Wessel | Politics and Politics in Windham County: A Picture of Collaboration | columnists

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On January 3rd, Gov. Phil Scott posted some pictures on his social media that caught my eye. The purpose was to draw attention to efforts to increase Vermont’s healthcare workforce, which is indeed a worthy goal in these stressful and scary times. But it was the images that struck me, as a reflection of something we all too rarely see in politics, even here in Vermont.

The setting was our windy footsteps at the Statehouse, and the three politicians standing there in the cold were our Independent US Senator Bernie Sanders, Democratic Windham County Senator Pro Tem Becca Balint, and our Republican Governor Phil Scott. All three seemed content to stand side by side despite the frigid scene that surrounded them, and they looked happy to be working together to further a universally recognized need in Vermont.

Call it a convenient photo op if you will, since it was. The governor has been keen to highlight a portion of his budget that will resonate well across the political spectrum. Senator Sanders is always one to interfere in efforts seen as supporting key workers, and Senator Balint is running for a seat in the House of Representatives in Washington. But there’s more important symbolism here if you take a moment to think about it.

We are at a point in our country where pictures like this of three elected officials with vastly different beliefs and backgrounds are not being photographed together. Sure, it’s still happening here in our brave little state, where happily local discourse is still a thing, but I’ve increasingly noticed that in Vermont these difficult conversations are eschewed in favor of easy-to-digest bullet points and simplified opinions.

It’s easy to think that Vermont is immune to polarized rhetoric and national-level hostility, but I’ve noticed that even our proud history of respectful political dialogue is being attacked by the same extreme language from both the right and the left. This digital dogma has definitely increased in our current national climate of pandemic frustrations, a polarizing bushfire fueled more by our reliance on social media as a connection.

In these turbulent times, our leaders must redouble their efforts to reject what I will call “announcement and denunciation” — writing press releases and social media posts with the primary intent of gaining likes and shares. Instead, we should get those with elected power to do their job: describe the problem, propose solutions, and work towards political solutions.

I’d like to see our elected Vermonters spend a little less time on the easier task of stirring up outrage among their grassroots supporters and more time making progress across divides on policies that truly benefit all of their constituents. Let’s face it, creating a social media post raging at dysfunction in Washington is pushing the “simple button.” The work of actually sitting down with someone who disagrees with your position is the real work that needs to be done here to make progress and develop good policy. Once elected, that is actually the job of elected officials.

I hope that in 2022 I will see more of these joyful images of our elected leaders from different political perspectives, working together to represent their constituents and going to work to serve us all.

Tim Wessel is currently in his fifth year serving on the Brattleboro Select Board, having served as both Chairman and Vice Chairman. He occasionally writes about the convergence of politics and politics in Windham County. Columnists’ opinions do not necessarily reflect the views of the Brattleboro Reformer.

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