Sidelined politicians work the crowds

Sunday August 15, 2010

BENNINGTON -- After some back-and-forth on the Bennington Battle Day Parade Committee earlier this year, politicians running for elected office were not allowed to march in Sunday’s parade, continuing in the tradition of election years past.

Instead, they took to the sidelines to rub elbows and udders with the crowd, and that’s just how they liked it, many said.

Dan Freilich, running for the U.S. Senate, wore a cow costume Sunday, to the amusement of voters and fellow candidates alike. While Freilich may have had a legitimate case for being in the parade, he said that he’d rather be out in the crowd talking with voters - chewing the cud, so to speak.

Running for governor, Democrat Peter Shumlin said that he would meet more people walking in the crowd.

"I don’t try to bust into parades I’m not wanted," Shumlin said.

Republican Jason Gibbs, running for secretary of state, said that he could "go either way" in terms of whether he’d prefer to march or not. The benefit of not marching, Gibbs said, was that the candidates got to walk around and talk with folks - as well as actually enjoy the parade.

Gibbs stood alongside Phil Scott, a Republican candidate for lieutenant governor, with a few supporters just off the sidewalk curbing. They were watching and waving at parade participants, their backs turned to the crowd.

"We don’t want to interrupt people" at the height of the parade, Gibbs said. They arrived early to shake hands and would go back to working the crowd after the parade had finished.

Democrat Matt Dunne said he had volunteers out across the state Sunday in his run for governor, but Dunne himself was in Bennington for the parade crowds.

Allowed to march Sunday were members of Healthcare is a Human Right Campaign, which leans to the left, and the Campaign for Liberty group. Campaign for Liberty’s approval to march, after being initially denied, was the spark which reignited the debate over allowing partisan figures or groups to march.

According to local coordinator Audrey Pietrucha, the Campaign for Liberty is a non-partisan organization that seeks to educate people on the U.S. Constitution. Others link it to the Tea Party and the Republican right.

The only politician allowed to participate in the parade each year, according to organizers, is the governor, invited as a representative of the state. Parade Chairman Richard Knapp said that he’s been against allowing partisan figures or groups to march and has called the last time they were allowed a "big shamble."

But whether it’s literature-wielding volunteers or an errant sign posted along the route, elections and partisan politics stand to always flavor Battle Day parades at regular intervals.


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