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Patten: Common Sense

Election season is essentially over. But this year I’m missing the sense of closure that typically follows. And I’m left with a decidedly unclear sense of “now what?”

We had one of the closest gubernatorial elections in our state’s history. Scott Milne came within a hiccup of overtaking a seasoned and well-funded incumbent – a scenario virtually no one predicted.

The balance of power in the statehouse shifted ever so slightly. And most surprising to me was the success of both Republicans and Progressives in gaining seats against the Democrats.

So… now what ?

Well for starters, it’s pretty clear that the coming legislative session won’t be full of hugs and sing-alongs.

There will be significant budget pressure this year, and some groups will likely end the session with fewer resources. This is a hard truth, but necessary if we’re going to keep our eye on the common good.

And there will be heated debate, not the least of which must focus on issues that evoke strong emotions - such as healthcare reform and how we fund education. Ideology may need to give way to common sense when the two don’t reconcile.

Maybe what we need is for all of our legislators, both veteran and new, to take a public pledge to pursue the common good - with common sense.

I’d like them to guarantee that new policy will not unfairly target a particular group. I’d like to hear them admit the need for policy with strong evidentiary support – as well as policy stated simply, so it can be understood by all of us, and not just policy-wonks. I’d like to remind legislators that they represent, and act on behalf of, every Vermonter, not just their geographic constituents. So they might also place a high priority on policy that has its roots in the populace, with intentional deference to what you might call the traditional Vermonter.

Lastly, I’d like a public promise from our legislators to listen diligently and thoroughly to the voice of the people, amidst the white noise of statehouse business-as-usual. And maybe this offers us an opportunity to leverage the myriad new technological means we have for connecting with constituents – which in turn might allow us to gather the type of information that would make legislators more apt to reflect the values of their constituents, even when these values conflict with their own.

I’d be hard pressed to find a legislator that would argue with these points. But when the gavel drops in early January, upholding these values may prove more difficult than any of us could imagine.

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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