris is right when she says that not all people fit into whatever category they are placed. For instance, while the Republican Party is pro-life, not all members agree. Many believe that it is a woman’s right to choose an abortion and that the government should not be involved.

Even still, labeling by general characteristics helps better understand a group’s beliefs and principles. With that in mind, let’s explore three common political labels — conservative, liberal and independent — for a better idea of their meaning.

Classically, liberals and conservatives are on opposite sides of the political spectrum, with liberals on the left and conservatives on the right. Most Democrats align with liberalism while Republicans side with conservatism.

Independents are a different kind of political animal. Technically non-affiliated with either the left or the right, they tend to fall in the middle. Theoretically, they move left or right depending on the issue.

These days, however, most independents at all levels of government align with Democrats. Sens. Bernie Sanders and Joe Lieberman are two prime examples in American politics. While they are Independents, they vote alongside the Democratic Party on most issues.

In America today, members of the media and academia tend to be liberal. Most military members and veterans are conservative. Based on his voting record, Barack Obama is decisively liberal. A left-slanting Congress backs him as Democrats control both chambers. Closer to home, while Vermont’s Legislature is liberal, both Gov. Jim Douglas and Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie are conservatives.

The conservative philosophy champions the power of individuals and free markets as opposed to government in combating society’s ills. Conservatives believe in lower taxes, a strong military and a strict application of the Constitution. Thus, limited government, freedom of speech, religious freedom and the rule of law are important to conservatives.

Individual rights are liberalism’s most important political goal. Liberals fight to remove almost all impediments to personal liberty. Because of this, liberals view the Constitution as a living document, using activist judges to mold it to their desire — while using the legal system to circumvent it when necessary.

Conservatives believe that most individuals will do what is right when given the chance, including taking care of the poor. For liberals, the government — not the individual — is in the best position to provide for others. Thus, liberals back increased taxes (especially on the wealthy) to pay for social programs.

Some of the biggest social spending increases occurred during Democratic presidencies, including Franklin D. Roosevelt’s work programs and Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society. Obama appears to be no different — both his call to redistribute wealth and his socialized health care plan will increase the size of government spending.

While preferring a multilateral approach to international issues, conservatives will act unilaterally with the military to defend America. Liberals tend to be internationalists, preferring diplomacy and consensus with others (including the United Nations) before taking action.

A person’s political philosophy and party affiliation is very important. Both play a part in the person’s choices. If Democrat, the more liberal decisions will be. If Republican, decisions will be more conservative. Yes, political labels carry lots of baggage, but they are still very helpful in getting my point across.

Michael Benevento is a former Air Force fighter jet weapon systems officer. He has a bachelor’s degree in Military History and a master’s in International Relations. Mike resides in Williston with his wife Kristine and their two sons, Matthew and Calvin.


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