Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Town Meeting Ninnies (Or, Damn It, When Do I Get to Vote for Something That Matters?!)

Well, it’s official: Montpelier is the dud of all duds when it comes to town meeting. While many towns got to consider things that matter like ending the war in Iraq and impeaching Bush, all I got to vote for today was the privilege of sending more and more of my money to what amounts to a Democratic Party machine. Fuck that.

Worse, I didn’t even get the honor of seeing some of these folks in the flesh and blood. Nope. That’s because the real town meeting thing got to be too cumbersome to the political elite a long time ago and – poof! – out went flesh and blood politics and in came those goddamn little curtained booths and filthy pencils.

Yeah, I bet you never really realized how filthy those pencils were, did you? I never thought about it, either, until my mother put it into my mind. But, then again, she’s the same woman who has made library books and used books hard for me to peruse once she told me that “people probably read them while going to the bathroom.” Damn it, Mom.

Now where was I? Oh yeah, Town Meeting Day. Or, rather, Town Voting Day for me.

I got a brief break from painting hideously drab colors on the nursing home walls by catching a ride with a very nice family who were there to take grandpa off to vote. I was chatting with the old timer all morning, learning more about the City of Montpelier’s history than I ever thought I could. It turns out he served in about every elected position known in Montpelier throughout his day as Mr. Civic. He bristled, however, when I called him the equivalent of today’s Mayor Hooper.

“She’s a goddamn phony,” were his exact words on the matter. And then I knew it would be a fine morning with my new pal.

He did, however, get one hell of a kick out of my “insider” information that Mayor Hooper doesn’t have mouse in a cat’s cradle’s chance in being selected by Governor Douglas to replace Francis Brooks in the legislature.

“Well, that’s about the best news I’ve heard all morning,” he declared.

Too bad Peter Freyne doesn’t have the kind of contacts Snarky Boy has, huh? Because the old “every story is about me” guy at Seven Daze is still harping on and on about how Hooper’s a shoe-in. And why? Well, because Freyne ran into Hooper and Hooper apparently glad-handed him. Ah, story complete. And to hell with the facts. [Memo to Peter, who I know reads this blog religiously: Why would Douglas do ANYTHING at this point to please the Dem machine in Montpelier? Come on, old fella, do your homework.]

And so we voted. B-O-R-I-N-G. Frankly, I got a bigger kick out of hanging with my new old-timer friend and getting his insider take on the little old ladies checking us in and out of the voter lines. Let’s just say that these gray hairs had some fun in their days. Lots of fun.

“But now,” my old buddy whispered in my ear, “they think serving at these bullshit functions is like some kind of purgatory. But the last time I checked, God wasn’t much into Democracy!” Then he cackled, and the nice ladies gave the look that can only say: Oh yeah, we know him and we’ve heard it all before. Next.

I got behind my little curtain with the hopes of find something – anything – that could tickle my snarky fancy. But no such luck. Good old Montpelier somehow squashed any and all attempts to put the war and impeachment on the ballot. Damn it.

But in a lot of ways I guess I could make the argument that Montpelier is being more honest about the bullshit of Town Meeting Day. It is, as every good Vermonter should know, much ado about next-to-nothing. You see, Vermont doesn’t constitutionally subscribe to the notion of “Home Rule,” as many other state do. That’s the rule – or law – that would allow towns and municipalities to actually have power. Instead, Vermont adheres to what’s known as “Dillon’s Rule,” which severely restricts the real power of the people at the town level. Specifically, under “Dillon’s Rule,” towns can only pretend to have power if – and only if – the state legislature specifically grants them that power.

So town meetings in Vermont – contrary to the great myth -- have basically become an exercise in passing school budges and town budgets, local elections, and endless bickering over $250 here and there for non-governmental organizations. But real power? Forgetaboutit.

But myths die hard and, in Vermont, they just keep growing like an all-too-proud “Vermonter” on too much dairy playing video games. Ew.

On the other hand, facts are facts. Speaking of facts, consider this nugget from Vermont’s League of Cities and Towns, no slouch of an organization when it comes to the history of our state and the role of our town meetings: "The State of Vermont is tied for last in terms of autonomy granted to municipalities." Go ahead, read that again Vermonters. Yes, it said, “tied for last in terms of autonomy granted municipalities.”

But the legislature and our governors – especially Douglas – have vehemently opposed all efforts to cede some of their power back to the towns. Hmm, not very Republican of old Jimmy Boy, huh?

That’s why I was so happy to read tonight that more than a dozen towns in Vermont found a way to make their town meetings meaningful by passing the anti-war and impeachment resolutions. Sure, they’re Peter Welch’s favorite tools – toothless resolutions – but, unlike Welch, this was all the power these towns folk had to stand up and sound off on these very important issues of the day.

And, come on, how good is it that on the day Scooter Libby got convicted of lying about the obvious vindictiveness of the Bush/ Cheney team and their criminal pursuit of war no matter who got in their way, that more than a dozen Vermont towns stood up in public – not behind curtains – and said: Impeach the bastard!

Even if I didn’t get my say today, I’m glad they did. And a big tip of my hat to the fine folks who made this happen, especially those who stood up and argued their case before their fellow town folk and – damn it – got it done. That takes courage. And it should be applauded whenever and wherever we see it.

Contrast that courage, for example, with the cowardly lack of courage expressed by Vermont’s three federally elected officials (Leahy, Sanders, Welch) who all have been ducking and covering on the issue of impeachment. And a special shout-out here for Sanders, who told town meeting participants last year that moving forward on impeachment was a “waste of time” since both houses of Congress were controlled by the Republicans. Hmm, and now that both houses of Congress are now controlled by the Democrats, Bernie’s still cowering and evading the issue. Shame on him. And them.

So while I made a nice new friend today, my time behind the curtain felt like – well – bullshit. And you?