For decades there has been tension between Democrats and Progressives in Vermont, and Thursday night, members of both parties sat down to talk about the conflicts that sometimes are detrimental to their shared interests.
Both sides actually took some offense to the idea that they can't get along, pointing out they often do cooperate in Montpelier. Both sides also pointed out that as separate parties they really should be expected to get along. What separates them is their idea of how to get things done and that's where the tension comes in.
There were no punches thrown, no major insults hurled, and hardly any hints of disagreement as Democrats and Progressives answered a series of questions presented by moderator Shay Totten.
"I think the main difference between the Progressives and the Democrats is the Progressives have a much narrower viewpoint whereas the Democrats have a broader viewpoint, a broader spectrum both with the issues and of viewpoints," said Jake Perkinson, Chair of the Burlington Democratic Committee.
That notion, both sides repeatedly pointed out, is really their only difference. Progressives say they exist to fight for the most liberal of ideals even when the Democrats, with their more inclusive platform, move more toward center.
"We shouldn't always get along because sometimes when those policies veer from that with the Democratic majority it's important we don't get along and that we express those views that many in the public hold," said Rep. David Zuckerman, P-Burlington.
The reality is that Democrats and Progressives DO get along about 99 percent of the time, at least in Montpelier. In Burlington it's a slightly different story.
"We in Burlington love to play politics," said Rep. Johanna Leddy Donovan, D-Burlington. "We love to get in, we love to do battle, and so there's a dynamic here that doesn't exist any place else."
There's also a different balance of power in Burlington, where the Progressives hold the Mayor's seat and sometimes align themselves with Republicans and Independents on the city council to outnumber the Democrats. Many Burlington Democrats also still hold a grudge about the 1981 election when Bernie Sanders and the Progressive party took power.
Election cycles always seem to bring out the tension between the parties. That tension was enhanced this year by Anthony Pollina's presence in the governor's race and newcomer Democratic Representative Kesha Ram's defeat of Progressive Representative Chris Pearson.
The question of, "Why does it even matter if the two parties get along?" can best be answered by races like the one between Anthony Pollina, Gaye Symington, and Gov. Jim Douglas. Progressive and Democratic candidates tend to attract generally the same voters. So if they run against each other they can split the vote and allow the Republican to win. If they cooperate, however, they can team up to defeat a Republican candidate.
"I do believe that until we can join hands and really sing the 'Kumbaya' there has to be a few more funerals and there have to be a few egos deflated," said Donovan.
But come January, both sides say they're ready to work together on the issues that matter.
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