Editorial: Putting Issues Ahead of Politics

As the final weeks of the 2018 session played out, I grew increasingly alarmed at some of the negative tone that was being displayed by some elected officials, their staff, and other individuals who take part in the legislative process. It’s okay to disagree. It’s also alright, and fairly common, to use satire in political debates. But ultimately, I believe it is important that we commit to a dialogue that doesn’t sink to name calling and negativity — we get enough of that from Washington DC. On the last day of session, I teamed up with Rep. Corey Parent, a Republican House member, to author the following editorial, which we shared with several news outlets around the state. 

ow many times have you heard it said that politics in Vermont is different from other states? We’ve all read stories that seem to set our collaborative tradition apart from Washington, D.C. Most point to the scale of our small cities and towns as evidence that we are different, and that our political speech can and will remain so. But ultimately, it’s hard to engage with the social media swirling around Montpelier debates without drawing the conclusion that we have become less civil, and that there may be no turning back. We write to challenge and reverse this trend.

We are two newer faces in Vermont political circles. We’re both millennials who serve in the House. One of us caucuses with the Democratic caucus and the other with the Republicans. We seldom vote the same way and sometimes strongly disagree. Neither of us thinks the other is right 100 percent of the time. In truth, we don’t expect to.

Given the tone of some of the recent debates we’ve heard in Montpelier and Washington, D.C., you might think we’d run in different circles. And indeed, we often do. But we also touch base almost every morning and talk about the issues and proposals in front of us. We engage to better understand our differences with the goal of finding common ground. If one of thinks the other is wrong, we call it out. But we don’t call names, and we don’t seek to trash the other.

We’re millennials who use social media to communicate. Both of us acknowledge that we’ve used these platforms to convey the occasional snarky message. It’s no surprise. We’re coming of age in a new frontier where 140+ characters of off-color language is normalized by celebrity politicians and commentators. We get it, but we also see the destructive nature of it.

So what can we do? We can start by acknowledging that trashing one another on social media isn’t helping. We gain little from an absence of facts or personal attacks. Now more than ever, we need to have a vigorous debate that takes into consideration all points of view. Failure to do so will lead to just that — failed ideas, and a missed opportunity to learn from a neighbor who may not share 100 percent of your beliefs, but does share your community.

We shouldn’t let go of an opportunity to learn from one another and challenge each other with civility — good public policy and a better Vermont depend on it. As the 2018 campaign season opens, we commit to doing better. We need to focus on the issues and to debate each other on the merits of policy, with facts, and not personal attacks. We challenge others to join us.