Chris and Dave: We Started This Whole "Change" Thing
"It's not how long someone's been there," says Rep. Dave Zuckerman, referring to the 12 years he's spent representing B-Town in Montpelier. "It's how long they've been there, and what they have been getting done."
Smooth jazz tunes bounce off the rustic wooden walls of Muddy Waters Coffeehouse, making this downtown Burlington chill spot an even more inviting refuge from the cold and overcast Friday morning. As we talk at a table by the window, Dave leaps from his chair mid-sentence to open the door for a farmer burdened with two tremendous sacks of carrots. He sits back down with a smile.
Dave, a farmer himself, is running alongside Rep. Chris Pearson against challenger Kesha Ram in an election that liberal blogger John Odum of the Green Mountain Daily describes as "culturally/socially speaking...the most fascinating race in Vermont this year."
Both Dave and Chris bristle at the suggestion that their time in the State House should make them casualties of the national mood — frustration with government inaction. Instead, both men cast themselves as the original gangsters of change. Their comments to me are reminiscent of when Dr. Dre and Eminem reminded a forgetful public of who really started the 90's rap explosion in "Forgot about Dre." But instead of railing, "I was strapped with gats when you were cuddlin' with the Cabbage Patch," Dave and Chris (who graduated UVM when this year's senior class was about eight years-old) replace the former with "I was an agent of change when you were..."
But there is indeed much to be said in support of that claim. As Progressives, Pearson and Zuckerman have a history of challenging the traditionally partisan gridlock in Montpelier. These two men see their role, as Chris describes, "as an anchor," to force conversations in the legislature on issues that the Democrats and Republicans would otherwise ignore. They take great pride in forcing debate on IRV, Vermont Yankee, and campaign finance. "Pass good bills," argues Dave, "make him [the governor] veto them."
They wasted no time in explaining their frustration with the Republicans and the Democrats in the State House, and their inability to promote anything beyond the party line. "Our role," says Dave, "is to be a much more activist caucus. And I think the Republicans have turned that into a bad word, and the Democrats are afraid of that word."
It should be noted that Ms. Ram is running as a Democrat, and although I pressed both Chris and Dave as well as Kesha to espouse policy differences between the two tickets, I got non-answers on both sides. It's clear that this election is not a debate on policy.
So what does any of this mean for us college students?
After all, most of the policies that affect off-campus students, such as noise and alcohol enforcement, come from the City of Burlington, not the State of Vermont.
Because town-gown issues are not generally handled at the state level, and because both tickets have put forth similar policy initiatives, college voters will have to gauge who is more in-tune with their interests on a more general level. And while Kesha, having just graduated from UVM, appears to have the natural advantage in that arena, Dave and Chris do have thoughtful and even surprising things to say about UVM that may turn the heads of some Catamounts.
"Since I graduated there's been a real shift to clamping down on
people's freedoms," Mr. Pearson laments. "Sodexo food is still really bad,
they don't invest in local ag. at all," he continues, "and there's
police dogs roaming through the dorms. These issues are deeply
troubling and don't respect the shifting into adult phase that going to
college is all about."
UVM students will also appreciate that Dave and Chris both had favorable words to say about the Amythest Initative, a pan-university petition to begin a national conversation about the effectiveness of the 21 drinking age. Dave even co-sponsored a bill to look into just that.
As far as the battle for who is Change-ier goes, Mr. Zuckerman's and Mr. Pearson's records do show that they have been doing this whole "change" thing before "change" was the coolest word in the dictionary. It may seem slightly odd that two incumbents would be talking change, but remember that these dudes are indeed Progressives.
All things considered, this election has all the makings for great drama, except for one key ingredient. On one end of the ring is Kesha Ram — a smart and ambitious young woman with a thin resume but a passionate drive. On the other end is Dave Zuckerman and Chris Pearson — two experienced men known to shake things up, and a record of accomplishment to boot. Both claim to be agents of change.
The only thing missing in this debate is the policy. Perhaps in the weeks to come, the two tickets will enlighten us as to what they would do differently than the other ticket. Neither "Fresh perspectives" nor "years of experience" entitle anyone to anything. We need to hear more about the issues.