Commentary – Two Faces of Vermont - 9/01/2018

I would like to take this opportunity to thank those who gave me a vote in the recent primary election. I do not take your support for granted and I appreciate the confidence you place in me to do a good job representing you in Montpelier.

This election contained many surprises not the least of which included the above average turnout.  Almost 24% of Charlotte voters either took advantage of voting early or took the time to vote in person on election day.  Voters showed strong support for Governor Scott in the Republican Party and Christine Hallquist was the overwhelming choice among Democrats.  This speaks well for Vermonters who affirmed polls showing that a strong majority, regardless of party, favors reasonable gun regulations.  It also showed that Vermonters can look past a candidate's gender identity and vote for the person they think will do the best job.  This is Vermont at its best, continuing the tradition of championing civil rights and civil discourse.

Recent events, however, also revealed that there are dark undercurrents to Vermont's facade.  Bennington Representative Kiah Morris, one of our few Black legislators won her primary, but chose a few days later to step down as a result of the racist harassment she and her family have experienced over the last two years, which included threats and online trolling.  Kiah is a strong, intelligent woman and an effective legislator with whom I have had the pleasure of serving and working for the last four years. She was not only a leader, but also a valuable contributor on the Judiciary Committee.  No one should have to endure conditions that make them unable to perform their job or live in fear for their own or their family's safety. I am glad to see that Attorney General TJ Donovan is now investigating this case.

This speaks to the conditions that have led to increased intolerance and divisiveness not only in Vermont but across our nation.  To be sure, bigotry has existed throughout our history and continues in spite of the civil rights movement, the passage of civil unions and subsequently marriage equality, and the election of Barack Obama.  It is our collective responsibility to call bigotry out when confronted by it. What can't be excused is the permission that was explicitly given by the person holding the highest office in the land to a small but significant minority to vent their hateful rhetoric and actions. 

In contrast, our nation just lost one of the beacons of integrity and civility in Washington, Senator John McCain. He spoke courageously in the Senate against the intolerance and divisiveness coming from the top when others in his party would not.  Let us hope that his passing will jog the consciences of his colleagues and encourage them to finally do the same.