This commentary is by Paul Dame, chair of the Vermont GOP.
This fall Rep. Peter Welch kicked off his run for the U.S. Senate with a video that used a phrase that still disturbs me. He, and now other Democrats, have used the talking point about our “Imperiled Democracy.” But I don’t think he realizes that Democrats have done more to imperil democracy in Vermont than they are willing to admit.
Fundamentally democracy has at its core the idea that people who live under a set of laws have input on either the laws themselves, or at the very least direct oversight of the people who make those laws. If someone making a law cannot be removed by the people whom that law affects, then it is hard to honestly call that a democracy.
This was the foundational idea behind the American Revolution. The British Parliament was making laws over the American colonies, yet these same British politicians were completely insulated and unaccountable to the people who had to live under those laws.
In the last 10 years under the Democratic supermajority, Vermont’s Legislature has developed an alarming desire to separate the decision making from voters — and it’s beginning to get out of hand.
It may go back farther, but I think the 2010 Green Mountain Care Board was a pivotal moment in this trend towards legislating by bureaucracy. It was the first time the Vermont Legislature basically said “We know we want to do something that voters may find unpopular, so we’ll get people who aren’t elected to make the tough decisions.” And in the first round, a few of the very legislators who supported the bill were named to the Board so that they could effectively legislate without having to worry that voters might toss them out. Thankfully even liberal Gov. Shumlin pulled the plug on the plan because it was impossibly expensive.
Then just 2 years ago Democrats put together another massive, un-elected board who would develop policy (the kind of policy that SHOULD be happening with diverse and equal representation across the state in the legislature) through the Global Warming Solutions Act. This law, which was opposed by House & Senate Republicans and vetoed by Governor Scott, created yet another, even more powerful board of appointees who cannot be voted out by Vermonters if they put forward policies that voters disapprove of. The Vermont Climate Council was given the power to tell every future Governor’s administration what rules they SHALL promote – even if the Governor and his staff don’t agree with them.
In order to protect our democracy and ensure that government remains accountable to voters, Republicans stand opposed to this kind of dereliction of legislative duty. New laws ought to be fully and publicly debated by the full legislature – not done off to the side by an un-elected body of appointees. It is hard enough to follow the over 700 House bills that are publicly available on the legislature’s website – but when we begin to add more and more organizations developing policies that are in a strange gray-area somewhere between the legislative and executive branch it becomes nearly impossible for honest citizens to know what is going on until it’s too late.
If Democrats are going to talk about our “Imperiled Democracy” this election to take the focus off of the struggling economy, record inflation, troubling public safety trends and a host of other issues then Republicans need to be able to point out that in Vermont our candidates are the best hope for restoring democracy by taking it out of the hands of these politically connected and voter-insulated decisions makers – and giving it back into the hands of the voters of Vermont.
In our state we all still have a close connection to the purest, most true and most sensible form of democracy – the local town meeting. Better, more thoughtful decisions are made at the most local level possible which are the farthest removed from professional politicians and bureaucrats, and closest to the people they affect. While Progressive Democrats will continue to add new and complex layers of government higher and higher in the chain – Republicans are committed to providing Vermonters a path forward from the bottom up that give voters the final say.