Smith: The national mess spills into Vermont

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Smith: The national mess spills into Vermont

Mon, 12/18/2017 - 7:56am -- tim

by Mike Smith Republicans deserve what they got in Alabama last week when voters rejected their candidate for the US Senate, Roy Moore. This Senate seat should have been a slam dunk for Republicans. In Alabama they hadn’t lost a Senate race to a Democrat in over two decades. In fact, they had a candidate in Luther Strange who likely would have won the general election easily, but Moore defeated Strange in the primary.

Republicans decided to run a flawed candidate against Democrat Doug Jones even before sexual misconduct accusations surfaced.

Moore was removed from the state’s Supreme Court for defying judicial orders not once, but twice. He also said Muslims should not be allowed to serve in elective office and that homosexuality should be illegal. He even raised the notion that African-American families were better off under slavery.

And when the accusations of sexual misconduct did surface, many Republicans, including President Donald Trump, continued to support Moore.

Given Moore’s background, Republicans should be thanking their lucky stars that he failed in his bid to become a US senator. The GOP needs to be expanding its political base, not shrinking it.

If national Republicans continue to appeal primarily to white voters, then this country’s changing demographics will eventually put them at a disadvantage. The percentage of whites among all voters is declining. This means Republicans need to appeal to a more diverse population, especially Hispanics and African-Americans.

In addition, Republicans often struggle with winning the support of female voters. A Moore victory certainly would have made that task much more difficult, given the sexual accusations against him.

But this doesn’t mean Democrats should be jumping for joy. They have their problems too. First, they eked out a very narrow victory in Alabama over a very flawed opponent in Moore. They also remain deeply divided as a political party on many of the issues that are important to Americans.

With the congressional midterm elections coming up in 2018 it’s a safe bet that our national politics will get even nastier as the two parties vie for power.

In Washington politics there are no rhetorical boundaries nowadays. Anything goes as you attempt to demonize and destroy the character of an opponent rather than engage in a vigorous political and public policy debate.

Unfortunately we saw some of these tactics spilling over into Vermont recently, reminding us that we are not immune from this style of politics.

The Vermont Democratic Party called former Vermont GOP Chair David Sunderland “a racist and a serial liar” on social media. The executive director of the Democrats, Conor Casey, conceded there is no evidence to support such a claim, telling Seven Days that “maybe calling someone a racist goes a bit far.” And this isn’t the only instance of Vermont Democratic Party officials using inflammatory language to falsely label Sunderland and others.

Sunderland has been referred to as a “scumbag surrogate,” and a member of Governor Phil Scott’s staff has been labeled “dumb” on social media.

Since this was coming from a Twitter account representing the Vermont House Democrats, you would think the leaders of that body, House Speaker Mitzi Johnson and Majority Leader Jill Krowinski, would have immediately spoken out against this style of politics. Eventually Johnson did disavow these tweets, but only days after the media picked up on this story. She told Seven Days, “I don’t approve of the language that was used. I don’t approve of that kind of tone. It’s not how I choose to operate, and I called the party and let them know.”

Johnson wisely decided to confront this issue, although belatedly, because her silence was being interpreted as acceptance.

And here’s the problem with not speaking out sooner: If this is the new boundary line for acceptable political behavior in Vermont — attacking a political opponent with vulgar and false labels — then do politics here really differ from what is going on in Washington, D.C.?

Officials of the Vermont Democratic Party still have not apologized. And they apparently have not disciplined or dismissed the person responsible for making these remarks. This is certainly a troubling sign for the future of Vermont politics.

Mike Smith is a regular columnist for Vermont Business Magazine, vermontbiz.com and VTDigger. He hosts the radio program “Open Mike with Mike Smith” on WDEV 550 AM and 96.1, 96.5, 98.3 and 101.9 FM and is a political analyst for WCAX-TV and WVMT radio. He was the secretary of administration and secretary of human services under former Governor Jim Douglas.