Deb Billado: Don’t ignore the down-ticket races

Editor’s note: This commentary is by Deb Billado, who is the chair of the Vermont Republican Party.

On Sept. 13, Gov. Phil Scott vetoed the Global Warming Solutions Act because it is unconstitutional in that it usurps executive and legislative authority and accountability, it recklessly opens up Vermont taxpayers to potentially millions of dollars in legal fees and more millions to fund a new bureaucracy when we can least afford it, and, despite the name, actually offers no solutions to the problem it is supposed to solve.

In the House, all 42 Republican members and five Democrats and independents sided with Scott to sustain the veto – out of 150 total members. In the Senate, all six Republicans and two Democrats voted to sustain – out of 30 total members. In neither case were enough votes to sustain the veto, and the Global Warming Solutions Act, with all its glaring flaws, is now the law of the land.

Setting aside the issue itself, the veto override highlights a big problem in Vermont’s governance today, and that is the partisan imbalance in the Legislature. It also highlights the importance of who you vote for in state legislative races.

While top of the ticket contests understandably draw the most attention from voters and the media, the down ticket races are in many ways more important in actually influencing the kinds of laws and policies we have to live with every day as we go about our business. Your property taxes, your income taxes, your personal freedoms are mostly decided by state legislators.

I often hear from angry Vermonters that their property taxes are too high; their health insurance costs are crushing them … “Why doesn’t the governor do something?” Simple answer: Without more Republicans in the House and Senate, he can’t.

Without at least 51 Republicans in the House, Scott cannot reliably expect his vetoes of bad bills to be sustained. We only have 42. Without at least 76 Republicans in the House, a majority, Scott cannot expect his proposed policies for moving Vermont forward to become law. For the Senate, those numbers are 11 and 16 respectively, but we only have six.

The current Democratic/Progressive super-majority in both chambers of the Legislature mean that they can do pretty much what they want with no checks and balances and no reason to compromise. This is a bad dynamic for a couple of reasons.

First is meaningful debate leads to better law. When one side has to listen to the arguments presented by the other, problems with bad legislation are more likely to be identified and worked out. In the debate over the Global Warming Solutions Act, for example, Republicans pointed out many serious flaws with the bill, but the Democrats ignored them because they could. On mail-in-voting, when the governor raised concerns about the plan proposed by the Democratic secretary of state, the Democratic-controlled Legislature simply voted to remove the governor from the process. Now we’re seeing some of the governor’s concerns materialize where they otherwise could have been prevented.

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Second is accountability to you, the voter. When one party or ideology has total control over the agenda and feels that it can act with impunity, it’s not just their colleagues across the aisle who get ignored, it’s also you the citizen. What we have now is a situation where political activism has replaced good governance.

A stark example of this came in the debate over whether or not to double the tax on your home heating fuel. Democrat Rep. Mike Yantachka was brazen: “If our constituents say, don’t do this, we should be able to tell them we have to do it.” So much for representative government! The House majority listened to him and went on to pass the bill.

So, when you’re filling out your ballot this year, please be sure to take the time to learn about the candidates further down the page and consider what kinds of policies you want our governor to be able to either move forward or block.

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