Bernie Sanders

Bernie Sanders

2012 Election Results

2012 was a great year for the Vermont Progressive Party.

In November, while Republicans lost seats, every Progressive incumbent was reelected: the four members of the Vermont House who ran for reelection and the two members of the Vermont Senate.

We added one new Vermont House member (Cindy Weed of Enosburg, who beat a Republican incumbent) and one new Vermont Senate member (David Zuckerman, who came in 4th in the six-seat Chittenden County district).  Now there are three Progressives in the Vermont Senate and seven Republicans.
We also elected the first Progressive to a statewide office ever (not counting Senator Bernie Sanders, who runs as an Independent): Doug Hoffer was elected Vermont Auditor of Accounts as a D/P.  Doug is clearly a Progressive in all the ways that matter.  So now in Vermont we have one Republican in statewide office and one Progressive.

In the Lieutenant Governor’s race, Cassandra Gekas got 41 percent of the vote against incumbent Phil Scott.  She received more votes than Republican Randy Brock got in the Governor’s race, despite spending a fraction of what he spent in that race.  Cass ran a great campaign and impressed everyone who heard her at a forum or rally.  She articulated a clear Progressive vision for Vermont’s future.

And then there is Ed Stanak.  “Don't panic; Vote Stanak” was his radio ad tagline.  Ed didn't start running until after the Primary Election because so many of his friends in Labor had backed TJ Donovan.  With Bill Sorrell winning the primary, Ed went to work articulating a simple, but powerful, platform to hold Wall Street accountable, close Vermont Yankee, and more.  In the end, Ed finished with 6 percent of the vote, enough to qualify us for Major Party status (as did Cass Gekas' results).

Don Schramm held the Progressive banner high in the State Treasurer’s race, after we attempted to persuade Beth Pearce, the Democratic candidate, to talk about the reasons Vermont would like to end our association with Wall Street banks.  Don promoted the concept of a Vermont State Bank, and explained the many reasons why Vermont’s economy would benefit from such a move.

It’s clear that the Vermont Progressive Party, the most successful ‘third party’ in the country, continued to grow in 2012, even as the Vermont Republican Party continued its decline.   Together, we are standing up against the corporate interests so prevalent in the other political parties – and we are winning.

Pragmatism or Purity: Is "Fusion" Good for the Progressive Party?

September 26, 2012; Seven Days; Kevin Kelley

It’s unquestionable that the existence of the Progressive Party over the past decades has had a huge impact on policy in Vermont.

Read the full article >>

Out of the Margins, Into the Fray

May 3, 2012; In These Times; Steve Early

The Vermont Progressive Party wields outsized influence on state politics.

In this presidential election year, millions of voters find themselves caught, once again, between a Republican rock and a Democratic hard place. Because of the primacy of the two-party system, only major party candidates have the funding, organization and media visibility to be competitive in most federal, state and local elections. As a result, Greens or other minor party standard bearers are almost never elected to public office. (A hundred years ago, things were different when thousands of Socialists successfully ran for municipal office.)

One state where left-leaning voters do have greater choice today – and their own political voice – is Vermont. Thanks to several decades of persistent organizing, the Vermont Progressive Party (VPP) now boasts seven members in the legislature – two senators (out of 30) and five representatives (out of 150) in the House (some of whom affiliate with the Democratic Party as well). Since Vermonters sent the first “Prog” to Montpelier in 1990, 16 have served a total of 48 legislative terms in the state capitol. Progressives have introduced legislation, served on key committees and played a catalytic role in public policy formation.

Despite the VPP’s recent loss of Burlington City Hall, where a Democrat was just elected mayor for the first time since the late 1970s, the party retains three city council seats (out of 14) in Vermont’s largest municipality. Over the years, more than 29 VPP members have served as part of the Progressive bloc on the council. One newly-elected member is Burlington Department of Public Works commissioner Max Tracy, a 25-year-old former student activist at the University of Vermont, long involved in organizing campus workers. He won in the city’s Old North End section by campaigning for living wage jobs, affordable housing, a sustainable transportation system and support for local farmers and gardeners.

