Voters on Tuesday will make choices that could influence the direction of the state for the next decade or longer.
Don’t think so? Think it’s easy to “throw the bums out” and start over every two years? There is certainly an anti-incumbent mood in voters this fall, both nationally and locally. Around here, that may be a nice sentiment, and Vermont’s system of two-year terms makes it appear that elections are always just around the corner. But consider the reality. Incumbents in general, and in Vermont in particular, enjoy huge advantages. Name recognition, party support, and media coverage are just a few areas in the political poker game where incumbents rack up chips that can be played when election time rolls around.
Take the governor’s chair, for example. Even though a sitting governor must run for reelection every two years, Vermont has had only three of them in the past two decades. One, Richard Snelling, died in office. The other two, Howard Dean and Jim Douglas, left on their own terms. Dean to run for president, and Douglas is retiring after more than three decades of public service.
The same is true for local seats as well. In that same two-year period, Wilmington, Halifax, and Whitingham have had only three state reps. Dover, Readsboro, and Wardsboro have had a few more, but that’s as much due to gerrymandering of districts in 1991 and 2001. State Senate seats are just about as much of a lock as governor. Once elected, state senators become very difficult to dislodge.
We are not necessarily saying that incumbent politicians are a bad thing and need to be voted out. They often gain committee seniority and influence that a newbie can’t match. However, a newly-elected politician often brings fresh ideas and energy that a seasoned veteran might not be able to match.
What we are saying is that whomever voters decide to support, history bears out that the winners will generally be in office quite a while, which brings us back to where we started.
Voters need to think long and hard about whom they will be supporting on Tuesday, as they will have to live with the consequences of their votes for the foreseeable future.