It's politics! Your point is?

Posted

Tuesday, June 9
This week, after the override of Gov. James Douglas' budget veto, there were cries and moans of "politics, it's all politics, what have we become?" These cries came from the governor, legislative Republicans and others. It seemed as though Vermont had become over-laden with a fog of noxious behavior.

Grow up, folks. This is the way it's supposed to work. Our constitutions (state and federal) were built to provide a balance of power. Vetoes and overrides are not new inventions. They've been here since the founding of the republic.

What we saw in Montpelier displayed several not very unusual scenarios. The first was that a long-serving governor lost his power to dictate what he wanted. As Howard Dean once said, the longer you're in office the more people remember what you did that they didn't like; what they liked doesn't matter as much. Douglas has been in office for a while now and his welcome (as happens to all long-serving governors) may be wearing thin.

We also saw the use of political clout by local representatives who, at first, held their votes back from an override. Reps. Cynthia Browning and Tim Corcoran were in the position to say "give it one more try" and push both sides to settle. It will be interesting to see what they got for Bennington County by eventually voting with the House leadership to override the governor. I'm not saying they didn't make their final votes for the right reason — just that there are political benefits to having to be wooed.

What we're also seeing is the classic power tug-of-war between the executive and the Legislature. This goes on, year-in and year-out, in state capitals and Washington. After years of a strong Vermont executive, the overwhelming power of the Democrats in the House and Senate has changed the game. The same thing happened when the Republicans held a solid grip on power during the Clinton presidency. The executive lost power and the legislative branch gained power.

Also not new are the cries of "politics" from politicians. Those cries always sound like whining to me — whoever makes the charge. Of course it's politics. That's how we govern.

Politics is about the use of elected power to serve the people. Different people see that service in different ways. Arguments happen. People lose votes. Of course it's politics and it's good for us. It's what makes us different from a totalitarian regime where no one gets to argue the point — someone just decides.

Every two years we go to the polls to elect people to state offices. We vote for them based on the degree to which we think they represent us. Some win, some lose. The voters change their minds. People get their way and people don't get there way.

Some people don't get their way in the short term, but get it in the long term. When Lyndon Johnson signed the voting rights act he noted that the Democrats were giving up their political dominance in the South to the Republicans. He was right. But now the South has become marginalized politically by having a largely political monoculture — conservative. But in a few southern states we're beginning to see a chink in the one-party dominance.

As a result the two-party system is returning to the South. North Carolina, Virginia and Florida went for President Obama.

Nothing's permanent in politics. While it happens, it's messy, but fun to watch. As someone once said "Anyone who loves sausage or law shouldn't watch either of them being made."

Charles R. Putney is a consultant to non-profit organizations. He lives in Bennington.


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