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November 19, 2008

Why Can’t Progs and Dems Just Get Along?

Performing_arts_center_theatre In the most recent election Democrats and Progressives slugged it out (at least electorally) in several House races throughout the state — with one particularly charged race in the Queen City.

These races opened up some old wounds, and as a result many Vermont voters, post-election, still want to know whether the parties can work together, or if they'll remain stuck in a time-warp circa 1981.

Here are a few questions I've heard since the election:

  • Should the two parties merge?
  • Should the two parties create a joint primary system, perhaps utilizing IRV?
  • When they do compete, can they do so civilly?
  • Has the Democratic Party become a more comfortable home for progressives?
  • Has the Progressive Party run its course?
  • Should Progressives run in Democratic primaries (or vice versa)?

In the interest of promoting a dialogue about these issues, Seven Days is hosting a public forum. I'll be moderating a conversation with two Democrats and two Progressives on Dec. 4th at 7 p.m. in the Main Street Landing Film House in Burlington.

As of now, our four panelists will be:

  • Rep. Johanna Leddy Donovan, D-Burlington
  • Jane Knodell, City Councilor, P-Ward 2
  • Jake Perkinson, Chairman, Burlington City Democrats
  • Rep. David Zuckerman, P-Burlington

There is plenty of seating at the FIlm House (see the photo), so bring a friend and your questions (no rotting fruit or veggies please). The first part of the forum will feature questions I put to the panelists, and the rest of the questions will come from you, the audience.

Feel free to email me questions in advance as I would be happy to ask yours if you can't make it. You should also feel free to leave them in the comments section of this post.

As with the event, I'm looking for spirited, but civil, debate and discussion.

We're also hoping that Channel 17 will be onhand to film the event, and possibly broadcast it live on Burlington Telecom.

I look forward to this event to see what everyone has to say, but I offer this food for thought: If there is enough of a desire or need by some for a 3rd party, doesn't that in and of itself argue against this notion of "working together" in the long run? I'm not arguing from a Progressive or Democratic point of view. Just looking at the logic of it all.

I can see short-term agreements in specific elections or election cycles as plausible, but in the end as long as there are two separate and distinct parties whose members can articulate significant reasons as to why the other Party is "wrong" for them and presumably for the state (for lack of a better word and to save space in this posting) I don't believe it's plausible for a long term "arrangement." Different individuals are involved over the years, circumstances on the ground change, political hot-button issues change and there will inevitably come a time when someone will present a forceful argument for doing something other than what was agreed to.. or simply decide to go back on the deal (then all hell breaks loose)

It's hard enough to work together within a single political party (there are disagreements within both the D & P parties) and some folks think that two parties can agree to working cooperatively over the long term??? I think the best term for that is called "merger."

Some would like to see Ds & Ps working together b/c there is "agreement on the issues" ... but issues are not the obstacle. Let's all remember that the real discussion between the Democratic & Progressive Parties is a political one... we are talking about political parties after all. If it's "issues" that are supposed to trump party politics, than folks wouldn't worry so much about the labels. But like it or not, that is the way our system has evolved (it was certainly not designed that way) So... looking at this issue from a purely partisan point of view... in the political system that we have: Why would a Progressive Party member who is so opposed to the notion of belonging to one of the two major political parties give up on their desire to grow a third party movement and advocate for the specific solutions they seek to Vermont's challenges? (Progressives do state that they have a more narrow agenda than the Democratic Party, making some D's critical of the unwillingness to compromise in certain respects) Why would a Democratic Party member want to make a deal to allow the Progressive Party to get stronger, thereby increasing the divide? (Democrats argue that they are the "big tent" party, which makes some P's critical of the compromises necessary to gain consensus as they don't lead to the necessary solutions)

Labels matter... if I consider myself a Progressive or a Democrat (as opposed to a small "p" or "d"), it's hard to work together on something and then listen to the very same individuals use negative rhetoric against the parties themselves. Progressives don't like to hear that their Party will never make a difference, will never win statewide, etc. etc. Democrats don't like being told that they're "no different from the Republicans." And both sides share blame in that respect.

