Published on Sunday, November 18, 2001 in the Rutland (VT) Herald
Aware of New Strength, Vermont Progressives Are Cautious
by David Mace
BARRE – If anyone was looking for proof that the Progressive Party has arrived
here in Vermont, they would have found it at the group’s state convention
About 250 party faithful and interested newcomers packed the Old Labor Hall, where they celebrated their major party status by holding proceedings that had all the trappings of a Republican or Democratic convention.
Split by a controversial resolution calling for an end to the bombing in Afghanistan and criticizing the government’s policies in responding to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, delegates ultimately voted not to take action on the measure.
“It was my idea,” said Carina Driscoll, a Progressive state representative from Burlington who made the motion to table the resolution. “I didn’t think it was smart for the state party to vote on a resolution that we were clearly divided on.”
Delegates supported an amendment by Jimmy Leas of South Burlington that called for an immediate end to the bombing, but the debate on the resolution quickly exposed differences within the party.
Some called the resolution proper in light of the destruction and misery that the war was bringing to many innocent Afghans. Others said its adoption would send the wrong message to many of the blue-collar workers that the party was trying to reach out to, who largely supported the government’s actions.
“I think what you will do is marginalize the Progressive Party in the eyes of most Vermonters,” said Erhard Mahnke, speaking against the resolution.
Anthony Pollina, who carried the party’s banner as a gubernatorial candidate in 2000 and won nearly 10 percent of the vote, helping the party gain major party status, said he supported the resolution but understood why there were reservations about it, given its length and wording.
He disagreed with the notion that the resolution might have marginalized the party, or that Progressives were ducking a divisive question.
“The Progressive Party has taken a lot of strong positions on a lot of issues,” Pollina said. “… I think, if anything, people should respect the fact that we’re willing to have the discussion.”
Leas said he was “disappointed” by the move to shelve the resolution.
“We already have two parties who support the war,” he said afterwards. “… The Progressive Party, if it wants to provide leadership and govern, needs to say … that this is not the way to do things.”
It wasn’t the only issue that sparked a lively debate.
Delegates turned down an amendment to the party’s bylaws that would have given members who won statewide office or a seat in the Legislature a place on the party’s Coordinating Committee. Some worried that would give Burlington, where all four current Progressive House members hail from, too strong a voice.
And a platform plank supporting a hike in the tobacco tax as a measure to curb smoking was likewise voted down after being denounced by some as an unfair tax on the poor.
But otherwise it was a day to celebrate the party’s achievements.
Bob Miller, the party’s chairman, pointed out that Progressive committees had been organized in 97 towns this year, up from 19 last year. And 13 of the state’s 14 counties now boast Progressive organizations instead of three or four.
The party has raised nearly $100,000, Miller said, and has improved its credibility and name recognition with organized labor and the public, largely on the strength of Pollina’s run.
“We have demonstrated the power of political action when people are bound together by common principles and the commitment to government that improves the everyday lives of its citizens,” said Burlington Mayor Peter Clavelle, who now governs the state’s largest city and the Progressives’ power base.
In another move that could have been taken from the Democrats’ play book, Clavelle said there will be no fight between himself and Pollina over who will seek what office next fall.
“We’ll have a discussion and reach agreement as to the statewide candidates,” Clavelle said after his speech.
Both have been touted as statewide candidates, but neither publicized their plans Saturday. Clavelle said he was considering a run for either lieutenant governor or state senate, while Pollina said people were encouraging him to seek the lieutenant governor’s and governor’s office.
He hasn’t made a decision, he said, and didn’t think there was any pressing need to. The Democrats avoided a primary battle when Lt. Gov. Douglas Racine and Senate President Pro Tempore Peter Shumlin agreed to seek the governor’s and lieutenant governor’s posts, respectively.
The GOP faces a primary fight between State Treasurer James Douglas and former Human Services Secretary Cornelius Hogan for governor. No one is yet declared for the lieutenant governor’s slot, though Rep. Kathy Voyer of Morrisville has been mentioned.
Pollina sounded like a gubernatorial candidate as he gave an impassioned speech that lashed out at both Democrats and Republicans, particularly Democratic Gov. Howard Dean.
He pointed out that the gap between rich and poor and cultural divides were widening, adding that “… the only gap that gets smaller and smaller is the gap between the Democratic and Republican Party.”
Pollina blasted both as being in the control of moneyed interests; abandoning commitments to families, the environment, and social justice; and for defining political courage “as having the guts to cut programs that Vermonters rely on.”
“Let’s see how they respond in times of tight budgets,” he said. “By attacking the most vulnerable in our communities with no real debate in a true spirit of bipartisanship.”
“It’s very exciting,” Joelen Mulvaney of Barre as she watched the convention. “… I’m energized to see so many people interested in grassroots, Progressive politics.”
She said she hoped Pollina would make another run for governor.
“We really need visionary leadership, people who are not only willing to think about the future but are willing to act,” Mulvaney said.
Vermont Progressive Party
© 2001 Rutland Herald and Times Argus