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Vermont Guardian

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Take back Vermont

Posted September 29, 2006

Gov. Jim Douglas’ recent foray into congressional politics is a thinly veiled — or perhaps a poorly disguised — attempt to reinvigorate the divisive “Take Back Vermont” mentality of 2000.

“Take Back Vermont” was the mantra of the anti-civil unions contingent and others who wanted to return the state to its more Republican roots, as opposed to the supposed Socialist mecca it had become thanks to the foreign imported values of flatlanders — those anathema to privacy- and property-rights loving “real” Vermonters.

Recent issues raised by Douglas play on those same reactionary-fueled fears:

  • At the tail end of the legislative session, he vetoed a gender anti-discrimination bill, a move many saw as an effort to appease social conservatives who had been disappointed by Douglas.
  • His harangue against wind turbines echoes similar themes of protecting Vermont from out-of-state developers. You know, the people from “away.”
  • Douglas is also focusing on issue of “civil confinement,” a law-and-order proposal that was rejected by the Legislature as possibly unconstitutional, and certainly expensive. Already Vermont spends more on corrections than higher education, and Douglas’ proposal would further exacerbate this imbalance.
  • The latest nerve that Douglas touched was wilderness. In an end run around Vermont’s congressional delegation, the governor pulled a political fast one by contacting Republican leaders in Congress to sidetrack the Vermont Wilderness Act, which had passed the Senate and was likely to do the same in the House.
  • At the same time, he is supporting opponents of the Green Mountain National Forest management plan, which calls for an expansion of wilderness and changes ways in which trees are harvested.

Those comments contradict Douglas’ public position — that he supports expansion of wilderness. That’s because he would like to see little or no expansion in about a half dozen towns opposed to the move. However, most, if not all, of the wilderness expansion is in these towns, and neither the governor nor his administration seems to be able to say where wilderness should be expanded.

Douglas waited until the 11th hour, when political grandstanding is most effective, to pull the rug out from under the legislation. In doing so, he touched off a firestorm, prompting his Democratic opponent, Scudder Parker, to react with a new radio ad decrying the Douglas move as divisive.

It does appear that Douglas is not only attempting to set himself apart from Parker: He is pushing the hot-button issues most likely to divide Vermonters and then tacitly placing himself in the traditionalists’ camp. It’s like a secret sign language to the old Take Back Vermonters: The flame still burns; I’m still one of you.

In 2000, when the Take Back craze had reached a feeding frenzy, the National Review published a similar reassurance to its conservative readers:

“A grassroots campaign to ‘take back Vermont’ has swept across the Green Mountain State — a drive poised, not only to repeal or scale back Vermont’s civil-unions law, but to return the only state with a Socialist representative in Congress to its conservative roots,” it trumpeted.

Douglas is too politically correct, has served too long as governor of so many “aging hippies,” to be so overt. But his agenda is just such a siren song for conservatives in the party who are unhappy with how Douglas and other GOP leaders have cast conservative candidates aside to run moderates in an ever left-leaning state.

Today, Vermont and the nation are divided by war, still suffering the post-traumatic stress of 9/11, polarized by questions on civil liberties and terrorism; rocked by unemployment; racked by taxes; shuddering at the specter of Social Security and health care failures.

A real leader seeks to overcome these differences. A real leader seeks to unite, not to divide.