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On wind, Bernie and the moratorium

Almost a quarter of a century ago, on election night 1988, we were sitting in this office collecting returns as the town clerks around Orleans County got them pulled together.

The big surprise of the night was that, in his first bid for a seat in Congress, Bernie Sanders had beaten Republican Peter Smith in the town of Albany.

Albany didn’t turn liberal – or, Heaven knows, socialist – in 1988. Its voters picked Republican Michael Bernhardt over the sitting Governor, Madeleine Kunin, and George H.W. Bush for President over his Democratic rival, Michael Dukakis.

Bernie didn’t win that election across Vermont, or even across Orleans County.

But he did carry Albany, not to mention Craftsbury, Irasburg, Brownington, Glover, Greensboro, Holland, Lowell and Westmore.

And the fact that he won in some of the county’s smallest and most conservative towns told us something important about Bernie Sanders: He had a way of reaching people.

He did it by focusing on the issues people cared most about. He talked to farmers about their right to a decent price for milk. He talked to veterans about their right to decent health care. He talked to people who found themselves slipping down the economic ladder about their right to a set of rungs that would give them a fair crack at climbing toward the top.

It’s interesting that the growing gap between rich and poor in this country has finally captured the attention of economists and pundits who have the ear of the establishment. It’s well on its way to becoming a National Crisis. Oddly, though, none of the pundits preface their opinions with a sentence like: “Well, it seems Bernie Sanders was right all along.”

And maybe, in seeing a fresh focus on the problem Bernie has been harping on for decades, we’re indulging in some wishful thinking. Here is what we said when we endorsed Bernie in 1990, the year of his first successful bid for Congress:

“Everybody seems suddenly aware of what Mr. Sanders has been telling us for years. The system that governs us has been systematically impoverishing almost all of us in order to enrich a tiny minority that is already pretty rich.”

We’re proud of that endorsement, and stand by it today, even though we were disappointed by the position he took Monday against a moratorium on new industrial wind projects on the state’s ridgelines.

We were puzzled that the Senator chose this occasion to break his own longstanding rule against wading into issues that can only be resolved in the state Legislature.

And we were particularly saddened by the reason he offered: that a moratorium would be bad public relations for the battle against global warming.

Sure, the spin doctors at the coal and petroleum corporations might hold it up as a retreat from renewable energy.

But as we in the Kingdom know very well, this is a substantive debate that involves facts, not postures. The people in Craftsbury and Albany and Irasburg who opposed the Lowell project so strenuously don’t support global warming. They have made the point that this huge and expensive and environmentally devastating project will have little or no effect on global warming. The debate also raises very real questions about the quality of life of people who live near wind towers.

It’s exactly the sort of debate that would have captured the attention and imagination of a young Bernie Sanders. An issue that would have fired him up as an opportunity to make some political hay and, through his passionate politics, to make a difference in the lives of people the establishment has decided to brush aside.

Where is that Bernie Sanders, when we need him? –C.B.