The forward by Allen Nevins, in John F. Kennedy’s 1956 book, "Profiles in Courage," notes, "It is an indisputable fact that in government affairs the American People value character more than they do intellect."
In 2014, I would venture to say that most Vermonters share Nevins’ remarks. This brings me to the lead story in the March 20, 2014, Rutland Herald, "Stiffed by Shumlin, Democrat hits back." The Democrat that reporter Neal Goswami was referring to was Cynthia Browning, representative for Arlington/Manchester/Sandgate/Sunderland to the Vermont State Legislature.
For the record, Browning is my Arlington neighbor -- and on most political matters she and I are oceans apart.
However, on the fight she is waging against Gov. Peter Shumlin she and I are of one mind -- both on the substance of the issue and the fact that she is acting alone. And for her actions her fellow Democrats have dispatched her to the wilderness.
The issue is that the governor thumbed his nose at the Legislature by ignoring the 2011 law, Act 48, which mandated his disclosing, by January 2013, the financial cost and funding sources of his universal single-payer health care plan.
Browning could not have made it any clearer in noting the lack of courage of her Democratic colleagues in the Legislature. She was quoted in the Rutland Herald as having said, "We’re approaching shunning. But if I don’t hold Democrats accountable ... how will I ever have credibility when I try and hold Republicans accountable?"
Browning was even more descriptive in describing the governor’s lack of following the law. She was quoted: "She called Shumlin’s refusal to offer more details a ‘dereliction of duty’ and ‘policy malpractice.’" No wonder her fellow Democrats are about to shun her. Who among them would step out of line and go against their party’s chief political officer? When was courage among Democrats ever a virtue in Montpelier -- until Cynthia Browning?
The basic facts are that the governor’s quest since taking office is to do away with all private health care insurance providers in Vermont and have the state be the sole insurance provider. And he is adamant to have this in place by 2017.
There is no question that Gov. Shumlin has legions of supporters that back his confiscation of the health care insurance industry. He has paid (the taxpayers did) hundreds of thousands of dollars to out-of-state consultants to justify the take-over. The problem is that with all the money spent over the past three year, no definitive cost analysis has been made public.
Not only hasn’t the cost of the governor’s scheme been made public, he hasn’t revealed how he plans to fund the massive program. The possible taxation sources have been kept secret, known only by his inner circle.
Three years have gone by since the Legislature adopted Act 48, mandating that the governor disclose the cost and funding by 2013. Disclosure did not happen. Furthermore, the governor promised the lawmakers he would get the data on cost and funding to them months ago -- he reneged on his promise in mid-March.
According to the Rutland Herald piece: "He (Shumlin) wants to make sure his administration gets a workable plan together before releasing more details about the system."
The governor’s Montpelier cohorts know that this phrase is code speak. The real meaning is not to release anything until after the November elections -- the cost and resulting tax implications could cost them the election.
Browning doesn’t buy into the administration’s evasiveness and "filed a public records request seeking the administration’s work," according to the Rutland Herald.
Simple question, why haven’t the Democratic members of the legislature joined with her in seeking the information they were entitled to under Act 48? Simple answer, because they are beholden to the governor and not to their constituents. What is so disconcerting is how this venerable body, the Vermont Legislature, can turn on one of its own who they know is attempting to do what is right.
The behavior of the Montpelier Democrats is not unlike the U.S. Senate Republicans of 1868 as noted in JFK’s book, "Profiles in Courage." In 1868, the U.S. Senate was controlled by Republicans who wanted to convict President Andrew Johnson at his impeachment trial. To do so they would have required 36 guilty votes.
There was one lone Republican dissenter -- Sen. Edmund G. Ross, of Kansas. The freshman senator did not believe the facts had proven the president to be guilty and voted nay. His lone vote was the deciding factor and it cost him his political career.
Someday in the future we will be informed by the governor’s army of consultants of the cost and taxes that will be required for the grand takeover to take place. Also, in the future, it may come to pass that Browning does not wish to be seated among such fainthearted political operatives -- who, pathetically, can’t break out of being in lock-step with their political leader.
What is certain is that our representative has allowed character to trump political expediency. And Cynthia, if Montpelier wishes to continue to shun you, just come back home -- the character bar in Montpelier is set too low -- in fact it is well beneath you.
Don Keelan writes a bi-weekly column and lives in Arlington.