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The glass gavel?

Posted May 10, 2007

Much ado has been made recently that House Speaker Gaye Symington isn’t acting like “one of the boys” in her role and is focusing too much on getting policies approved rather than seeking approval from media pundits and political insiders.

More than two decades after Vermont’s first, and only, female governor, the state’s media can’t seem to get away from her hairdo, what she wears, what her husband does, and how she doesn’t play politics like her predecessors.

You would think that in Vermont, this so-called bastion of progressivism and political correctness, that we could come up with some other gauge to determine how well an elected official is doing.

Symington should be commended on her leadership style — Vermonters are getting tired of the slick politicking and word play practiced by Senate Pres. Pro Tem Peter Shumlin, a Democrat, and Republican Gov. Jim Douglas, to name just two. Is it interesting political theater? Yes.

Symington’s mettle showed through during the recent impeachment debate in the House. What former House Speaker would have had the cojones, to bend a metaphor, to face her critics in the well of the House head on? The answer: None of them. They would have, instead, done what Shumlin did — craft a deal late at night and get a measure voted on with no debate, few spectators, and several key members of the chamber absent.

It was an unprecedented reminder of who controls the agenda in the House — Vermonters. Not one person. As Symington likes to note, she wields a gavel, not a crown.

This session will be defined by what the Legislature didn’t do, rather than what it did. Thanks to a solid economy and healthy tax receipts — something politicians have almost nothing to do with — elected officials will be able to walk away saying they were able to provide additional property tax relief.

Symington, if she is to be effective in the long run, will be judged on what policies are put in place as a result of her consensus-building approach. As Speaker she has helped to build a solid majority in the House for her party, but that party — along with its independent and Progressive allies — has failed to deliver on key reforms around funding education and health care.

We believe Symington’s consensus-building approach to policy and politics represents the best of Vermont — regardless of whether you support the content of the policy. She is allowing debate from all sides.

The danger with this approach, however, is that any given policy has no natural supporters because everyone puts in what they like, not what is uncomfortable politically.

We certainly don’t want to see Vermont turn into Washington, but the danger of failure is that more heavy-handed pols will set their sights on the podium.

Delivering the message to DC

Vermont’s rag-tag group of citizens who have successfully been able to get the Vermont Senate to approve a call on Congress to begin impeachment proceedings should be proud of their diligence, persistence, and downright politeness.

Despite impeachment being a divisive, and often distracting, issue, the effort’s most ardent supporters were able to gather nearly 400 people in Montpelier in an effort to urge lawmakers in the House to vote out a resolution. It failed, but the pressure they placed on members in the Senate prevailed.

Now, with their sights on Washington and Vermont’s sole congressman, Rep. Peter Welch, D-VT, impeachment backers hope they can convince him that signing onto an impeachment resolution is the right thing to do. They hope to gather hundreds of people this coming weekend at Hartford High School for an impeachment hearing with Welch presiding.

It’s highly unlikely that Welch will change his mind on this issue. He is adamant that an impeachment debate will solidify Pres. George W. Bush’s support in the GOP at a time when many are beginning to question the Iraq War policy.

Still, perhaps Welch can deliver a message to his fellow Democrats, and the country, that at least some Vermonters would like to see Bush held more than accountable. They’d like to see him on trial and removed from office.

Maybe then someone will heed the call.