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Voting for change

Posted November 10, 2006

There was much to be made, both nationally and in Vermont, that a vote for [insert candidate’s name here] was a vote for change in the way business is done in Washington.

While greater miracles have happened, even changing the party in control in Washington isn’t likely to usher in, overnight, wholesale changes to the occupation of Iraq, secret spying and detention programs, and deficit spending.

Bringing about an immediate withdrawal of troops in Iraq — despite the call for just such a move from soldiers themselves — is not likely to happen. Instead, there will be endless debate over getting out “as soon as possible.” This means hundreds more U.S. troop and tens of thousands of Iraqi deaths.

For the voters who sincerely believed that a vote for their candidate meant a vote for change, we say — this is a good start. But, the real change has to come from you, not a candidate or a party.

For you, however, comes the hard part. The same energy and vigor with which you got to the polls, filled out the proper circles and fed the ballot into the ballot box (or Diebold scanner) now must be carried on throughout the next two years to make sure you hold him or her accountable for the promises they made, and that they live up to the ideals that fueled your decision at the polls.

It’s easy to become discouraged in today’s world of the 24-hour punditocracy and a media that seems to jump from one salacious event to the next without taking on issues of substance, or delving much deeper than dueling sound bites. And, sound bites and themes like “cut and run,” “shock and awe,” and “clean and clear” have come to be short, digestible nuggets to explain complex policies, or in some cases they offer an Orwellian meaning.

Still, with new faces in Congress, and in the state Legislature, now is the time to let them know that you’re watching, you’re engaged, and you’re not going to let them slide.

Too often, we think that all those debates, one-on-one conversations, letters to the editor, and rhetoric actually register with party leaders and candidates. Some are better than others at listening, but the conversation doesn’t end with the elections.

To find their courage to move the country in a new direction, leaders in Congress should not take their lead from their consultants, polls, or by following the opposite path of the administration. No, that courage will have to come from you.

So, what are you waiting for?

How low can they go?

Recent news that one of the nation’s largest prison health care providers, Prison Health Services (PHS), is backing out of its three-year contract with Vermont should be a wake-up call to the Douglas administration.

Under pressure two years ago to improve the care it delivered to inmates, because the provider’s poor care at the time was linked to several deaths, Douglas et al took the lowest bidder.

Now, that lowest bidder finds that it can’t make money off the contract and lost $1 million in the past three months, and it’s facing hundreds of thousands of dollars in penalties for not properly staffing many of the prisons.

A similar scenario occurred in Florida this year, too. Less than a year ago, PHS was the low bidder on a 10-year, $645 million contract. But, it was losing money — about $1.3 million in the past financial quarter — and facing fines of more than $700,000.

So, what did it do? It backed out of the contract and then bid on the new contract. And, it won, adding more than $60 million to the original price tag. And, they got the award without having to pay the penalties from the last contract, and even though they were not the lowest bidder (they were second lowest).

Vermont officials should be wary of any gamesmanship from PHS to simply try and win the contract by making too low a bid, and then trying to extort money from us later on.

If nothing else, this should also send a clear signal that the old adage, “You get what you pay for,” holds true for prison contracts.