In similar fashion, Progressives running in nonpartisan races in small towns serve on local school committees, select boards and community planning bodies. Plus, they turn out on Town Meeting Day to help pass resolutions in favor of issues like tax reform and overturning the Supreme Court’s pro-corporate decision in Citizens United – both the subject of town meeting action in 70 Vermont communities in March. While never formally aligned with the party himself, Vermont’s socialist U.S. senator, Bernie Sanders, has backed some VPP candidates for state and local office, while VPP activists have, in turn, been his most ardent supporters in past statewide races.

Taking a leaf from Sanders’ singular 30-year career – as Burlington mayor, then Vermont’s lone congressman, and now junior senator, the Progressives have distinguished themselves from their Democratic competitors by focusing, in populist fashion, on economic issues. In areas of the state where working-class voters might otherwise be swayed by cultural conservatism or residual rural Republicanism, the VPP has, like Sanders, won elections by campaigning for labor rights, fair taxes and single-payer healthcare far more consistently than the Democrats. The party’s statement of principles has a distinct tinge of Occupy. “Democracy,” it declares, “requires empowering people not only in government but also in the workplace, schools, and in the overall economy. Society’s wealth should not be concentrated in the hands of a few, and a wealthy minority should not control the conditions under which we live.”

Healthy competition

One measure of the Progressive impact on public policy is the preliminary steps that Vermont took last year to create a first-in-the-nation single-payer healthcare system – though this achievement may still be thwarted, due to business opposition during a complicated multi-year implementation process or any intervening loss of Democratic Party control over the legislature or governor’s office.

In coordination with a strong grassroots movement, both Sanders and the VPP continued to make single-payer a central political issue, keeping the pressure on local Democrats. Current Gov. Peter Shumlin’s previous bid for statewide office – a run for lieutenant governor in 2002 – ended in defeat when Progressive Anthony Pollina, a strong single-payer advocate and now a state senator, received 25 percent of the vote.

Determined to avoid that fate again, Shumlin, a millionaire businessman and former Senate president, tacked left on healthcare reform in the 2010 Democratic gubernatorial primary and the general election. He narrowly won the five-way primary and then, with no Prog in the race, defeated Republican Brian Dubie by a 2-percent margin after getting much-needed help from Sanders with last-minute working-class voter turnout. With a Democratic-Progressive majority in both houses of the legislature, Shumlin followed through on his campaign pledge to introduce a single-payer plan and make its passage a top priority of his administration last year.

“We have a homeopathic role in the Vermont body politic,” says Ellen David-Friedman, a former organizer for the Vermont-National Education Association (NEA) and longtime Progressive Party activist. “We’ve managed to create enough of an electoral pole outside of the Democrats to constantly pull them to the left on policy issues, by dispensing an alternative brand of medicine that’s become increasingly popular.”

To maintain its “major party” status under Vermont law, the VPP must field a candidate every two years who garners at least 5 percent of the statewide vote. Progressives rarely perform better in statewide races than Martha Abbott, a tax accountant from Underhill, who received 12 percent in her 2008 campaign for state auditor. To boost its win rate, the party has lately focused on recruiting and supporting viable contenders for legislative seats. “Our strategy of both challenging and working with Democrats … makes us somewhat unique,” says Abbott, who was re-elected VPP chair at a lively party conference in Montpelier in November 2011.

Small is beautiful

With a population of 626,000 people, Vermont has electoral constituencies small enough for people with progressive ideas to canvass door-to-door, meet nearly every voter and drum up enough campaign contributions to be competitive. House member Chris Pearson, who specializes in tax and budget issues for the VPP, represents one of the state’s larger multi-seat districts; he only had to raise $12,000 for his last election campaign.

Some VPP legislative candidates have, like Pollina, campaigned with the “D/P” label – a form of de facto cross endorsement achieved after running successfully in a Democratic primary. (Six of the seven Progs in the state legislature are D/Ps.) Where possible, other Progressives have also sought Sanders-like accommodations with Democrats in races where a strong general election showing by two left-of-center candidates would guarantee Republican victory. Several VPP legislators, including state Rep. Susan Hatch Davis, actually represent districts where their main competition comes from GOP nominees; local Democrats are, in effect, the “third party.”

