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Vote your ideals, not your fears

Oct. 21, 2010

By Katherine Bielawa Stamper

“Minds are of three kinds: one is capable of thinking for itself; another is able to understand the thinking of others; and a third can neither think for itself nor understand the thinking of others.”

— Niccolo Machiavelli, “The Prince”

It’s election season. Tracing curves along Oak Hill Road, I note placards touting one politician or another.

A gathering of signs inhabits a small island jutting into the road, calling attention to a particularly curvaceous intersection. Candidates of various political stripes — Republican, Democrat, independent — cohabitate among blades of grass. It’s an uneasy truce, a mingling of ideologies.

Someone vandalized — visibly crushed — the sign of my favored candidate for governor. It remained rooted yet crumpled, hanging on for its political life. Human hands did what wind could not. I cringed. The negativity of the gesture — for all to see — saddened and offended me. Politics offers many places to disagree, but please, let’s keep things civil.

This gubernatorial campaign in Vermont feels different. Personal attacks and fear-mongering prevail, with some candidates slinging more mud than others. Untruths spread like viruses — quietly retracted by campaign managers for few ears to hear. These shockwaves reverberate among the electorate, instilling misinformation and fear. Specters of Willie Horton and Swift Boat have reared their ugly, vile heads in the Green Mountain State. Neither party is innocent but, as voters, we must ask who threw the first muddied stone.

My family attended a recent gubernatorial debate at St. Michael’s College. I befriended a lovely older couple — a retired engineer and teacher from southern Vermont. We talked of careers, shifting weather patterns and the economy. Realizing we were of differing political stripes, we agreed it was OK to be on opposite sides of the political fence. We all want what’s best for Vermont — we may simply disagree on the roadmap to get there.

Listening to the candidates proved educational and, at times, entertaining.

Cris Ericson of the Vermont National Marijuana Party said that, if elected governor, she’d host a “Pardon TV Show.” Potential parolees would make their case before television cameras and Vermonters could call in to vote regarding their release.

Dan Feliciano, an independent from Essex, spoke with the thick accent of a Bronx native. He said his experience as a turnaround consultant would enable him to point out excesses in the state budget and run a leaner, more efficient government. I think Dan should run for treasurer or a newly-created “efficiency czar.”

Emily Peyton wants Vermont to create its own currency. Dennis Steele thinks Vermont should become its own country.

Brian Dubie and Peter Shumlin, the leading contenders, stated their visions for the state that, in my view, are more real world and grounded. Their political differences lie in the details.

Vermont faces serious challenges. Our prisons are overcrowded. Children go to bed hungry. Individuals lacking health insurance delay treatment. Skilled adults struggle to find employment in an economy convulsing from global insecurity.

Striking a balance between strengthening Vermont’s economy — while protecting waterways, forests and farmlands — presents a vexing conundrum. The best minds with the best intentions must work together to address these issues on behalf of all Vermonters.

Whoever emerges the winner of the gubernatorial race in November faces unpopular decisions. Lasting change rarely happens overnight. Thoughtful, incremental change often has more staying power. Politics is not about immediate gratification. It is about the painstaking, sometimes painful process of working with too little to achieve impossibly much.

Economic crises tend to be cyclical. Food insecurity is a silent, enduring scourge among poorer Vermonters — whether it’s a child, distracted by hunger, who performs poorly on NECAP tests or the woman who eats only part of her lunch at the senior center because she can’t afford dog food for her loyal pet waiting at home. Employability correlates positively with educational levels — helping kids thrive in school makes dollars and sense. The man who opts to have his teeth pulled because he can’t afford thousand-dollar crowns faces weaker job prospects when competing with an applicant sporting pearly whites and a broad smile.

Non-violent, ill-educated prisoners who suffer from substance and mental health issues would be better served by community-based treatment and supports than lock-ups that smell of urine. Having worked directly with men and women in the correctional system, I walked away with more compassion and less fear.

Clean air and clean water are worth standing up for. These priceless commodities bring immeasurable value to Vermont in a world growing increasingly dirty and devastated.

Our next governor must be a steward, a visionary with the optimism of a child and the fortitude of a big block of Barre granite.

Given the cautionary words of power politics master Machiavelli, I invite you to think critically, think deeply and, wherever you find yourself on the political continuum, think for yourself.

Vote your ideals, not your fears.

Katherine Bielawa Stamper lives in Williston. Reader comments are welcome at [email protected] or [email protected]

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