Our opinion: Thoughts on US Senate, House races

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The following is the first of the Journal's recommendations for this Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 6.

U.S. Senate

It should be easy to support Sen. Bernie Sanders' re-election campaign. His stands on education and health care access as a means of leveling the playing field for the middle class and the poor are driven by a sense of justice and fair play, and a basic understanding that people with access to education and medical care are going to be more productive workers and members of society. He understands that this country works better when there's some measure of economic fairness to be had for what's left of the middle class, and for people working to better themselves and pursue their dreams. It's that version of Bernie Sanders — the seeming regular guy from Brooklyn whose best moments in the 2016 presidential campaign were driven by substance, not style — that appeals most. He articulates his positions well, and he's certainly a fighter.

Yet, here we are, wondering why Sanders is taking Vermont for granted by choosing to spend the weeks before a vote on his re-election to the United States Senate on a nine-state tour of states not named Vermont. He's doing so rather than debating the numerous candidates who are opposing him for re-election, most notably independent Brad Peacock, a farmer from Shaftsbury, and Republican Lawrence Zupan, a real estate professional from Manchester.

If time travel were possible, we think the Bernie Sanders of 1988, visiting Vermont 30 years in the future, would take a dim view of a U.S. senator who didn't see the need to answer to the voters of his home state, or to his competition, in the weeks before Election Day. He might also point out the incongruity and irony of an avowed socialist having become a millionaire, and having done so by taking money from the same company that he singled out for mistreating and underpaying its employees.

That said, while Peacock agrees with Sanders on many important issues and has political independence we like and admire, he admittedly lacks experience. Whether or not that's a good thing for Washington in the long run, it's not good for the interests of Vermont right now; in a closely-divided Senate, Sanders' experience as a lawmaker and national stature have a significant intrinsic value. Surely, there are offices in Montpelier where a person with Peacock's dedication and his first-hand understanding of hard work and the needs of rural Vermonters, would do a great amount of good. And that would prepare Peacock for another run at higher office down the road, in which he'd stand a better chance of success as a candidate and a lawmaker. We hope this is just the start for him.

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As for Zupan, we are quite sorry to say that party affiliation, which we otherwise strenuously avoid as decision-making criteria, simply cannot be ignored when considering whom to send to a deeply divided Congress. Another Republican on the Senate would be another vote for the misguided agenda embraced by Congressional Republicans over the past two years. Even if we agreed with Zupan across the board, it would be very difficult to imagine a scenario in which giving Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell another vote with which to prop up the president, cut taxes on the wealthy and willfully ignore climate change would be a positive for America, or for Vermont. Perhaps Zupan, like Peacock, might also find a role at the state level where he can do some good and build experience and credentials for another run down the road.

Sanders is certainly well-known enough that he can run for president without being the senator from Vermont; but Vermont, with only one seat in Congress, needs two full-time senators, committed to the task at hand. If Sanders wins as widely expected and runs for the White House as widely expected, we hope he'll step aside to campaign full-time, so Vermont can have the full-time representation in Congress that it deserves.

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U.S. House

It says something for U.S. Rep. Peter Welch that we see him on a relatively frequent basis in Southern Vermont. Among all statewide elected officials, he's here in Bennington County at least as often, if not more so, than Gov. Phil Scott. He's certainly here more often than Sen. Bernie Sanders, who visits Bennington County once or twice a year. And he's definitely here more often than Sen. Patrick Leahy, who astonishingly last held a public event in Bennington County in October 2016.

They say 90 percent of success is showing up. But there's more to it than that. Welch has managed to remain an effective lawmaker despite the partisan circus that is the United States Congress. He has been a voice for common sense and reaching across the aisle to get things done, and if the House changes leadership next month, that commitment will be sorely needed. (Again, the behavior of Congressional Republicans makes it impossible to seriously consider adding to their number.)

Earlier this year, Welch's reputation took a bit of a bruising when it was reported that he had accepted donations from pharmaceutical companies supporting a bill that he also supported.

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A news investigation found that law actually hindered the ability of federal authorities to keep prescription drugs off the black market.

We do hope that Welch has learned from that situation and in the future will divest himself of big-money donors who could saddle him with even the perception of a conflict of interest. It's true that accepting donations is "the way the game is played" in Congressional politics. But we'd like to see Vermont lead rather than follow in this regard, and we're confident Welch can do so.

But whatever Welch lost as a result of that report, he regained this past summer by doing what he does well in Vermont — taking the time to learn-first hand about the issues for himself. When a cruel and bigoted administration separated immigrant children from their parents and put them in cages along the southwestern border, Welch was the only member of the Vermont delegation who went there to see in person what was happening and to call attention to the wrongs being perpetrated in our names. And when he returned, he showed he'd paid attention — blaming not the ICE agents put in an impossible situation, but the president and the Republican majority that blithely enabled this travesty.

That sort of commitment to the job, and to what's important, is valuable to Vermont.

Next week: Our view on the Governor's race.


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