The VPP’s politically savvy and flexible approach has helped it struggle against what Executive Director Morgan Daybell calls “the negative perception of third parties in general.” In contrast, local Greens and what’s left of the Liberty Union Party in Vermont – Bernie Sanders’ original political home in the 1970s – have not suffered the fate of most left-wing parties elsewhere (i.e. being presentable but marginal at best, ideologically pure, or just plain eccentric, with little to show, organizationally, for any single-digit share of the vote they garner).

The Progressive Caucus at work

On a recent visit to Montpelier I found Pollina making his presence felt under the gilded dome of the state capitol building. A longtime advocate for farmers, tax justice and campaign finance reform, Pollina joined Sen. Tim Ashe (D/P) in the state Senate two years ago. In the current legislative session, Pollina has been promoting the idea of a state bank, a bill requiring Vermont to “hire and buy local” (when contracting for state services) and a budget-related survey of poverty and income inequality.

Elsewhere in the same building, Rep. Pearson huddled with Reps. Mollie Burke and Sarah Edwards at the weekly meeting where VPP members of the House gather to share information and coordinate legislative strategy. Burke and Edwards are both from the Brattleboro area and are engaged with environmental and public health issues related to decommissioning the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant in their corner of the state.

On this particular mid-March day, Vermont unions, strongly supported by the VPP, were working to overcome Democratic reluctance to grant collective bargaining rights to publicly-funded “early childhood educators” who provide home day care. Hoping to win further organizational endorsements, donations and support – from the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the Vermont-NEA and Vermont State Employees Association (VSEA) unions, along with the AFL-CIO – the VPP has strongly supported the AFT’s child-care organizing campaign. Progressives have also defended VSEA members against public criticism by Gov. Shumlin during a dispute about state worker contract enforcement last year.

In White River Junction and other communities, Windsor County Party Chair Liz Blum and several elected local VPP officials are now working with the Vermont Workers Center and local Occupy activists to fight contraction of the U.S. Postal Service, which would eliminate several hundred union jobs and adversely affect mail delivery in the state.

As Blum explains, these “cuts would be devastating for elderly, rural and low-income Vermonters who depend on the reliability and affordability of the mail, and for whom the post office functions as a social link. It’s often the place where people interact with neighbors, petition for ballot measures and swap news, the kind of space that’s made small-town Vermont so famously democratic.” Such nonelectoral activity on behalf of a key labor and community cause barely registers on the radar screen of Vermont Democrats.

Vermont State Labor Council Secretary-Treasurer Traven Leyshon, who also serves on the VPP’s state coordinating committee, says, “Local labor leaders are now willing to support Progressive candidates over Democrats – when they’re credible – because of such pro-labor stances.” In some cases, he said, rank-and-filers have had to overrule the safer, more conservative candidate endorsements favored by their own union lobbyists and political directors.

This small insurgency from below, in Vermont’s public sector-oriented labor movement, mirrors the VPP’s own trajectory in state politics. In a fashion that one hopes will not be the exception, Progressives have moved from the margins to Montpelier, from also-ran status to an influential role in state and local government. If there were more Left partying like that in other states, at least one of the two major parties might feel greater pressure to behave better.

White River Junction Sorting Plant To Close

February 23, 2012; WPTZ; David Charns

WHITE RIVER JUNCTION, Vt. -- The United States Postal Service will go ahead with its plans to consolidate processing centers across the country and close its sorting facility in White River Junction.

The agency will move the mail processing center’s operations to Manchester, N.H., and Burlington, workers were told Wednesday night at a meeting.

Plattsburgh’s processing center will also close.

“We don’t understand why they are taking the service out of the Postal Service in Vermont,” said Bill Creamer, the local branch president for the National Postal Mail Handlers Union based in White River Junction. He works as a fork-lift operator.

“People are going to lose their mail service, there’s no doubt about it,” Creamer said. “Overnight service is going to be gone when they shutter the doors of my plant, and two-day service I don’t think is a reality.”

The change comes as the Postal Service tries to cut $20 billion from its operating costs by consolidating facilities across the country. First Class mail volume has decreased by 25 percent since 2006, the agency said.

Closing the White River Junction processing center would save about $8 million a year, a postal service study said.

