By Kevin Joseph Ryan
The morning of May 26, Vermont Democrats convened on Barre at the City Auditorium, to choose delegates to attend their National Convention in September in North Carolina and support President Barack Obama to win a second term. Since Obama’s nomination is a foregone conclusion, they also took the opportunity to warn party loyalists of the dangers of allowing Republicans to regain power here in Vermont.
The delegation on the floor of Barre Auditorium that morning appeared smaller than at the Republican Convention, but Democrat Executive Director Julia Barnes told TNR that the party has 603 delegates across the state who were eligible to vote to choose a delegation of 12 to go to North Carolina. Nonetheless, the group appeared no less enthusiastic than their Republican counterparts, and with a sitting President, certainly more unified. That day, the enemy lay across the aisle.
Senator Patrick Leahy began the speeches of the day and noted the irony. “My father was born two blocks from here“, He said. “…At a time when Democrats felt like they were in the witness protection program.”
From there, Vermont’s senior Senator had nothing but praise for President Obama, listing his first-term accomplishments. “He brought the economy back from the brink of disaster…he brought it back and got the economy moving in the right direction. He passed long overdue health care reform… he ended Don’t Ask , Don’t Tell… he brought Osama bin Laden to justice.”
Having established the bona fides of Obama, Leahy went to work on former President Bush and Republicans. “They forgot the deficit came during the eight years of the Bush Administration. The President before left a budget surplus and president bush turned it into the biggest deficit in the Nation’s history. I remember that, and I’m not going to let them rewrite history.”
This is an excellent plan on Leahy’s part, except that recalling history, the budget deficit only increased slightly during most years of the Bush Administration, only accelerating after 2006, when Democrats took over both Houses of Congress. The deficit did balloon under Bush by 5 trillion dollars in eight years from $5.7 trillion to $10.7 trillion dollars. Three years later under Barack Obama, the deficit stands at $15.5 trillion. That could be an issue down the road.
Leahy was followed a bit later in the day by fellow Democratic Congressman Peter Welch, who began promoting the build up to the Vermont State Democratic ticket. “Governor Shumlin has been doing a great job leading the ticket…believe me, the republicans are going to be coming after him.” Welch had an explanation for this, however. “The reason they will be coming after him is because the Vermont model, in fact, is a threat to the national Republican agenda.”
Of that agenda, Welch had this to say: “I’m on the Agricultural Committee…we voted, to basically wipe out food stamps…I mean, you cant make this stuff up!” Indeed, you cannot. Of course, Welch did not refer to the Democrats voting to cut food stamps, but the Republicans, which was true. “Wiping out”, however, might be a bit of hyperbole, as the National House Agriculture Committee, led by Republicans, voted to cut $33 billion dollars in food assistance over ten years, while the Food Stamp program has increased from $40 billion dollars in 2008 to $89 billion dollars in 2012.
Once the warm-up acts had their say, the Convention moved on the star of the day, Governor Peter Shumlin, who vowed, “I make this my solemn promise, we in Vermont, will implement the first single payer health care in America.” The irony of this statement was, after Pat Leahy’s ringing endorsement of Obama, that creating single-payer in Vermont will mean tossing out Obamacare, which does not allow single-payer. Shumlin pressed on, however. “We will be the envy of the rest of the nation. And the rest of the nation will follow Vermont.” In a striking difference from other Democratic governors across the United States, Shumlin plans is refuting Obamacare, rather than embracing it.
Shumlin closed his comments at the convention by critiquing the apparent Republican nominee opposing Obama. Shumlin noted that Romney wants to go back the 1940’s and imperils reproductive rights. “It’s Mitt Romney who recently said he wants to close down all Planned Parenthoods, not just some of them.” CNN has noted that Romney, in fact, never said that, rather Romney intends to defund Planned Parenthood at the Federal level and understands that it would continue with private funding.
Shap Smith (D-Morristown), Vermont’s Speaker of the House addressed the Convention before the Governor did, but reinforced Shumlin’s call for universal health care in the State. Smith said this was necessary because, “We know that if you’re not healthy, you’re not going to be able to be healthy in the workforce, you’re not going be able to do the things that we need as a society.” The Speaker gave advice for Democrats in the upcoming election year. “Talk to our friends and neighbors, and make sure they know the truth, and know what’s good for Vermont.” We will, Shap, we will.
The following were elected National Delegates for the Democrat National Convention in September:
Kesha Ram, Burlington
Carolyn Dwyer, Montpelier
Mary Sullivan, Burlington
Judy Bevans, Craftsbury Commons
Sherry Merrick, Thetford
Martha Allen, Canaan
Matthew Metz, Charlotte
Peter Galbraith, Townshend
Robert Hooper, Burlington
Charles Sweetman, Landgrove
Timothy Briglin, Burlington
Andrew Champagne, Burlington