(Kunin) We woke up to a new day after the election. For those who thought elections don’t matter, take heed.
Nationally, the election was a triumph for George Bush and his party. His message was simple: Give me a Congress that will allow me to carry out my agenda. The results prove once again how powerful is the bully pulpit of the presidency. No individual congressman or senator can compete with it. The only alternative would have been an organized, coordinated Democratic party, and that is wishful thinking.
With full control of both the Senate and the House, the president can claim to have a mandate for his judges and his agenda. The sharp turn to the right will be widely felt, from drilling in the Alaskan Wildlife Refuge to a woman’s right to choose.
What is good news for George Bush is bad news for Vermont. In one night, Vermont has lost its clout in the Senate. Both Jeffords and Leahy will lose their chairmanships and the ability to wield influence both nationally and locally. Both senators vigorously took on George Bush and the Republicans – and will no doubt be forced to eat a slice of humble pie. That means the end of special treatment for this small state, which had loomed large on the political horizon since Jim Jeffords made his famous switch to being an independent.
Does this election mean that there are no longer any checks on presidential power? The public voted for a unified national party that would hopefully end political in-fighting and bickering.
In contrast to this, Vermont presents a more balanced picture. Republican James Douglas emerged victorious in a three-way race. His clear message of Jobs, jobs, jobs got through to the voters and is an indicator of Vermonters’ concern with the economy and desire for change.
But neither party in Vermont has a total grip on exercising political power. Four state-wide offices went to Democrats. The Senate increased its Democratic majority, and the House has a slim Republican edge, with three Progressives and three independents. Depending on how the Progressives and independents vote, there is a possibility of electing a Democratic Speaker.
Vermont continues to speak in a different voice from the rest of the country, trusting in shared power between the parties, keeping both sides alert. There are two possibilities that could emerge as a result. Long-term and bitter party fights, or consensus-building on both sides. Gubernatorial and legislative leadership will be critical to make it work for the benefit of Vermonters.
Yes, there are differences between the major political parties, and elections do matter.
This is Madeleine May Kunin.
Madeleine Kunin is a former governor of Vermont.