“The Postal Service must continually look to improve productivity and increase efficiency while maintaining excellent service,” USPS Northern New England District manager Deborah Essler said in a statement. “The decline in mail volume and revenues due to the economic downturn has only heightened the need for such improvements.”

The improvement for the service means laying off nearly 100,000 employees, one of which could be Creamer, a 24-year veteran of the USPS, and his wife.

“My people at the plant will probably get letters in the next few months saying they're going to lose their jobs,” Creamer said, adding the Postal Service must give a 60-day notice to employees.

“There isn’t anywhere to put all of these people,” Creamer said. “The fact of the matter is, there’s going to be a lot of people without jobs.”

In a study released last year, the Postal Service said if the facility were to close, 51 jobs would be lost. Wednesday night, those looking to retire or work elsewhere were directed to a human resources website, though the incentives for them haven't been announced.

The Postal Service has previously said it will try to reassign workers at a closing plant nearby locations.

“For those people who are offered those jobs, they’re probably going to be offered jobs well out of the area, away from their families, and they’re probably not going to be able to take those jobs,” Creamer said.

The potential closure of the facility has received strong opposition from the community. At a public meeting held Jan. 4, hundreds of people packed into the American Legion to hear from USPS officials and voice their opinion. It was the highest turnout for potential closure facilities across the country, Creamer said.

“People are scared and they are angry because the White River Junction facility is one of the most productive facilities in New England,” Creamer said. “We’re not exactly sure why we’ve been targeted. We know that when they close our facility that delivery standards are going to be reduced.”

The proposed consolidation would change the First-Class Mail delivery standard to two to three days. A letter sent from Woodstock, Vt., to White River Junction would have to pass through Burlington or Manchester before heading back to the Upper Valley, Creamer said.

“The Pony Express was faster,” he said. “When the Stage Coach Line ran through here in the 1800s, mail was faster than it will be under this new proposal. If you do not have a plant here in the Connecticut River Valley -- we are at the main arteries for the State of Vermont and we handle all of the towns along the Connecticut River up to the Canadian Border -- if we’re not here, there’s not going to be overnight delivery.”

Norwich Town Lister Liz Blum expects the closure to hurt the local economy.

“There's a total ripple effect,” Blum said. “People who work there are paying mortgages, they are buying food they're shopping here. This is a time in the economy that's very fragile.”

Blum also said next-day or overnight service has become standard in society, even with electronic transactions.

“I get checks in the mail, and I need to mail checks,” she said. “I can get late fees if they’re not delivered the next day.”

Contractors who work through the facility would also lose their jobs, Creamer said.

“There are a lot of people scared they're going to lose their jobs, their homes and end up unemployed,” he said. “I’m very confused and I’m worried. I don’t know what I’d do with my own house in this market. I don’t know if I would be able to commute somewhere else if they offered me a job and I don’t know if they are going to offer me a job.”

Creamer, and some members of Congress, have said the agency is bankrupting itself through a government-mandated retirement fund. The agency must pay $5.5 billion a year in pre-payments for future retirement and health benefits, he said.

“This money is going into a fund for people who haven't even been born yet, much less that will ever work for the Postal Service,” he said.

In a joint statement, Vermont’s congressional delegation and Gov. Peter Shumlin, D-Vt., said they were “extremely disturbed” by the decision.

“We in Vermont are working with others in Congress on an alternative plan which will financially stabilize the Postal Service without counterproductive cuts in processing plants or slowing down mail delivery service,” the statement said. “Our goal is to also protect most of the rural post offices that the Postal Service wants to eliminate, which are important to community life.”

Regarding the retirement fund, the congressional delegation said, “According to the Postal Service inspector general, those payments are no longer necessary because of the $45 billion which that account already has accumulated.”

Because of a congressional moratorium, the plant wouldn’t be able to close until mid-May.

For Creamer, having first heard of a potential closure in December to Thursday’s announcement has put a burden on himself and his colleagues.

“It's just there are so many unknowns right now,” he said. “We have no idea.”

Postal Service Will Close Sorting Plant in White River Junction

February 23, 2012, Valley News, Alex Hanson

White River Junction -- The U.S. Postal Service will carry on with its plan to close the mail sorting facility here, workers were told last night.

