Liberally Speaking11/20/08

Election reflection

Nov. 20, 2008

By Steve Mount

In our lives, it is important to look back on past events and reflect on what has gone before, to learn lessons, to make plans for the future. In elections, time gives us a chance to do all that, but it also gives us a chance to do something just as important — hold recounts.

Or just counting in the first place. For days after the election, it looked clear that convicted felon and Republican incumbent Ted Stevens of Alaska would be returning to the Senate, at least long enough for the Senate to expel him. But after 65,000 of 90,000 absentee ballots had been counted as of last Friday, the tide had turned and Democratic challenger Mark Begich had taken the lead.

In Minnesota, Democratic challenger Al Franken trailed incumbent Republican Norm Coleman by only 206 votes, out of 2.9 million cast. A recount is mandated by state law, and began Wednesday. It will be next month, though, before the result is certified. Franken (actually running on the Democratic-Farmer-Labor party ticket because of some interesting historical quirks) was in Washington to work with the Democratic leadership, just in case the recount went his way.

In Georgia, there is little question about the vote count, but since none of the candidates got the required 50 percent, a run-off election is scheduled for the two top vote-getters, Republican incumbent (and plurality winner) Saxby Chambliss and Democrat Jim Martin. A key issue in the run-off campaign so far seems to be support for the Fair Tax, which Chambliss supports and Martin does not.

Speaking of run-off elections, thankfully, no such election will be needed here in Vermont. Here, if no candidate for governor, lieutenant governor or treasurer gets 50 percent of the vote, the election is thrown to the Legislature, with the top three vote-getters eligible for election.

For a while on election night, it was unclear if incumbent Republican Jim Douglas would be able to get the required 50 percent, but after all the votes were counted, he handily won and passed the threshold with 53.4 percent. It is not easy to unseat an incumbent in Vermont. Despite several hard challenges in both of their careers, Jim Douglas and his predecessor, Howard Dean, fended them all off.

Since Douglas did win the needed 50 percent, the more interesting aspect of the governor’s race was the fight for second place. Though he eked it out by just 257 votes, independent Anthony Pollina beat Democrat Gaye Symington for Douglas’ leavings. His success in beating out Symington may or may not be helpful to Pollina, a well-meaning and well-spoken man who has made something of a career of being a spoiler and also-ran.

Seven Days columnist Shay Totten reports that some Democrats are pushing to allow Pollina to run against Douglas as a fusion candidate in 2010. It seems unlikely to me, barring a decision by Douglas not to run or a major scandal in the Douglas administration, that any challenger could possibly win. That might be their point — let Pollina take the fall for another loss.

In any case, we have at least a week or two before the next campaign season begins in earnest, so no decisions have to be made right now.

In terms of statewide offices, the governor’s race was the one the incumbent won by the lowest percentage. According to the secretary of state, Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie won with 55 percent; Secretary of State Deb Markowitz won with 70.8 percent; Attorney General Bill Sorrell won with 72.6 percent; Rep. Peter Welch was sent back to Congress with 83.2 percent; Auditor of Accounts Tom Salmon won with 83.8 percent; and Treasurer Jeb Spaulding won the highest percentage of all with 89.9 percent.

And, of course, Barack Obama won Vermont’s three electoral votes with 67.4 percent. There were seven other candidates for president on the Vermont ballot. Republican John McCain garnered 30.4 percent of the vote; the only other player to get at least a full percentage point was independent Ralph Nader, with 1.02 percent.

For the country, this was, indeed, a historic election, and one which is not quite over in some states. Here in Vermont, though, it was more of the same, with incumbents enjoying the protection of their offices. It is not necessarily true that we’ve gotten the best that we could have gotten, but what is true is that we picked them.

Now our job is to keep an eye on them, and I hope you’ll join me as we do just that.

Steve Mount has been a Williston resident since 1996. He is a software engineer at GE Healthcare and is devoted to his family, his country and his Constitution. You can reach Steve at or read his blog at