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Undernews is the online report of the Progressive Review, edited by Sam Smith, who covered Washington during all or part of ten of America's presidencies and who has edited alternative journals since 1964. The Review, which has been on the web since 1995, is now published from Freeport, Maine. We get over 5 million article visits a year. See for full contents of our site

March 7, 2010


VT DIGGER - In case you are wondering, this story is not an obituary. The Vermont Progressive Party is not moribund, according to political observers. Nor is it mortally wounded by the Election Day results in Burlington.

That said, voters dealt the Progressives, particularly the Queen City faction, two body blows; a third wound came from a disgruntled Democrat.

The fourth was self-inflicted on the party by one of its own leaders.

- Instant Runoff Voting, which opponents, namely Republican Kurt Wright and several prominent Democrats, had tied to Mayor Bob Kiss' unpopular administration, was repealed, 3,972 to 3,669. . .

- For the first time in more than 20 years, both seats in Ward 2 were captured by Burlington Democrats, despite the best efforts of two tireless young Progressive campaigners. They each lost by fewer than 13 votes in a very low turnout at the polls. Though the Progressives hold the same number of seats on the City Council – two – as they did in the last election cycle, over time their numbers have dwindled from a high of seven council seats (out of 14 total).

- Ed Adrian, a Democrat who trounced his Progressive contender in the Ward 1 City Council race, told viewers in a live interview on Channel 17 on Tuesday night that Mayor Bob Kiss should resign.

- The elephant in the room was Burlington Telecom. Mayor Kiss and his administration have been plagued by accusations of fiscal mismanagement of Burlington Telecom. The utility, which serves 4,800 telephone, Internet and cable television customers, has been involved in an expensive build out of fiber optic cable to homes in the city and has not been able to obtain outside financing for $17 million in debt it incurred in the process. The Kiss administration tapped a "cash pool" fund, or excess monies in the city's checking account, to pay for unanticipated costs for Burlington Telecom without advertising the situation to the public for a year and a half. In February, the public utility was not able to make an interest payment of $386,000 to CitiLeasing for $33.5 million of additional debt. The next payment of $386,000 is due in April, according to Burlington City Council President Bill Keogh. In August, Burlington Telecom will have to pay out $708,000. Keogh didn't know how much the fourth payment for the year would be.

Is all of this bad news for the Progressive Party? You bet. Does it spell the end for this bastion of left-wing idealism and ideology begun by the inimitable Bernie Sanders in the early 1980s - the party state Democrats can't help but resent, if not loath? Definitely not, academics and politicians say. . .

"This is not their death knell," says Garrison Nelson, a political scientist at the University of Vermont and longtime observer of Burlington politics . . .

Prominent Progressive Anthony Pollina, who tied with a Democrat in the race for governor in 2008, said it was a "bad night for Burlington, and anyone who tells you otherwise is dreaming." Pollina said it was a setback for the party, but not a "major blow."

Kurt Wright, a newly elected Republican City Council member and IRV repeal proponent, calls the election results a "clear rebuke to the mayor" and a "low-water mark" for the Progressive Party, but he also doesn't see the party going away anytime soon.

The Progressives' loss of power is a temporary phenomena, according to Keogh, who has served on the City Council for 14 years. . .

If Instant Runoff Voting's defeat was a referendum on the mayor's performance, should he step down?

The consensus is no, although City Councilor Ed Adrian appears to have gone out on a limb on this one, and wasn't about to back down the morning after his televised statement on election night. "The longer the Progressives continue to back the mayor," he said on Wednesday, "the worse it's going to get for them. I think they should call for him to step down.". . .

Eric Davis, professor emeritus of political science at Middlebury College, reiterated Nelson's stance. "My sense from 35 miles away is that in many ways the vote on IRV was a referendum on Bob Kiss," Davis said. "His name wasn't on the ballot, but a lot of people don't like him either, because they didn't vote for him in the first place or they don't like what's going on with Burlington Telecom. Voting against IRV was a way of voting against Bob Kiss.". . .

Bernie Sanders, one of the founders and the most prominent former member (he is now an Independent U.S. Senator) put the movement on the map when he became mayor in 1981. The Progressives have dominated city politics ever since.

Progressives didn't become a major party, though, until 10 years ago. Consequently, the movement's outsider status is no longer a badge of honor because, by virtue of its success, it's become a form of the establishment, even though it tends to be out front on left-leaning issues, such as universal health care, shutting down Vermont Yankee and workers' rights.

UVM's Nelson says members are ambivalent about the party's successes, at least when it's convenient to be so.

"The Progressives love to act as though they're some kind of persecuted minority," Nelson says. "They've been in power for 30 years. They are the establishment, and they don't get that. It's their shtick. But they've won every election except for one in a generation; they have a sitting U.S. senator who is the architect of their party."


Anonymous Anonymous said...

IRV is mostly a financial improvement on FPTP. It suffers from the same weaknesses and temptations to do tactical voting. Its only advantage is that it speeds up the process by having all the runoff votes happen at once.

The cycle-resolving variations on Condorcet's system are just as fast as IRV, and less prone to being gamed.

March 7, 2010 4:44 PM  

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