By John Klar
The election has passed. I now disclose my long-term plan to restore a conservative voice to Vermont’s political landscape, to offset progressive domination. There has been no secret to this plan — it is hardly devious. Indeed, it offers reconciliation and community in place of division and hate.
The Vermont Democrats might wish to protest the characterization of them as hateful and divisive, but that is precisely what they have been. They have discovered political success in maligning their neighbors, our state and our culture — but that “success” is profoundly short-sighted, and so will be short-lived as well.
For some years now conservatives have tolerated Vermont’s progressive elite defining us as misogynistic, racist destroyers of the environment. In actuality, conservatives are not any of these things, and this dehumanization of fellow citizens by the Democrats will come back to haunt them — either they are wrong to misjudge and attack people and will repent; or, those on the right will sink to that level, and some already have. Either way it is worse than a dead-end — it is a vicious downward spiral.
I set out over a year ago seeking to reverse this partisan deterioration. Instead of seeking social issues to label and divide citizens, I sought issues that would unite people in common cause — pensions, schools, taxes, economic growth, opioids. These are also issues that conservatives can champion without compromising their core beliefs.
Another example is “supporting the police.” Some have attacked our police and called to eliminate or “defund” their services, politicizing police support as an either/or issue. But many Democrats support the police; and many police are Democrats. If Republicans attempted to “own” the public safety issue, we’d simply devolve into the same divisiveness as the left, and leave most Vermonters in the middle — alienated by both parties. We know that Democrats want their daughters protected from rapists and drunk drivers, and their homes secure from arsonists and burglars, as much as we. Let’s seek common ground with our neighbors, purposefully.
The other important task for conservatives has been to unify our message. Over 1,300 bills were introduced in the Vermont House this year. Instead of a candidates running on a myriad of individual platforms, I proposed that the Vermont GOP focus on issues that 1) were of highest priority to voters, and 2) were conservative strengths. We need not try to become something we are not in order to win votes, because if we do that we are no longer conservatives. But also, our state needs what we offer, and not just for one side — for all.
Meanwhile, the progressives in 2020 did exactly what we expected them to do — pushed an ideological social agenda despite the very real economic threats that have unfolded under COVID-19. This is what I call “Whack-a-mole” — calling these detached dreamers out on their utter failure to lead Vermonters in what will soon unfold as the greatest economic disaster to ever befall this nation. Indeed, we will see — as we whack this mole for the next two years — that Vermont is particularly vulnerable to this economic tsunami due to gross mismanagement, and that our Legislature stubbornly refused to take any steps whatsoever to shield the citizenry. (Indeed, the progressives seized on COVID-19 as grounds to expand government spending and taxes even more.)
Vermonters, let’s whack some moles! How badly underfunded is the Vermont State Employees pension fund, now that Beth Pearce has been reelected to continue her demonstrated mismanagement of those investments. When I began this campaign, I knew it would be extremely challenging to fund those pensions. In view of COVID-19, I now question whether it will be possible to do so, and as I have written (and contrary to the false comfort embraced by state employees) the government is not legally obligated to pay those promises if things go belly up.
So let’s play Whack-a-mole: When the pensions fail, and those state workers and union representatives (who refused to meet or talk with me over the last year) panic, who will they blame for their lost futures? Donald Trump? Vermont’s Republican Party? They own what they broke, and they doubled down in 2020, refusing to even consider an increase in funding for pensions. The shortfall in pension funding is astronomical for the state with the smallest economy in America, and Vermonters haven’t been told what that deficiency is post-COVID. What an embarrassing failure, that is only growing much worse. How many billions of dollars are the state pension funds deficient? Whack that mole!
In 2022, Vermont’s budget will be in total disarray, and many programs will need to be cut. We will remind voters that instead of balancing the budget in 2020 when it was known that Vermont was $459 million in the red, the Legislature unconstitutionally expanded government power under the GWSA; granted $5 million to undocumented foreigners; awarded COVID relief funds to minority-owned businesses while denying them to white sole proprietors (the definition of systemic racism); favored a political campaign by liberals (under the BLM banner) on public property and in our schools, while excluding any competing voices; called all Vermonters and our ancestors bigots and white supremacists. All while ignoring the economic calamity that unfolded (it didn’t match their well-laid ideological plans, and they sure weren’t going to let a currency collapse get in the way of rescuing urban blacks from their abject suffering in Vermont). Whack-a-mole.
Has a political party ever been more out of touch with reality than the Vermont Democrats in 2020? In hindsight, Vermonters will see that this was criminal negligence. Also in that hindsight, they will see that we with common sense warned loudly of the coming collapse. The record is clear, and cannot be re-written.
In 2022, we must recruit yet more qualified conservative candidates for office. Voters will see that disconnected bullies in Montpelier have burdened them with monstrous regulatory and tax burdens instead of safeguarding fiscal health. What will the progressives tell voters in 2022? That now they will fund the pensions? That now they will balance the budget? That this time they will listen to the suffering and try to reduce taxes? The left in 2022 will have zero credibility on any of these issues — which is much more credibility than they deserve. They will have earned “negative goodwill” for their betrayal of all Vermonters. Our job is to fix their mess and prove that we really want to help everyone — we don’t claim partisan ownership of balanced budgets: we just wish Democrats would strive to comprehend the concept.
In 2022, Vermont conservatives must offer a credible voice on how to improve the lives of all Vermonters economically; of how to address racism without starting a new racism; of bolstering pensions for all Vermonters (both taxpayers and beneficiaries, of whatever political stripe); improving school performance and costs for all Vermonters; in addressing the opioid crisis (at root also a fundamentally economic problem) for all Vermonters; of protecting the ecosystem for all.
I’m ready to put my mouth where my money is, Vermonters. I’m willing to predict an economic calamity based on decades of study and common sense. In times of trouble, we need leadership with foresight, not hindsight. Not the “Oh, no one could have seen that coming” baloney. How could our leadership not have seen what was coming, as they tripped over one another to gobble up federal “relief funds” to magnanimously dole out to us? Did they tighten our state’s bureaucratic belt at all while our businesses closed and people suffered? Nope. They have been stupefyingly clueless. Whack-a-mole!
The liberals heard us in 2020, but plugged their ears and screamed “BLM” and “climate change.” In 2022, they will hear us again, only this time perhaps they won’t be plugging up their ears so fiercely, as reality will have descended. Maybe they will learn that economic stability is important for urban black lives, and that the environment drops to the bottom of the priority list when there is no money to clean it up because the government is insolvent. The world has turned upside down, and conservatives offer legitimate insights on how to right it.
Stage One of Operation Whack-a-mole has gone exceptionally well — we have vocally raised the alarm about pensions, taxes, and unconstitutional expansions of power in Vermont. Assisting us greatly have been overzealous progressives, who refused to bend their predetermined plans — some even chortled how great COVID-19 was, to slow global warming! We will remind voters again and again, to the consternation of our elitist progressive rulers, of this stellar blindness of our “leadership” when we most needed them. This is Stage Two of Operation Whack-a-mole, and it starts now.
Our short-term future is not about abortion, cannabis or gun rights — it’s about living within our means. Vermont’s bureaucracy has not been living within the means of the taxpayers — it has become a fiscal tumor that doesn’t even acknowledge that it has to answer to We the People. That imbalance cannot be easily reversed, especially if hyperinflation hits and the consequences of this buffoonery become evident. This progressive government has failed Vermonters, but this problem will be remedied in 2022, with skilled conservatives at the helm.
Now get out there and whack some moles!
John Klar is an attorney and farmer residing in Brookfield, and the former pastor of the First Congregational Church of Westfield.