A regional Postal Service manager read a statement and played a video address from Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe, said William Creamer Jr., president of Local 301 of the National Postal Mail Handlers Union.

“People are real upset,” Creamer said in a phone interview last night. “We've been hearing rumblings for over a week that he was going to do this. …We thought it might be coming.”

Creamer predicted that individual workers would receive notice that their jobs were being cut or reassigned to other facilities by March 15.

The White River Junction plant, which employs 245 people, was one of eight plants around New England that received such notices yesterday, Creamer said. Mail currently sorted in the Upper Valley would instead be routed through Manchester and Burlington.

A ninth New England plant, in Brockton, Mass., is still being considered for closing.

The plant closings are part of a national plan to close as many as 252 processing plants affecting more than 100,000 jobs. The Postal Service is supported through its own revenue rather than through taxpayer support, and has been struggling to balance its books as use of its services declines.

Donahoe signaled that such an announcement might be imminent with a Feb. 17 announcement of an update to the service's business plan. He restated his emphasis on “aggressive cost cutting” to right the service's finances. The service owes an estimated $12.9 billion to the U.S. Treasury to cover employee retirement.

Yesterday's announcement set off a flurry of activity. No plant closings will happen before May 15, under a moratorium approved by Congress designed to give lawmakers time to work out a comprehensive plan to address the Postal Service's deficits.

But the Postal Service completed its study of “area mail processing” and facility consolidation. The announcement at the White River Junction plan last night was essentially a notification to employees of the study results.

“(Donahoe) doesn't believe that Congress is going to do anything to fix the situation,” Creamer said. “We have to wait and see. There's still time for Congress to act.”

In a statement, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., said he was “extremely disturbed that the Postal Service announced its intention to continue with its original plan to close the processing plant at White River Junction.

“The truth is that many of us in the Senate are working on an alternative plan, which will financially stabilize the Postal Service without making cuts in processing plants,” Sanders said.

“The weakness of the Postal Service statement is that it ignores the onerous burden being placed on the Postal Service by $5.5 billion a year in pre-payments for future retiree health benefits. And that is an issue that many of my Senate colleagues understand and intend to address.

“The fight continues. I am pleased that the processing plant in Essex Junction was spared and what I will tell you loudly and clearly is that the rest of the delegation and I will do all that we can to try and keep the White River Junction processing plant open as well.”

The plant closing is also contingent upon a proposal to revise existing service standards.

With fewer mail-sorting facilities, the Postal Service will no longer be able to provide next-day delivery of first-class mail, long a hallmark of the service.

In addition, Donahoe's cost-cutting plan calls for ending Saturday service and closing thousands of individual, mostly rural post offices.

“The Postal Service isn't going to be able to survive this,” Creamer said. Each time service declines, more customers walk away, he said.

“At this point, I think Congress needs to intervene and save the Postal Service from itself,” he added.

Effort builds to curb corporate political spending

November 27, 2011, Times Argus, Thatcher Moats

MONTPELIER - It has been nearly two years since the U.S. Supreme Court issued its landmark decision in the Citizens United case, giving corporations the right to spend unlimited amounts of money from their coffers to try to influence elections.

During that span of time, opponents of the decision haven't faded away. Instead, the energy from the Occupy Wall Street movement - which revolves largely around opposition to the sway that monied Americans and corporations hold over government - may be adding momentum for a renewed push against corporate campaign spending.

But when the highest court in the land issues a ruling you disagree with, what can you do?

That question is the subject of a public forum and panel discussion in Montpelier this Tuesday that will feature law professors; the former Green Party presidential candidate David Cobb; and the founders of Ben & Jerry's ice cream, Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield.

"This free and open-to-the-public event seeks to kick-start a statewide conversation about avenues Vermont citizens and officials can pursue to overturn the U.S. Supreme Court's controversial and flawed ruling," according to a news release announcing the event.

The public forum is one instance of Vermonters and others around the country trying to keep the movement against Citizens United alive, but there are numerous other examples.

Rep. Chris Pearson, a Burlington Progressive, expects to introduce legislation in Montpelier next year that would create new disclosure requirements for major donors who have backed political advertisements.

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