By Shay Totten & Christian Avard | Vermont Guardian
Posted March 7, 2007
If there’s a message from this year’s town meeting, it’s this: Vermonters are upset with Pres. George W. Bush, and less so with school budgets.
Voters in three dozen Vermont towns want Congress to begin an impeachment probe of Pres. George W. Bush and Vice Pres. Dick Cheney. Two towns, Clarendon and Dover, voted the measure down. Nearly a half dozen towns agreed to not take up, or tabled, the resolution.
Only a handful of towns voted down their school budgets, while a wide margin of towns approved them. However, many observers advise caution about reading too much into the passage of school budgets as a sign that Vermonters are happy with the current education funding system, or with rising school budgets.
There are 251 towns in Vermont, but not all hold town meetings in March, and some aren’t large enough even to hold one. Some others vote only at the booths.
Roughly 20 towns passed measures calling for the immediate withdrawal of troops from Iraq, and to care for them when they were back on U.S. soil. Dover also rejected the troop measure.
About two dozen towns had one of the items warned on their town meeting ballot, while many others took up the issue during “other business” at the end of the meeting.
The votes come after a whirlwind, four-day tour of Vermont with antiwar icon Cindy Sheehan and three Vermont Iraq War veterans, along with organizers of the resolutions. Sheehan testified before a state Senate committee on March 2, along with war supporters.
“I’m happy with it. I think we’ve got a very good number of towns that have reported so far and are passing it,” said Jimmy Leas, a South Burlington lawyer who crafted the troop withdrawal resolution.
Newfane Selectman Dan DeWalt is the major organizer of the impeachment resolutions. His effort has drawn global media attention and scorn. Last year, six towns passed impeachment resolutions.
This year, the impeachment resolutions have passed so far in Bristol, Burke, Calais, Craftsbury, Dummerston, East Montpelier, Greensboro, Guilford, Grafton, Hartland, Jamaica, Jericho, Johnson, Marlboro, Middlebury, Montgomery, Morristown, Newbury, Newfane, Peru, Plainfield, Putney, Richmond, Rochester, Roxbury, St. Johnsbury, Springfield, Stannard, Sunderland, Townshend, Tunbridge, Vershire, Warren, Westminster, Wilmington, and Woodbury according to organizers. Organizers based their information on reports from people in each town.
DeWalt said organizers will use these votes to urge state lawmakers to take up a measure in the House calling for Bush’s impeachment. The bill is currently in the House Judiciary Committee.
“This is clearly not a cry of protest, but the start of action — an impeachment insurrection that will lead to the reclamation of our Constitution,” said DeWalt. “Vermonters are angry and energized. We are taking the power that is sovreign in us and will use it to restore the Constitution. We will show the world that America has not sunk to the depths of violent madness that is the Bush administration.”
House Speaker Gaye Symington, D-Jericho, has been lukewarm to the idea of moving an impeachment resolution to the House floor.
“The Legislature has a very short amount of time to do its work and needs to focus its work on the issues most affecting Vermonters — property taxes, health care, and our energy future,” Symington told the Guardian earlier this year. “We have a very limited amount of time dealing with national issues. The Iraq War has a direct impact on Vermonters in terms of the lives lost and the budget pressure that gets pushed onto the property taxes when we’re cutting Medicare, Medicaid, and special education reimbursements.”
And, she added, leaders in Congress have already said they are focusing their energy on other pressing matters.
“I think we should be focusing this energy on the next election cycle,” Symington said.
Several towns voted to not take up the measure: Bakersfield, Londonderry, Dorset, Stamford, and Walden.
Additionally, 20 towns approved a measure calling for troops to be withdrawn from Iraq: Bristol, Calais, Cornwall, Greensboro, Guilford, Hardwick, Jamaica, Jericho, Johnson, Marshfield, Middlebury, Newfane, Peru, Plymouth, Rockingham, Roxbury, St. Johnsbury, Townshend, Waldon, and Woodbury.
According to a Guardian reader, in Pomfret the impeachment resolution was moved under “other business,” but a voter countered with an amendment not to vote on the resolution because many of the town’s residents had already left the meeting. Voters agreed and voted to table the resolution 43 to 28. In this context, the troop resolution was not moved. Supporters of the measure, however, will raise the issue again.
In Middlebury, where Gov. Jim Douglas, a Republican, is the town moderator, voters approved both the impeachment and troop withdrawal measures. Douglas, ironically, was the chairman of Bush’s 2000 election committee and 2004 reelection committee in Vermont.
Ellen McKay, a backer of the impeachment measure, said some members of the Middlebury Selectboard and Douglas tried to limit debate to one minute per person. Douglas also questioned whether something that was not warned should warrant a vote.
“But, there were a lot of people in Middlebury who understood what other business was going to mean and this is a huge issue for our community,” said McKay, who says the Iraq War, proportionally, has cost Middlebury $8 million to fund the war.
