Kevin O’Connor / Staff Photo
Campaign signs outside Burlington polls illustrate what Vermonters say, according to an Election Day survey, is the increasingly divisive nature of politics.
Eugene Preston, the third of five generations to work his family’s Randolph dairy farm, has good reason for wanting government to fix the economy.
“All expenses keep going up,” the 60-year-old says, “except the price for my milk.”
But the Vermonter believes for newly elected leaders to help him, they first must heal themselves.
“My No. 1 priority for them is to forget about partisanship. They just don’t care about the average person, they just care about their politics.”
Ask Election Day voters from Brattleboro to Burlington what the winners need to do now and the answer is unanimous, according to interviews in seven major cities and towns: Get the state and nation’s houses — and senates — in order.
Norman Garceau went to the Springfield polls with his wife and a wish: “More jobs.” The 61-year-old used to drive 150 miles to work at a bookbindery in Connecticut. Then the business closed in February.
“I can’t get hired, and I’ve been everywhere. The whole country’s in trouble.”
Garceau cast his ballot Tuesday to “try to make it better.” That said, he wasn’t holding out hope.
“I can’t see the president creating jobs — it’s got to be up to the companies.”
Not that Vermonters have given up on the political system. Unlike voters in most other states, more here agree with the statement “government should do more to solve problems” than with the statement “government is doing too many things better left to businesses and individuals,” according to an Associated Press exit poll of 888 voters in 15 Green Mountain precincts.
A majority, for example, favor a plan for all Vermonters to procure health insurance through the state, the survey reports.
In Brattleboro, Darlene Jenson, 59, sees the need both as the mother of a son with a disability and as the director of a theater program for people with similar challenges.
“It’s a day-to-day issue for us. He and they need support and I don’t want that to go away.”
One in five Vermonters surveyed cited health care as their top concern — second only to the economy, ranked by about half of voters as the most important issue.
In Montpelier, 66-year-old retiree Karen Jackson put those two talking points under the umbrella of “sustainable living.”
“That also covers our impact on the environment, definitions of family and a kinder, gentler civility.”
The latter, she says, is something polarized leaders have yet to learn.
“I’m annoyed with Congress and the way it has been behaving. Then again, the coop and city council is always at loggerheads. We need to listen to each other and look for common ground.”
In Burlington, University of Vermont student Jonathan Besett, 21, noted recent storms — be it Irene or Sandy — that united people and politicians.
“We need to focus on where we agree rather than where we are divided.”
That’s easier said than done. As Besett spoke, U.S. Sen. Bernard Sanders, I-Vt., arrived at the polls.
“There are many people who want to see our state become a national leader,” Sanders said. “But the simple and sad reality is right-wing extremism — that’s the essential problem.”
In Springfield, Democratic candidates brought coffee and donuts for their Republican counterparts.
“We’re a bipartisan group here,” state Senate President Pro Tem John Campbell, D-Windsor, said as he served his peers.
But rewind to this past legislative session and infighting by fellow Democrats, and you’re reminded that cooperation isn’t simply a GOP issue.
Some voters sympathized. Paul and Jessica Orvis rolled into the Middlebury polls with a stroller carrying their two young sons.
“When I’m voting, I think about my children,” he said.
She agreed — then laughed that the husband and wife, both 30, had canceled each other’s presidential ballots.
In Brattleboro, fellow parent Kelly Coleman cited a long list of concerns past the sluggish economy and stubborn unemployment.
“Climate change, social justice … no problem, right?” the 35-year-old said. “The stalemate in Congress has been frustrating for everyone. It makes you feel good to live in Vermont, where politicians are making progress.”
As for the future of the nation? The Vermonter eyed her 10-month-old son.
“There’s always the potential for improvement — there better be.”
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