Much like judging a book by its cover, you don’t always get an accurate impression of a political party — or a candidate — by a first impression.
Freedom-minded, live-and-let-live Vermonters like me are attracted to many libertarian ideals. Principles such as limited and efficient government, protection of personal liberty, and open and free markets governed by the rule of law. These are mainstream American values and on these principles Vermont Republicans and Libertarians share common ground.
But beneath the surface of the Vermont Libertarian Party are many more extreme positions on issues that most independent-minded Vermonters think go too far. For example, the Vermont Libertarian Party’s position on hard-core illegal drugs.
Vermonters — like few others in the nation — understand the scourge of heroin and prescription drug abuse that has torn apart families, destroyed neighborhoods and ruined lives in our state. Drug abuse has put our towns and cities at risk of violence and has endangered children in our schools, neighborhood playgrounds and streets. One need look no further than Barre, Bellows Falls, Bennington, Brattleboro, Burlington, Newport, Rutland, Springfield, St. Albans or St. Johnsbury — and a growing list of other communities — to see its devastating effects. Or you could spend a few hours in the emergency room of any hospital in the state.
But Vermont Libertarians believe in amnesty — yes, complete amnesty — for all “nonviolent” drug dealers. In fact, they believe in it so strongly they have written it implicitly into their state party platform. We think that not only goes too far, we think it’s a reckless and irresponsible message to send to the purveyors of poison who prey on young people.
Let’s be clear about this: Vermont Libertarians would release all the heroin traffickers and professional dealers who have peddled their poison on our streets. And all those felons who were arrested, charged and brought to justice by dedicated members of law enforcement for importing and profiting from the hardest and most addictive drugs would be set free and have their criminal records expunged if the Vermont Libertarians had their way. Then what? You know the answer: They’d be back at it.
Even libertarian-leaning independent Vermonters have a hard time reconciling that extreme view with the destruction seen in Vermont’s communities. More specifically, their position on this issue does not address the underlying social and economic desperation driving addiction or propose to increase public treatment options for those who have already fallen prey to the pushers they propose to pardon.
Republicans and independent Vermonters alike understand that fringe views of this sort are dangerous and have the potential to push our state further out of the mainstream.
Make no mistake. This is not to suggest that Vermont should not reform its drug laws from time to time. But granting amnesty to the people who, as Gov. James Douglas pointed out, “poison our children for profit” is not something we will support. Not ever.
Vermont Republicans, with your support in November, will continue to promote greater resources for law enforcement and public safety, coupled with expansion of compassionate treatment opportunities for those willing to turn their lives around.
When it comes to public safety, we believe our approach is what Vermonters want and deserve.
We stand with the working families of Vermont who are dedicated to reclaiming streets, schools and playgrounds from the people Vermont Libertarians and their candidates would set free.
These are the principles of a balanced and reasoned political party that reflects the values of Vermonters — and one truly rooted in liberty.
David Sunderland is chairman of the Vermont Republican Party.MORE IN Commentary
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