So I remain a skeptic... we are all human and when we feel slighted we tend to become defensive & lash out. Any notion of carving up legislative races to make sure Ps & Ds don't run against each other and taking turns on who will run a statewide candidate while the other party sits it out would require an authoritarian rule within each party that is anathema to its members and simply not practical. Again, arrangements like that run counter to the very notion of having separate parties.

Since we have different parties, I think the best solution is to use them... individuals can seek more than one party nomination. If a person believes they have crossover appeal, they should try to get the nomination from as many parties as will elect them as their nominee for office. If enough people end up with both P & D nominations, maybe that will be a catalyst for a true reconciliation of sorts. But as long as there are party loyalists on both sides, any notion of "working together" won't last long enough to matter.

I'm looking forward to the discussion on the 4th.

Sounds like a great session!

why would the progs and dems join forces when the burlington city council progs are already aligned with our cheney-esque republican-in-prog-clothing CAO? And when are my fellow prog groundtroops going to wake up and realize that the city hall progs have sold out? the dems aren't great, but they're a better gamble than our current prog administration.

I disagree with Realist. The candidates that I hear that may be running for mayor of Burlington on the Dem ticket are terrible options. I will continue to vote Prog for Burlington, the administration is not bad and they haven't "sold out". I actually have a lot of respect for Mayor Kiss.

The Dem/Prog debate statewide, just like this discussion, is all about mediating egos and that attracts media attention. Who would show up for a debate about good governance? Last I understood that's what governing is all about. I've had enough of party labels. Bring on the independents!

Dems should not be wasting their time talking talking "cooperation" with Progs. When push comes to shove, Prog officeholders don't care about "policy." They care about holding office and having power and expanding the Progressive Party. Electoral "cooperation" is entirely a one-way street. They plead for electoral "cooperation" from Democrats only AFTER they've taken Democratic seats. And they would not miss an opportunity to pick off Democratic seats in the future if they thought they could pull it off. Democrats should run against Progs in every race.

What an amazing statement by My Three Cents who obviously hasn't been paying attention for a number of years.

I hope the internet continues to make political parties more and more irrelevant in local elections. On a local level, a party's apparatus largely exists to make and distribute physical, paper campaign propaganda, including signs. I don't know if that will ever change, but at least the internet allows political campaigns to circumvent party machinery. A political party is what Vonnegut would call "a proud and meaningless association of human beings." It's a tool that amplifies, but also distorts an individual's philosophy and message. And no two individuals will ever have exactly the same philosophy or message.

So why can't Progs and Dems just get along? They draw from the same trough, and if they got along they would just be Dems. And what fun is that? It makes better television this way, obviously.

This sounds like an interesting event,but living in an outback region far away from Burlington ,I worry that this discussion will touch only slightly on the statewide implications of the Dem/Prog "thing".The disagreements may be most intense in Burlington but it has impacted the entire state.

This is a great idea. 1087 suggestion is a great idea. We should take this debate on the road. I look forward to a great discussion.

"So why can't Progs and Dems just get along? They draw from the same trough, and if they got along they would just be Dems."

I can't necessarily agree with this. Many, many Dems are moderate -- not the crazed officeholder Dems who allow impeachment protesters to take over my Statehouse and who use City Hall to hold anti-Burton hearings, but the rank and file everyday citizen Dems who just want to show up for work every day and make a living and pay their mortgage. Progs are by definition not moderate. Their agenda is anathema to many moderate Democrats. We are not necessarily "drawn from the same trough." We do not all want to turn Vermont into a gigantic redistributive "corporation-free zone" consisting of organic farms and composting operations. In fact, isn't that the reason the Progs have spent the past two decades criticizing Dems?

I want to thank everyone for some great suggestions and comments above — including taking this show on the road. Perhaps ... But, to that point of how Prog/Dem relations work outside of Chittenden County, this is a great point. There is a difference in how this dynamic works.

That said, feel free to offer your perspective here and I'll be sure to relay it to the panel (and the audience).

I do expect some folks in attendance at the Dec. 4th event will offer some thoughts/questions from the floor on this topic, but to be sure go ahead and post here or email me at [email protected].

We've also created a Facebook events page where you can post questions and comments, too.

Jane Knodell, City Councilor, P-Ward 1

Small correction, Shay- Knodell represents Ward 2.

