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Thursday, January 04, 2007

Pomp and Rhetoric

Amongst the “Pomp and Circumstance” of political inaugurations the business of the day was to set the agendas and goals for the new government. Nationally, a new Congress convened and Nancy Pelosi became the first woman Speaker of the House and Bernard Sanders of Vermont became the first Socialist United States Senator. So while in Washington the press scurried for quotes and photos from the new movers and shakers, life in the mountains of Vermont were much more subdued.

On Wednesday, a new Vermont House and Senate convened and set out to propel its agenda for Vermont’s future. Today, the executive branch of Vermont took its oaths and gave their inaugural speeches. This morning, newly sworn in Pro-Tem of the Vermont Senate Peter Shumlin called the Senate legislative session to order. Already making headlines Shumlin has stated that Global Warming is his number one priority, so it appears that an inevitable showdown with the Governor Douglass’s office priority in his “affordability agenda” will take place. The order of the day was to swear in Lt. Governor Brian Dubie.

Inside the cozy confines of the Vermont Senate Chambers, Lt Governor Dubie addressed the crowd of Senators, family, government officials and citizens. He began with remarks of candor stating that since this is the only time he is given a speech on the Senate Floor he “alone is the only thing holding you all back from your lunch.” He gave thanks to all and resolved his commitment and honor in working with the various committee members in addressing the problems and concerns of Vermonters. His first order of business was to recommend that the session be dedicated to the Vermonters serving around the world and in particular, Iraq. Various members of the Vermont National Guard were present including his brother Adjutant General, Michael Dubie.

Lt. Governor Dubie a military man himself led of by parlaying a conversation he had with a general on a roof in downtown Baghdad. Accordingly, he was told “that America has to declare its freedom from oil.” His words were reminiscent to the words of George Bush when he stated that “we are addicted to oil.” To me I guess it implies that Republicans are finally admitting that the war in Iraq is all about oil, but nonetheless not a whisper on the moralities of such war.

Moving on he praised the future of Vermont and its progress to becoming an energy independent state. He claimed his Green Mountain Initiatives were leading the way to assisting and developing cutting edge technology to the world. Hydrogen extraction and methane production are all solutions that can be obtained, in addition to working together on the development of wind turbines on Vermont’s ridgelines. The ingenuity and insights of Vermont farmers and business will pave the way for Vermont leading in alternative energy, he stated.

He brought about a pledge to Vermont to serve in a non-partisan manner and prove the pundits wrong about gridlock. Starting with the tone of environmental friendly business and the commitment to alternative energy it appeared as if a promise of cooperation is in store; I guess will just have to wait and see. While at the forefront of his speech was environmental responsibility but his underlining theme was through the foothold of business.

Strikingly, he commented about the “ethics of life”. Knowing his political foundation (anti-choice) I expected a message on the practice of abortion, but I was wrong. Politics is not a mere question of left or right but it is circular. “Left meets right”, he said and for that I have gained some respect for him. Too frequently, we as a society are pigeonholed into an ideological viewpoint and with that we can never see common ground. While there may be those sadistic and criminal elements in Washington I see the majority of those serving in politics as all wanting the desire to do common good, no matter what party preference.

In his closing remarks, he echoed his dedication “for making a better Vermont for our children…” So with the Vermont Senate having a Democratic majority, Brian Dubie portrayed his intentions on working to achieve a better future. As a citizen of this state I hope and wish him well. The floor was passed back to Pro Tem Shumlin and the gavel struck marking the closing of the session. On deck, the Governor’s inauguration in the House chambers before a joint session of the House and Senate.

Outside, the air was unseasonable warm and the sun brought a bright glow to the state house lawn. Conversation revolved around on the warmness of the day and how the ski industry must be hurting to stay afloat and not that Governor was about to give his Inaugural address. With the warm of the air just maybe the Governor will succumb to realize the criticalness of global warming and its ramifications on the Vermont way of life.

