“I have heard many, many people say that they’ve never voted for a Republican in their lives, and they will now vote for anyone who expresses opposition to industrial wind towers on the ridge lines,” said Annette Smith, executive director of Vermonters for a Clean Environment, one of the few organizations to oppose further wind development. Luke Snelling of Energize Vermont, another anti-wind group, agreed.
Sen. Bernie Sanders has a campaign rally scheduled for West Rutland a week from Saturday, and he shouldn’t be surprised if he confronts some angry protesters.
Not, this time, from political conservatives who disagree with almost every position the decidedly left-of-center (though not really “socialist”) Sanders has taken for decades.
Instead, the folks thinking about showing up with signs and slogans are liberals who agree with their U.S. senator on most issues, but disagree with him bitterly on one: wind power on Vermont’s ridge lines.
Actually, they don’t just disagree with him. They’re downright furious with him for what they consider his refusal to enter into polite discussion with them.
Not that the foes of industrial wind are going to defeat Bernie Sanders this November.
Sanders is the most popular Vermont office-holder since George Aiken and his opponent will be a little-known, untested Republican. Wind opponents, according to a new survey by the Castleton Polling Institute, comprise all of 17 percent of Vermont’s voters, as opposed to 69 percent who support “building wind energy turbines along the state’s ridgelines.”
But as polling institute director Rich Clark noted, most of that pro-wind majority is “not worked up about it. It’s those opponents who are going to be out there with the signs and the slogans.”
Wind opponents are not much more of a threat to Gov. Peter Shumlin’s re-election than they are to Sanders’. But in the governor’s race they have an option, meaning they could become a factor, a complication if not a real danger, to Shumlin.
That’s because state Sen. Randy Brock of St. Albans, who will be Shumlin’s Republican opponent, came out recently in favor of a moratorium on the construction of new wind projects.
“I am not viscerally opposed to wind,” Brock said (via email). “But, I am concerned about … the effect of large scale industrial wind on our natural environment and on the people who live nearby … the cost-benefit of wind, especially given the significant tax preferences … benefiting a small group of alternative energy providers at the expense of ratepayers … and the true effect of job creation, balancing projections of green job growth against job loss caused by higher energy costs.”
That’s the kind of talk that’s been heard from few Vermont politicians in either party, and it struck a chord with the anti-wind forces. Small though their numbers may be, they occupy an interesting and potentially significant slot along the state’s political spectrum – lifelong Democrats who might vote for Republican Brock on this issue alone.
“I have heard many, many people say that they’ve never voted for a Republican in their lives, and they will now vote for anyone who expresses opposition to industrial wind towers on the ridge lines,” said Annette Smith, executive director of Vermonters for a Clean Environment, one of the few organizations to oppose further wind development.
Luke Snelling of Energize Vermont, another anti-wind group, agreed.
“From my travels around the state, I notice a huge number of single-issue voters for this issue,” Snelling said. “I’ve seen stuff cross my bow indicating that people who’ve never voted Republican are going to break for Brock.”
Neither Smith nor Snelling, to be sure, is an objective observer; the wish often being father to the thought, they could be reading too much into a few conversations. Furthermore, as officials of 501(c)3 organizations, neither of them is – or can be – directly involved in politics. Neither of them knew, for instance, whether any of these potential Democrats-for-Brock has any plans to try to put together an actual organization, or whether they are all content to speculate and gripe to each other via email.
Still, there does seem to be some potential for Brock to eat into part of Shumlin’s base. Most of Vermont’s anti-wind activists are environmentalists and reliable Democratic voters. So in a sense every one of them who votes for Brock hurts Shumlin twice – once by subtracting a vote from him, once by voting for the other guy.
Both Smith and Snelling insisted their ranks are growing. A few years ago, Smith said, polls indicated that roughly 90 percent of Vermonters supported wind power; now it’s down to 70 percent. Meanwhile, she said, a “huge” opposition has been inspired by a proposal for the Grandpa’s Knob wind project west of Rutland, and opposition to other projects has been “growing organically, from the grassroots.”
That’s no doubt true. As more projects are proposed, more opposition is aroused from neighbors. And the anti-wind movement has learned political lessons from its defeats in Sheffield and Lowell. Opposition organizes more quickly now, and is more sophisticated.
But it is nowhere close to a majority, and unlikely to endanger Shumlin’s re-election. According to that Castleton poll – which appears to be an accurate snapshot of Vermont political opinion – 65 percent of the state’s voters approve of how the governor is doing his job. A few thousand – even, say, 5,000 – devoted Democrats voting for Brock is not going to overcome Shumlin’s lead.
Besides, they probably won’t all vote for Brock. As the campaign unfolds, they will learn more about his proposals on health care, taxes, and other environmental issues. Some of them will come back to their Democratic fold. Others might stay home.
Even the possibility of substantial defection to Brock over this one issue, though, illustrates the power of passion in politics. Nationally, opponents of abortion rights and gun control are minorities, but often convince lawmakers and executives to side with them. In Vermont, the new poll indicates a huge 72-to-20 percent majority in favor of “legislation allowing someone who is terminally ill to take prescribed medicine to end his or her life.”
But that legislation failed again this year. The opposition was fewer in number, but better organized, more focused, and far more committed.
Jon Margolis is VTDigger.org’s political analyst.
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