Haik: Thanks for the reminder. I just corrected it in the post. I've been meaning to get to that for days ... oi. I noticed the error when I created our Facebook events page.

"Hold it, Now, are we actually gonna go before a federal judge, and tell him that some moldy Babylonian god is going to drop in on Central Park West, and start tearing up the city?" "Sumerian, not Babylonian." "Yeah, big difference."

I hope that "my three cents" can make it to the discussion. While many of us hope that the issue/discussion can and does look forward, it is also important that we take the time to identify/correct information that is not entirely accurate. As each "side" has built up degree's of missinformation it makes it harder for a practical discussion to move forward.

Just to clarify, going into this election there were 6 Progressives. Three were from districts that had been electing (and probably would continue to elect) relatively progressive Democrats. All three seats were won during a time of an incumbent stepping down. However, out of the other three seats, 2 are seats that had been traditionally held by a Republican and one of the seats was held by a conservative Democrat.

So to make the broad statement that Progs only seek cooperation after taking Dem seats is unfortunately rhetoric and we need to get back to the facts before we can move forward.

The same is true with the Governors race. A Progressive did not run in any of the first three races with Gov. Douglas. There are many who think we have run every time because they allow themselves to believe rumors that fit their desires (to scapegoat someone else). However, when progressive Democrats run, or hold seats, we tend not to run.

I know...some will bring up the fact that I ran against Sandy Baird in 1994. That is true. In this day I would not have encouraged myself, or someone in my shoes to do that. Sometimes we learn with time, and strategies develop or change. And sometimes, we can learn from the past and improve and move forward. For many Progressives (and many Democrats) this movement forward had been happening prior to this election cycle.

Many believe that we are forming just to create a party and for ego's. It will be hard to convince those people otherwise. But when one actually looks at the voting record, we are extremely consistent to our platform which is a se of policy positions that we hold very dear. Yes, we are a party and we do run to win. That is what all parties are for. But they (as we are) are also supposed be based on a set of principles/policy positions. I would argue we are most clearly and uniformly in line with that ideal. Examples to come during the discussion.

"A Progressive did not run in any of the first three races with Gov. Douglas."

That's not really true. Was Clavelle not really a Progressive? Yes, he did the right thing and ran as the big tent candidate, but he was still a Prog. What were you going to do, run someone with a "P" next to their name against your own long-time city leader? So to say "we did not run anyone" in the first three Douglas races is not really true.

" . . . when progressive Democrats run, or hold seats, we tend not to run."

Tend? What is a "tend"? Is there a policy in the Prog party bylaws on "tending"?

Was Dean not "progressive" enough in 2000? Was Shumlin not "progressive" enough in 2002?

Quite concisely: because the Democratic National Party is a corporation, owned by even larger corporations. It's not there to serve us, it's there to use us.

To "I dont think so" (and I might add...I am always curious why bloggers are unwilling to stand by their words with their names)

When Clavelle ran as a Democrat, a Progressive (the capital letter does matter as it defines a party position, not an issue position) did not run. In fact, some P's were frustrated...but infact, there were many more D's that were. Also...why is it defined that he "did the right thing" and ran in the D primary? I did not realize the constitution explicitly indicated what was "right" and "wrong" with respect to how to run for office. I will have to go review my history.

But in the vein of can we all get along? If/When all the P's start running as D's, you can bet there would be a lot of establishment D's who would be even more unhappy about that. Even Tim Ashe's race is a good example. He was not one of the chosen 6 (see Sen. Condos postcard and PAC). Now they are accepting and embracing him...but it was not supposed to be him.

As for "tending", please give me examples. I said "tend" because there will of course be one or two, but for the most part, individuals that I know have worked very hard to disuade people from running against incumbent D's who have shown that they will vote more (small p) progressively when serving. Since we can not know how anyone will perform in the Legislature until they are there, we do (occasionally) run for the open seats even against people who might appear good on paper. We have all seen candidates who look like one thing on paper who turn out to be something else entirely.

As for Dean...I can not think of many Democrats in this state who would argue that Deam governed as any word close to progressive.

