By David Van Deusen
This article originally appears in Green Mountain Daily.
Progressives Make Gains
Respectable Showing For Liberty Union Socialists
Radical-Capitalist Libertarians Fall Flat
Thus far, one of the more interesting aspects of the 2014 Vermont election was the relative strength of the Progressive Party & and the respectable showings of the Vermont Liberty Union Party. The Democratic Party, in a year that saw record low turnout (43.7%), had a net loss of eleven in the VT House, and two in the VT Senate (and a surprisingly close contest for Governor). Even so, and even with voting patterns seemingly favoring the right, the Democrats retained a commanding lead in both the VT House and VT Senate. And while the Republicans made some gains (small in the big political scheme of things) the further left also did better than traditional election logic would seem to allow for.
The Progressive Party (who are essentially social-democrats and who firmly support single payer healthcare) saw a net gain in the Legislature (from eight to ten -seven in the House, three in the Senate). This marks the Party’s highest numbers in the General Assembly since its inception. The Progs, the most successful third party in the nation, also had respectable showings in a number of statewide races (LT Gov: Corren 35.81%, Treasurer: Schramm 17.64%, Secretary of State: Eastwood 14.71%). The Progressive backed candidate for Auditor (Doug Hoffer who, like Dean Corren, also had the Democratic nomination) saw returns that rival those witnessed in Banana Republics; 99.02% (Doug also ran unopposed).
The Liberty Union Party (which is aligned with the Socialist Party USA, and who represent a far left, squarely anti-capitalist political perspective) also did surprisingly well in their defeat. In fact this may be their best election (not including the few instances where they won an isolated municipal race) for the Party in their 40+ year history. The Liberty Union, although not winning any contest, received 7.94% for Treasurer (Murray Ngoima), 10.28% for Secretary of State (Mary Alice Herbert), and 3.95% for Attorney General (Rosemary Jackowski). In the Secretary of State contest, it is not surprising that they were uncompetitive with the Democratic nominee (and landslide winner) Jim Condos (74.57%), but it is almost shocking that they reached double digits and were competitive with the second place Progressive Party candidate (Ben Eastwood). Beyond the statewide contests, the Liberty Union also captured 14.07% of the vote for Grand Island State Senate (Ben Bosley). Their two candidates for Windham County State Senate, Jerry Levy & Aaron Diamondstone received a respectable 5% & 4.63%. Not as impressive (but still better than past lows) was their 0.92% or 1,757 votes for Governor (Peter Diamondstone), their 1.74% or 3307 votes for Lt Gov (Brown), & their 1.52% or 2948 votes for US Representative (Andrews). What was impressive was that some LU candidates, such as Andrews, more actively campaigned on their ideas [something that the LU has not done much of in many years]. Perhaps the Liberty Union’s relatively meaningful performance will inspire the Progressive Party to suggest an accommodation with the Party? The fact that the Liberty Union did not run a candidate for Auditor (against Hoffer) may have been an act of good faith offered from one aspect of the electoral left to another. Or perhaps they simply could not recruit a candidate. Regardless, in a tight race, a few percentage points can be the difference between winning and losing. Splitting the third party left vote seems something less than desirable if a goal is to win. But then again, the Liberty Union cannot be accused of ever making a fetish of winning.
On the opposite side of the ‘third party’ equation, the Vermont Libertarian Party, despite relatively good media attention, articulate performances by Feliciano in the Governor’s debates, and a political buzz, failed to win major party status (which, among other things requires that one or more candidate receive 5% or better in a statewide race). The Party’s standard bearer (and only statewide candidate), Feliciano, gave voice to a free market capitalist alternative for Vermont, and ended up with 4.34% of the vote. While 4.34% marks the best statewide showing for a Libertarian candidate to date, it failed to be a breakthrough year. In the fourteen other races it took part in, like the Liberty Union Party, it failed to win any, and it finished last in each. Given the low turnout, given that the participating electorate in this given year should have leaned more Republican and more conservative (ie older voters who tend to participate in off years, those motivated by distrust of pending government healthcare, etc.), it does not appear likely that the Libertarians will emerge as a meaningful political force in Vermont for the foreseeable future. Clearly Vermont is not ready to catapult from the most progressive state in the nation, to the most free market based in the nation.
Low turnout elections statistically favor the right. This was a very low turnout year (the lowest ever). The right (specifically the Republican Party) made some small gains. The further right (the Libertarians) failed to capitalize. On the left, the Democrats, perception aside, largely held the line. The Progressives made gains. The Liberty Union did better than expected. If this is the low water mark for voter participation, despite the discussions to the contrary, this would seem to signal looming trouble for the Republicans (and Libertarians) in 2016. Come 2016 voter turnout will likely be 60-70% due to a Presidential contest. If this is the best that the right wing can muster in Vermont, it is a storm easily weathered. The trick for the left is not to let a few noises in the woods spook them away from the path of real reform. Kill single payer, and kill new attempts at expanding workers’ rights, and come the next midterm election, perhaps more than half the people will once again choose to stay home. And if the Democrats do not want to see their numbers erode further, perhaps they should implement such reforms now, instead of passing bills that achieve them at some point in the future (Renewable Energy: 2050, $10.50 Minimum Wage: 2018, Single Payer: 2017). In brief, people need to see improvements now. If not, maybe those who do vote in the next midterm election will continue to move in new directions.