Why I didn’t vote for Shumlin
Posted by Kevin on October 31, 2010
The Vermont gubernatorial elections are upon us, which means that we’ve been hearing the predictable cry from liberal Vermonters of “Anyone But Dubie” for most of the year (referring, for you non-Vermonters, to Republican candidate and current Lt. Governor Brian Dubie).
And it’s not just the typical Democratic Party hacks that have embraced that slogan; Liberty Union candidate Ben Mitchell and Independent Emily Peyton have both recently dropped out of the race and are supporting Democratic candidate and current Senate President Pro Tem Peter Shumlin. Previously, the Progressive Party decided to sit out the race entirely.
I’ve never been particularly fond of Shumlin, as one might have guessed from my disparaging reference to him in my post on Bernie Sanders. Admittedly, he’s done some good things, like passing the gay marriage bill and leading the vote against relicensing Vermont Yankee (the leak-prone nuclear plant), but he’s way too fiscally conservative for my liking, supporting efforts to balance the budget on the backs of public sector workers and the poor.
Still, I can understand why people in my position would hold their noses and vote for him. Shumlin isn’t terrible, whereas Dubie is by all indications a radical right-winger, and a lot of people on the left are terrified of him. I think they can be a little on the hysterical side about the potential consequences of a Dubie victory, but still, this isn’t a “not a dime’s worth of difference” situation. And as I noted on Twitter, Shumlin was the candidate that impressed me the most at the gubernatorial debate I attended at Vermont Law School. Of the four candidates who participated, Shumlin seemed to have the most thoughtful positions, especially on healthcare and drug policy.
So, I hope Shumlin wins. But I didn’t choose him when I did early voting last week. I was genuinely conflicted on the issue (enough so that I felt the need to explain myself here), but I ended up voting for Dennis Steele, the Independent secessionist candidate.
The main reason why I didn’t vote for Shumlin was because of my lingering misgivings about him. Frankly, I just don’t trust the guy. It’s great that Shumlin supports single-payer healthcare, or closing Vermont Yankee, but regular readers can probably guess about how much I think Democratic candidates’ campaign promises are worth; if he wins, how long will it be before he starts walking back those great promises, talking about how “we have to be practical” like Democrats often do once they’re actually in a position to implement them? There’s reason to think that might happen in Shumlin’s case. I don’t think it’s very controversial to note that that Shumlin isn’t the most principled of politicians. Dick McCormack, one of my state senators, had a comment in the Seven Days profile of Shumlin that stuck with me:
Asked whether Shumlin is good for his word, McCormack hedges.
“Just make sure you’ve parsed every word,” he says. “The promise he makes may not be the promise you thought he made. There were times when I did not read the fine print. I won’t make that mistake again.”
That quote came to mind last week when I read this story on Vermont Tiger, a conservative blog, which accused Shumlin of secretly offering to relicense Vermont Yankee if it were under different management. I won’t vouch for the accuracy of the article, which is based entirely on anonymous sources (and whose version of events was criticized by Shay Totten at Seven Days), but my point is that I wouldn’t be surprised if it ended up being true. I think it’s an open question as to how serious Shumlin is regarding this and other issues, like single-payer. Remember, Obama said he supported single-payer too… and then opposed even a moderate reform like the public option once he was actually in power.
In addition, although I won’t go into the nuances of my position on the Vermont secessionist movement here, I wanted to show support for Dennis Steele’s secessionist platform, and especially his opposition to the wars (Christopher Ketcham, writing at the Huffington Post, described Steele as “the most radical antiwar candidate in the US”) and felt my vote would be more meaningful when cast for him.
That probably sounds weird to a lot establishment party partisans, who think that voting third-party or independent is “throwing your vote away,” especially when faced with someone like Dubie. (For an example of this thinking, see this post at Green Mountain Daily by an anarchist encouraging support for Democrats) But while I’m no fan of Dubie, it’s not going to be the end of the world if he wins. Liberals really need to learn to look beyond the next elections, and realize that there’s never going to be a “right” time to vote third-party or independent. There’s always going to be a scary right-winger around the corner that might win if we don’t hold our noses and vote for Democrats; every election is a “critical” election. If people continue to wait until the “right time” to vote for what they really believe in, they’re going to be waiting forever. And we can’t afford to wait forever for the establishment parties to come around.