Who Needs This?

Editorials / May. 15, 2008 12:00am EDT

Who Needs This?

The 2008 legislative session in Montpelier concluded with handshakes and a show of good feeling, but it took just four days for those hands to start slinging mud.

Those of us unlucky enough to receive regular emails from the headquarters of the major political parties have been treated to an ill-tempered display of sarcasm, insinuation, and name-calling ever since the session ended. It’s as if these back office snipers couldn’t stand the sudden end to the day-to-day contest in the legislative arena, so they moved immediately into guerilla warfare behind the scenes. Like all guerilla wars, it’s not pretty.

The first salvo to our inbox came May 6 from the Republican representative from Stowe, Heidi Scheuermann, slamming Gaye Symington, leader of the Democrats in the House of Representatives. Symington had decided not to schedule a veto session that would allow the legislature to override any vetoes by the Republican governor. You would think that a Republican would be happy about that, but no. Scheuermann, quoting assistant GOP leader Patti Komline, "questioned Symington’s motives" citing "speculation" that she did it in order to start raising money for a campaign for governor. And from whom would Symington raise money? Why, from "lobbyists and special interest groups," of course.

Symington, the "press release" concludes, has "betrayed members of her own party."

The next day brought a newsletter from the Democratic Party, just as nasty, which surveyed the recently-concluded legislative session. The newsletter concluded that the session represented nothing more nor less than four months of contrast between "thoughtful, diligent work" by the Democratic legislators and "empty political posturing" on the part of the Republican governor.

Gov. Douglas, according to this view, ignored struggling companies, "proposed to ignore" the state’s borrowing guidelines, and refused to provide help for Vermonters facing foreclosure. His sales tax holiday, it insinuated, would help only people wealthy enough to "decide when to buy things."

One day later, Republican Chairman Rob Roper issued another release, this one dumping on Democratic Senate President Peter Shumlin for defending Symington. The "self-serving" Shumlin, Roper sputtered, demonstrated that "misinformation and a lack of principle have been guiding the Democrats’ leaders schemes for our campaign finance laws for the past two years."

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Rhetoric of this kind cheapens Vermont’s political discourse. It sounds disconcertingly like the partisan babble coming out of Washington, D.C.

Once upon a time, words like "betrayal" and "lack of principle" meant something pretty terrible; to use them to describe minor political disagreements cheapens the language as well.

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Give it a rest, folks! The legislature has gone home. The fall elections are months away. The earth is springing green in the hills and valleys. Redwing blackbirds call from the marshes. Daffodils are in bloom.

Get with it, ye dreary politicos. It’s spring!

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