In Dover, the impeachment topic sparked a heated debate.
“I do not want my senators or representatives for the next two years trying to bring down this president. I want them to focus on bringing the best possible outcome to the chaos that is now in Iraq,” said Laura Sabilia, a school board member and sister of four brothers currently in the armed forces. Sabilia trembled as she spoke, and at times had tears running down her face. “I do not believe that demanding that our troops come home now will help and I will not debate this with anyone.”
A supporter countered that the impeachment resolution wasn’t about the war, but the Constitution.
“We have to stand up and respect the Constitution that our [founding fathers] stand for. Our troops will not come home during their time in office, and as far as impeachment goes, it only means they are investigated and whatever happens of it will happen,” said Sue Rand. “It’s not about removing Bush and Cheney but investigating.”
Gloria Levine, the person who brought up the resolutions up at town meeting, was dumfounded by the rejection.
“I’m not disappointed, I’m just absolutely dumbfounded at how the things said today came in light of the facts that nine more military personnel were killed in Iraq,” said Levine.
In Jericho, home of Symington, who is not supportive of the impeachment measure, voters approved the impeachment resolution 88-67, as well as the troop withdrawal measure.
Leas, and other backers, hope the impeachment and troop withdrawal measures will help to focus Vermont’s congressional delegation on ending the war, and investigating Bush and Cheney for what they believe were deliberate lies to get the nation into the war.
“This war is going to continue for another year or two years if this funding request is approved, and we don’t have confidence that [Congress] will vote to end the war,” said Leas. “It’s time for the people to get involved and the people have to push what may not be on their agenda — that’s our leadership.”
The Vermont Legislature recently approved measures in both the House and Senate calling for an immediate and orderly withdrawal of troops from Iraq.
In Stamford, voters tabled both articles. Helen Fields, a co-organizer of the Stamford effort to get the resolutions on the warning, was disappointed, but hopes to bring the issue up again in the near future.
“We have parents in our town with [sons in Baghdad] that are at risk, so our town has a lot of people that very much want this war to be over and don’t quite understand why their children’s lives are at stake,” said Fields. “It’s hard for me to say that this vote was a vote for or against the articles. I think this vote was for or against discussion on a very debatable topic. People have very strong feelings whether or not the president should be impeached and we have very strong feelings about pulling out of a war that many soldiers and soldiers’ families have made the ultimate sacrifices for.”
Keeping town meeting alive
While many lawmakers, and other interested parties, are paying close attention to whether school budgets are passed, others are watching whether communities choose what is known as Australian balloting over traditional floor discussion and votes.
Susan Clark, co-author of All Those in Favor — an overview of town meeting in Vermont — along with Frank Bryan, said several towns took up the issue of ballots versus floor votes this year.
Tinmouth, which voted in November by one vote to move to secret balloting, took up the issue again at their annual meeting and voters opted to end the practice of voting budgets from the floor.
However, in Shoreham, voters rejected a move to vote their town budget in secret by a 86-6 tally and also agreed to vote next year’s school budget from the floor, 24-15. Shoreham had been voting on its school budgets via secret ballots for more than 20 years.
Rep. Will Stevens, I-Shoreham, the town’s moderator, said the discussion was lively during the town meeting, and one woman carried that over into the school meeting. “She basically didn’t think it was fair that the town votes on one budget one way, and then the school budget another,” he said.
“The message to me as moderator was that people want the discussion and access to the information when they vote, and possibly get to amend items,” said Stevens. “This will mean my job will be more challenging next year, but it may also be more rewarding.”
Clark, who is a strong advocate for floor votes, said the Shoreham vote may be unique.
“That might be a first,” said Clark, who lives in Middlesex and was looking forward to a heated debate on the issue in her town meeting.
The issue has been such a hot topic that both sides have been mailing information directly to voters and even putting up lawn signs.
In the end, however, Middlesex voters overwhelmingly rejected a proposal to move away from a floor vote and discussion to all-day, secret balloting.
Odds & ends
Both Burlington and Lincoln voters were asked to call on Congress to empanel a new investigation of the 9/11 attacks. The measure passed in Lincoln by a 38-17 tally.
Burlington voters rejected, by a two to one margin, a similar measure. Of those voting, 64 percent said no, and 36 percent said yes.
“I think the numbers show that this is not a fringe issue, and that a growing number of people want to see a true investigation of what happened on 9/11,” said Doug Dunbebin of Vermonters for a Real 9/11 Investigation.
He said the group would still work to lobby Vermont’s congressional delegation to call for an investigation of 9/11.
Also in Burlington, Hillary Weeks became the first member of the Green Party elected to office in Vermont. Weeks, an organic farmer, ran unopposed for a three-year term as an inspector of elections in the city’s Ward 3.
She is also the first female Green Party member elected to office in Vermont.