As for Shumlin, Anthony made it clear he would not run against Racine because Racine is a more progressive Democrat. He then indicated that he would be running for LG. But he did not make a firm, official announcement so Shumlin announced more formally...but they were both in at that point. Also...I have great respect for Shumlins ability to get things done, but he is all over the map with respect to progressiveness. Sometimes he is right there and other times (see the upcoming Yankee battles for the next two years) he will compromise away the progressive position. (Vote twice is another example)

We are looking for consistent progressive people. Whether they run as D's or P's it does not matter. But we hold the bar pretty high. Maybe that is wrong of us. But maybe some people also want the bar raised higher.

What you say of the national Democratic Party may or may not be true, but it is decidedly not true of the *Vermont* Democratic Party, which is pathologically and hysterically anti-business. Which brings me to my original point: there is no need for the Progs in Vermont -- the Vermont Democratic Party is pleeeeeenty anti-corporate enough.

If Clavelle wasn't a Progressive when he ran ,was Anthony Pollina also not a Progressive when he switched and ran for governor this year as an Independent ?

"When Clavelle ran as a Democrat, a Progressive (the capital letter does matter as it defines a party position, not an issue position) did not run."

Ha ha. That was intended as a complete and total joke, right? I appreciate your obvious sense of humor.

Because you simply cannot be taken seriously when you say that no Progressives ran against Douglas the first three times, and then try to take the position that Clavelle was not a Progressive. Please give us all a big fat break.

"A Progressive did not run in any of the first three races with Gov. Douglas." That statement is just wrong. A 7-term Progressive mayor of Burlington ran for Governor in 2004. Instead of defending that statement, why not just retract it and move on?

Most comments are missing the point and this event will be a waste of time if it doesn't address TODAY's real issue, which is, we've got someone to the right of Kurt Wright running Burlington City Hall right now in Jonathan Leopold. He's running the city into the ground. Mayor Kiss is utterly ineffective. CAO Leopold runs everything and his politics and management are TERRIBLE. Botched (rigged?) elections. He's screwed over or chased out a long list of people who worked for years to make Burlington great, like Michael monte, Jo laMarch, Joe McNeil, Brendan Kelleher, Tim Nulty, Adam Cate, Wayne Gross, etc. He's doing serious damage to Burlington Telecom's prospects. He's messing with the schools. He abuses anyone under him... so much so that many city employees now refuse to be in a room alone with him. To his credit, he's got the city council wrapped around his little finger -- dems are impotent, progs are asleep or sold out, republicans, well they're his best friends. He lords his financial "expertise" over everyone like he's the only one capable of reading a spreadsheet. Check into his track record: if he's so smart, what happened to his high-flying career that brought him back to a job he held 20 years ago?

Progs should demand that Kiss toss Leopold. Dems should run against Leopold. Republicans-if Kurt wins, he'll keep Leopold as CAO or appoint him to cushy job running telecoms. Free Press won't report on this because they depend on Leopold for leaks (McNeil story (again and again), Kelleher story, etc.). Seven days-not likely given Ashe connection. WCAX? Why would WGOP be critical of one of its own. And lots of people are too scared of his retribution to speak up.

McNeil? He forced himself out of his job. No one did that to him.

Kelleher? Took two pensions! The rest of us only get one. And it was a Prog mayor who teamed up with Kelleher to pull that fast one.

Clavelle? Increased city employee retirement benefits, but never actually *funded* the pension accounts, leaving the City with a massive underfunded debt.

Oh, yeah, let's bring 'em all back.

The December 4th meeting will accomplish nothing and that's made obvious by the comments here. Progressive Party, just keep on keeping on. The more lame Dems they elect, the more people will realize that Dems are lame and the pendulum will swing back to the Progressive Party. The Dems need the Progressive Party because the Dems are too timid to be progressive on their own.

Yeah, this past election sure bears out the above poster's views. The voters of Vermont sure realized that Dems are "lame." They reduced the number of Dems in office and voted in more extremists, er, Progs . . .

Oops. Nevermind.

But good luck with that pendulum thing, though.

What's comical is that health care for all is considered extreme by Democrats. Pick any issue. If you'd like your government to do what's right, that's an extreme position to the Democratic Party.

Which would explain why Vermonters -- an extremely liberal bunch -- overwhelmingly elected Democrats, increasingly their already huge presence in the Legislature, and UN-elected a Prog . . .

Bummer, eh?

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