Middlebury, Vt.

Life in the middle of Vermont.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Honoring Murray Dry, Guessing on the Gov Race

Who’s going to win this nail-biter of a governor’s race? It's anybody's guess.

The polls say Republican Lieut. Gov. Brian Dubie and state Senate President pro tempore Peter Shumlin are in a virtual dead heat. And so it seems they will remain until Election Day next Tuesday, Nov. 2.

Hopefully there will be no need for a recount, as there was after the Democratic primary. But with the electorate apparently split straight down the middle, there's no guarantee this one won't go to a recount, too.f

But Dubie can’t be encouraged by the decision of the usually conservative Burlington Free Press to endorse Shumlin. Dubie’s political base is in the relatively populous Chittenden County, which is the heart of FreepLand, and the Freep backed Gov. Jim Douglas in his 2008 re-election bid.

Along with the Free Press and others, I'm impressed by Shumlin’s leadership in getting the Legislature to deny a renewal license to the dangerous Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant. Shumlin also led the way in establishing the nation's first non-court-ordered law on marriage equality. He’s demonstrated the ability to get things done.

By comparison, Dubie's election would give us two more years of trench warfare between the governor and the Legislature. He’s sticking with the tired old story of running down Vermont because it's supposedly antibusiness, while advocating tax cuts for even the richest Vermonters. It says here it’s time to turn things over the Democrats and see what they can do.

You've got to wonder, though, why any sane person wants to be governor at this point. Much of the next governor's time will be consumed in trying to find the money to fund state programs -- and then overseeing severe budget cuts in most programs and perhaps the outright destruction of some.

The recession-caused tax shortfall -- and the difficulty of getting meaningful tax increases passed in a time when Americans seemed to have given up on investing in their future -- will give the next governor little choice.

In a classic "drop back 10 and punt" move, the 2010 Legislature did its best to avoid the worst of the budget crisis. But the state's budget crisis is serious enough that it can't be dodged again in 2011.

In fact, one might say that the winner of this year's election could end up being the loser. Whoever comes out on the short end will, after two years of budget cutting led by the new governor, have a ripe target for a repeat effort. Should he have the stomach for it.

* * *

Perhaps the most interesting local legislative races is in the New Haven-Weybridge-Bridport district, where Democrat Spence Putnam is squaring off against Republican Harvey Smith, who previously held the seat for eight years. Smith was knocked off in 2006 by Chris Bray. The seat is an open one in the wake of Bray’s unsuccessful, quixotic quest for the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor.

Putnam is that somewhat unusual Democrat who can claim deep business experience -- among other things as one of the top executives at Vermont Teddy Bear and Danforth Pewterers, and as executive director of Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility. On that basis, as well as for his extensive experience with local governmental and nonprofit organizations, Putnam deserves the seat.

***

My vote for best campaign sign of the season goes to Mike Fisher of Lincoln, who’s seeking re-election. Some of his bright-red signs don't even say who the candidate is. They just show the outline of a red fish.

Too bad redfish aren't native to Vermont. But then, Fisher's choices for a sign color were limited to out-of-state piscatorians. Yellowtail, orange roughy and bluefish aren't native to Vermont, either.

***

More on this topic later, but last Friday and Saturday's symposium honoring the Middlebury College teaching of political science Prof. Murray Dry showed just how huge an effect one teacher can have.

Many of Dry's students over the decades gathered for two days of papers, panels and a culminating dinner to honor his teaching career and scholarship.

All this, and Murray isn't even retiring.

The composition of the dinner crowd indicated the reach of his legacy, consisting of both graying Baby Boomers who had been in Murray's first Middlebury class in 1968 -- he forgot his lecture notes and had to dash back to his office to get them – and students who take his classes today.

There are certainly other teachers at the college who deserve this kind of tribute. But few of them have inspired as much loyalty as Murray Dry.

One reason? As a speaker at Saturday night's dinner jokingly put it, "In Murray's world there are three things: students, former students, and nonstudents."

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