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Patten: Party Politics

Recently, I bought gas at a small store in Charlotte.  There were three people sitting outside at a patio table, having a lively discussion.  When I finished at the pump and went inside to pay, one of the three jumped up and followed me into the store.  She slipped behind the counter and I paid her for my gas.

What I’d just witnessed were three people discussing issues that mattered to them and their community - from international conflicts to the local school board; with little or no talk of their party affiliations.

It’s one of the main reasons I love Vermont politics. 

I recently left a strong but modest career in the human service sector to join a nonpartisan advocacy group – not because I care for politics but because I have an interest in solutions.

I’m thoroughly convinced that most of the solutions we need here can be found in conversations already taking place in probably every Vermont town.  And be it at the kitchen table or on a patio, ideas flow more freely without a partisan muzzle.

When ideas must pass through a partisan filter before being accepted into a political party platform, many are lost – even good ones.  But perhaps even worse is the potential for reckless abandon of reason in favor of scoring campaign points.

We deserve, and Vermonters appreciate, a healthy level of discourse. A strong democracy is built on respectful disagreement.  Without it, we lose a critical measure of control against individual agendas. 

I used to think our founding fathers built our system of governance to deliberately slow progress down, to ensure that changes are thoughtful and considerate of the populace. And I still believe that to some degree - at least in the idea that progress is good and measured progress is better.

The party system has its benefits – not the least of which is an opportunity for fellowship. But we can’t allow party politics to overpower the idea of a public servant.

I’d like to see the media introduce candidates for public office, including incumbents, by describing their ideas before their party.  Voters could ask questions pertaining to their most core values, and vote for candidates most aligned with those values.  By forgetting party we're more at liberty to consider the ideas.

As a long time democrat and now independent, it took years for me to train myself to not tune out what I heard after the “Republican” label was applied to an idea or a person.

By putting ideas before partisanship, we might well inoculate ourselves against the professional politician – who's always reaching for ever-more power – and give rise to a new era of public servant.

Cyrus Patten is Executive Director of a political action committee that seeks to reform our campaign finance laws. He lives and writes in Williston with his wife and two children.
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