They say politics makes for strange bedfellows; and that is no more so than right here in Vermont where conservatives are fading like fireflies, and the lion’s share of power and influence is carried in Democratic
All of which makes our particular brand of Republican-lite occasionally champion issues more usually associated with progressive thinkers. When that happens, once in a blue moon, it behooves us to seize the opportunity to stand on common ground.
So it is with Bruce Lisman of the Campaign for Vermont, who is finally getting down to some respectable brass tacks. After a couple of years of expounding vaguely about how Vermont policymakers should do “better,” in language straight out of the Republican playbook, Mr. Lisman is actually proposing some pretty radical stuff.
He wants Vermont lawmakers to adopt sweeping transparency rules in the interests of ending cronyism, nepotism and all manner of conflicts of interest.
And I say, “Why not?”
Obviously, Mr. Lisman proposes this from the conservative minority position, in the hope of reducing the huge advantage that Democratic policy enjoys in the state; but no matter what motivates the effort, its time has come.
Mr. Lisman points to the terrible marks Vermont gets for transparency, relative to the rest of the country; and he is absolutely right that we can improve that situation dramatically with a few simple rules.
He does, however, focus primarily on statewide transparency issues, making it appear to be more of a Democratic failing. In reality, the failure peculiar to Vermont has its roots in the intimacy of local politics, which generally falls outside traditional parameters of “Democrats” and “Republicans” even when those labels are nominally applied.
As I have said on many occasions, that intimacy is both the strength of Vermont’s democracy and its greatest challenge. The clannish nature of local influence blocks frequently obscures the process and discourages challenges of any sort. Casual conflicts of interest are so common in many towns as to go completely unremarked.
But before a bright light can be shone on the manner in which conflicts of interest control the local process, it is first necessary that strict transparency rules be adopted at the state level, as a model of good behavior.
Mr. Lisman may have finally found a way to be relevant in Vermont; and, while I rather doubt that we will agree on much in the future, on the need to address conflicts of interest in the political process we seem to be of one mind.