Bullshit Philosophy

Half-assed political and religious commentary from a cynical left-winger

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.


6 Responses to “Why I didn’t vote for Shumlin”

  1. You make a lot of good points, and you and me generally agree on most issues (and we both generally vote third party). And while I’m not a Vermonter, I’ve been following this election somewhat closely. In all honestly, I would have probably voted for Shumlin. The main reason would be single payer. Now, I wouldn’t think he has any real conviction to pass Single Payer, but I have a bit of faith in the Progressive Party of Vermont. I think in all honesty, if he renegaded on Single Payer, they’d break that quasi coalition with the Democrats and run a challenger in 2012, along with probably a hostile state congressional campaign. I think the threat of that will make Shumlin at least keep one significant promise (and he’d essentially be a progressive hero just by passing Single Payer). This of course, proves the value third parties have on our political landscape, and why we need more elected to office.

    I can’t really take that secessionist candidate seriously though. In the debate I watched of him, he seemed to suggest every solution to the problems ailing Vermont would be “succession”, completely oblivious to the fact that not only does Vermont get a large amount of federal funds, but that succession would pretty much make Vermont a third world country overnight, if by some chance it beat the insurmountable odds and actually succeeded, without a war completely devastating it. In which case, I really couldn’t vote for him.

    • Kevin said

      First, let me just say that if Shumlin actually ends up passing single-payer, I’ll gladly admit I was a fool for voting for Steele.

      As for the Progressives, it seems you have more faith in them than I do these days. You’re not wrong for interpreting things that way; maybe I’m being too hard on them over the Prog-Dem “quasi coalition”. But it’s possible that we’re witnessing the start of their absorption back into the Democratic fold, and I think it’s an open question as to whether they have the will or ability to reverse it, as well as how the wider progressive movement would respond if they tried to seriously oppose an incumbent Democratic governor. I certainly hope you’re right, though.

      As for Steele, what you saw of him was pretty similar what I saw at the VLS debate, which was annoying and part of why I was so impressed with Shumlin in comparison. And secession clearly isn’t a perfect idea; if I thought it was something that could seriously happen in the near future, I’d probably reconsider my support if the kinks hadn’t been worked out. Still, I support it in principle if not necessarily in practice, and didn’t feel like I had any good choices on the ballot, so that probably made me more inclined to toss my vote to someone like Steele.

      • I think it’s just a matter of time will tell.

        Shumlin is certainly talking the talk right now, by already demanding a waiver for Single Payer from Obama. Looks like he’ll go forward with the inner state rail project as well.

        I coined it a “Quasi coaltion” only because it’s not a “real” collation in a legislative sense. If the Progs continue to expand though, a real coalition may not be too far off…

        I think the real problem is, if Shumlin and the Dems give the Progs what they want in the next 2 years, will they then just say “Well our work is done!” and pack things up? That’s been the traditional role of third parties in the US, rise up enough to get one of the major parties to include elements of your platform in their platform, and then either merge with that party (Farmer Labour party merged with the Democratic Party of Minnesota, Non Partisan League with the Democratic party of North Dakota) or just call it quits and go home (Populist Party). Personally I hope that doesn’t happen, because even if Single Payer goes through, a lot more work has to be done, specifically electorally. We’ll see though.

        @ Vermont Independence. Honestly, I just can’t think of a single realistic scenario where they can become independent, and I’m not sure it would even be preferable. The only viable way I can see them as independent is if they became a trade outpost of sorts, like Hong Kong is, taking advantage of a hypothetical flux of activity between the US and Canada (I’m not sure if such activity even exists, but I’ll say it does just for the sake of argument). But if it did become like this, it wouldn’t be a Vermont that you’d recognize, or the ones Vermonters know and love. It’d have to transform itself into a Hong Kong like megalopolis, probably similar to Montreal structure. There’s no way small town rural Vermont can survive on it’s own, well, unless it wanted to become a third world country with living conditions comparable to Rural Africa.

      • Something I forgot to add in the last message.

        I doubt Shumlin would be so adamant now about a Single Payer waiver if the Liberty Union and Progressive Party didn’t leave him to run unopposed by any left wing challenger.

  2. I follow Vermont politics a lot these days mostly because it’s the only place with a viable progressive third party, and while I agree with TiradeFaction that this may very well have been the best strategy for them, I’m afraid also that if it’s a success, they’ll do as many third parties did in the past and just dissolve thinking “we don’t need to do any hard work anymore, we won!” which is extremely short sighted. And if that does happen, I hope they do some serious electoral reform such as instant run-off voting or proportional representation to allow future parties to have a more fair time. I root for this stuff in any state so it can pass as a domino effect, I guess I’m a progressive federalist.

  3. Correction: “And if that does happen, I hope they do some serious electoral reform such as instant run-off voting or proportional representation to allow future parties to have a more fair time before they decide to call it quits.”

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