Success is not all it’s cracked up to be.
In politics success happens when your party wins the majority and so gains the power to enact long-sought-after goals. The trouble begins when the winning party achieves a majority so great that it can’t hold itself together, fracturing into bitterly divided groups for whom victory remains elusive.
The Democrats are experiencing some of that fracturing this year as they take up bills representing priorities that have been at the top of the Democratic agenda for years. The divisions in the Legislature this year have mainly been among liberals of varying descriptions, with Republicans taking part as they can.
Given the range of issues grabbing attention this year, it is hard to label the factions within the Legislature. There are liberals and Progressives and pragmatists and moderates, but how they come down on a given issue has been unpredictable. In some instances the House has tended to side with individuals and individual rights against the power of the state. Is that a liberal position or a libertarian one? In other cases the Senate has been riding a populist wave and the House has been more cautious about challenging the interests of the business community. And yet the populist wave has swept up conservatives as well as liberals — just as the Tea Party and the Occupy movement represent conservative and liberal sides of a common coin.
On the question of individual rights, the Democrats in the House have been more reluctant than their colleagues in the Senate to endorse the erosion or limitation of rights. These rights include the right of parents not to vaccinate their children, the right of people to request help in dying, the right of privacy with regard to medical records.
In these cases, senators have seen the need for the state to limit rights. There is a public interest in bolstering vaccination rates, according to the Senate, even if it means limiting a parent’s right to exempt his or her child from a vaccination requirement. The Senate was also willing to allow police access, without a warrant, to prescription drug records. Civil libertarians have said it is important not to allow the right to privacy to be eroded further and that a warrant is an important, constitutional safeguard.
Interestingly, a report issued this week called into question the state’s assertion that the state is suffering an “epidemic” of prescription drug abuse, showing that use has actually tailed off in recent years. These numbers appeared to surprise Sen. Richard Sears, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, who has pushed the bill allowing police to peruse a prescription drug database without a warrant.
But if the House has been a bastion of civil liberties, it has also been a defender of institutional interests, sidetracking the effort to challenge the merger of Green Mountain Power and Central Vermont Public Service. It has also watered down an energy bill that would have mandated a fixed percentage of renewable energy, with the potential for costing big corporations, such as IBM, a lot of money. In the Senate, Democrats have not been so solicitous of corporations.
Many of the divisions that have cropped up among Democrats have been personal, especially in the Senate, where a rambunctious caucus of Democrats has challenged the ability of Sen. John Campbell, president pro tempore, to maintain decorum and order.
An unusual degree of ill will appears to have arisen from the differences among Democrats in the Senate, and there is already speculation about who might seek the Senate leadership post next year to replace Campbell. Some of the not so young Turks who have asserted themselves this year appear unconcerned about the effects of their action, shrugging their shoulders and saying, well, rules sometimes have to be broken.
Ill will on the floor of the Senate led to a Cheneyesque bit of name-calling on the part of Campbell, directed toward Sen. Dick McCormack. McCormack was not amused. Democrats on the whole are less than amused by how hard it has been to pull together in pursuit of common goals.MORE IN Editorials
- Most Popular
- Most Emailed
- MEDIA GALLERY