All of the candidates for Vermont Governor who still buy into “politics as usual,” whether they are Democrats or Republicans, are running on the same platform: “If I’m elected Governor, I’ll be the smoothest and most effective administrator of Federal money.” Because, in this day and age, that’s what’s expected of a Governor: that he act dutifully in his role of mid-level administrator of the Vermont arm of the Federal Government. The Congressional delegation carves out an nice fat chunk of pork, and the Governor’s job is to distribute the bacon.
This, however, is not what the Governor is supposed to be. Under the federation created by the Constitution, a State Governor is the executive of a sovereign State. In that role, the State Governor ’s relationship with his or her Federal counterparts should be half-cooperative and half-adversarial; making sure things that are in the interest of the State go smoothly, but also using his power to resist tyrannical Federal acts. Whether we talk about Jim Douglas or Howard Dean, the part that recent Vermont governors have played has been the administrative role; their main goal has been to grab the largest slice of the Federal appropriations pie, no matter how disastrous the long-term impact of such activities may be. It’s been a long time since this State has seen a Governor with true backbone.
The current crop of mainstream candidates holds no greater hope for the future; there are many interesting personalities, but not one of them will make the hard decision to buck the will of the Federal government should justice demand it. That, more than any other reason, is why I will be voting for Dennis Steele for Governor in 2010.
When the invasion of Iraq was deceptively foisted upon the American People by their self-serving elites, millions took to the street in protest. Which didn’t do a lick of good, because the American police state learned its lessons well in the 1960s-’70s. As long as the loyalty of the professional paramilitary police is maintained, straight civil disobedience rarely has the potential to seriously threaten the power structure. However, there’s a very old, very American form of protest that those of us who are outraged by what we’ve seen in the last decade can use to turn our dissent into action: the assertion of sovereignty.
As part of the “Compromise of 1850,” an extremely harsh fugitive-slave law was passed which allowed slave-catchers to ply their trade with virtual impunity in the free North, and even simplified the process of kidnapping free blacks and selling them back into slavery. To Vermonters, whose State had outlawed slavery in its Constitution in 1777, this act was perceived as an unjust outrage, and they reacted accordingly.
Their reaction, however, was different from the way in which 21st century Americans react to the Federal government does something atrocious, like, say, giving $700 billion to private banks or invading yet another third-world country. If really riled up, the contemporary American will sign an on-line petition, send an email to his or her legislator, or maybe even attend a carefully choreographed rally. When the Vermonters of 1850 knew that a law was morally unacceptable, on the other hand, they used the full power of their State sovereignty to keep it from achieving its purpose in the land between Lake Champlain and the Connecticut river. The effect was real; from 1850 until the Civil War, not a single escaped slave was returned to the South from Vermont, despite the fact that many were living openly on sympathetic farms (You can still tour one of those farms: Rokeby of Ferrisburg; they have a letter on display written by a slaveowner impotently begging for compensation for his human “property”).
Now, after years of wars, eroded civil liberties, and bailouts, we need a Governor who will stand up to Washington when it crosses the line. When they demand that yet another power or right be stripped from the People and handed to Federal bureaucrats, we need a leader who has the courage to answer with a resounding “NO”, and whose actions will match his rhetoric. A leader who will bring Vermont’s National Guard home from the Imperial wars with or without the blessing of the Washington elites. A leader who will vocally denounce unconstitutional Federal practices, whether they be the PATRIOT act or the bailouts, and will use the power of our sovereign Vermont to mitigate the effects of those atrocities here at home, just as our forbearers did in 1850. A Governor who, when Congress bumbles into its next ill-conceived war, will use every force at his disposal to end the cycle of violence and waste that’s consumed our economy and society since the Cold War.
Neither Vermont’s Democratic nor its Republican party has the courage to stand up for us, the People of Vermont; they care more about winning Pyrrhic short-term political victories than they do about securing a long-term future of liberty, justice, peace, and sustainability. Dennis Steele, on the other hand, will choose the hard right over the easy wrong, even if it means standing up to the skulking behemoth which occupies the banks of the Potomac River.
There is no doubt that Dennis has a hard road ahead of him, and that his chance of victory, barring a crisis that fundamentally alters the political calculus, is slim. However, there’s nothing to lose by voting for him; the cause of independence isn’t a partisan issue that will swing the election to the Republican or Democratic “Federal Flunky” candidate. Even if he doesn’t win, a strong showing for Steele in 2010 will send a powerful message that there are many Vermonters who are willing to resort to serious measures to resist Federal abuses; push us further, and we know what to do and have the will to get it done. Such a statement might force the Washington elite to think twice before blithely initiating the next bailout or war; it will certainly give the buyers of the Federal debt that will fund such projects pause before they commit their money to a government whose tax-base could very well abandon it. Washington has long ago learned to ignore the will of the voters; it cannot fail to listen the voices of its creditors. Voting for a Democrat or a Republican will not tilt the balance of power in this country in favor of the people; voting for Dennis Steele for Vermont Governor in 2010 will.