Inside the House Chambers, with the absence of Speaker Gaye Symington(she was in Washington to see Peter Welch’s Inauguration and new Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s), House Majority leader, Rep. Carolyn Partridge banged the gavel to call to session of the House and then passing the gavel to Lt Governor Dubie for joint session of the House and Senate. This was my first Inauguration I have attended and was thrown off on all the formalities and traditions followed. Senators had to be escorted into the chambers and following ceremonial tradition distinguished guests and other newly elected state officials were escorted in by members of the Vermont National Guard. I thought to myself, it sure has to be questionable that government operates at all while following these antiquated procedures, but traditions dictate it. From Essex a youth choir solemnly echoed their harmonious voices to the “God Bless America.”

Oaths of offices were administered to Governor Douglas and then subsequently to other newly elected state officials, Deb Markowitz ( Secretary of State), Jeb Spaulding (Treasurer), Thomas Salmon Jr. (Auditor) and Attorney General William Sorrell. So with all the pomp circumstances the orders of the day were complete and it was time for the Governor to address his agenda for his next two years. I am not going to rephrase his speech for you as you can read from the link from the Burlington Free Press, but I will summarize what I perceived.

While hearing him throughout his campaign, I was provoked on what I saw to be a shallow man lost in his own rhetoric. Unlike, Lt. Governor Dubie, Douglass hammered away on his “campaign of affordability.” He praised his and the Legislature’s past success and vowed for a commitment to the future. Noting that Vermonters overwhelming selected a Democratic Legislature he “declared that balance serves Vermont well.” He gave praise to the “landmark reforms” of Catamount Health and having a consistent balanced budget which accordingly he said Vermonters expect.

Astutely he acclaimed to “put Vermonters ahead of politics” as he reflected to his campaign about the property tax burden. “The oppressive property tax burden is the single greatest threat to Vermont’s renowned resolve,” he exasperated like a broken record. Campaign slogans and issues that are transient in nature do nothing about solving problems but invoke partisanship.

Growing on the substantive progress he claimed to move “forward to assure prosperity for decades to come.” The call for leaders in a new economic frontier while growing with creative adaptation he labeled as the “Vermont Way Forward.” His four point program to foster environmental leadership, job creation, technological advancement and innovative education. I reflected on the campaign of Scudder Parker where he called on Vermont to become a leader by example and develop alternative energies for the promise of a prosperous and sustainable economic future. Senate Pro Tem Peter Shumlin remarked that "I was encouraged that our agenda and his agenda have become so similar," and that “it sounded like he's adopted our religion. Let's hope he comes to services."

For technological advancement, he visualized Vermont becoming the “first true E-State.” Broadband and wireless connection throughout the state allowing Vermonters to work anywhere and having the most technological advance state ready to do business. Wherever there is a need he proposes to build the infrastructure. I guess cell phone towers are esthetically pleasing compared to windmills.

Despite his calls to tackle education cost, he proposed development of Robert T Stafford schools to advance math and science technologies. The advancement of math and sciences is the same rationally as “keeping the trains running on time.” What about advancement of thought and building the intellectual abilities of students so they can think critically? Vermont has just been ranked third in the nation in regards to education according to Education Week Magazine, so why is there a rush to change. Do the politicians know better than educators or is it just more political rhetoric out of the mouth of Jim Douglas.

The governor was trying to whistle a different tune over the pomp and circumstances of his inauguration. His words flew from his mouth like a polished car-salesman selling add-on features one just does not need. While his words may have sound well intended, to me a casual observer they sounded as nothing more than political rhetoric. I do not doubt Gov Douglass motives but as an outsider looking upon him at the podium I heard borrowed visions and rehashed statements that reflected the mood of the day. I hope that Vermont can become a leader and lead the country and world to an environmentally friendly and stable economy. So where there is a will there is a way and just by chance maybe the Governor and Lt. Governor will whistle the same tune as the Senate and House.

Robb Kidd

“It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.” Winston Churchill


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