Vermont Progressives Party On

By Nate Pedersen

On March 3, Bob Kiss was re-elected as the Mayor of Burlington, Vt. Kiss is a member of the Vermont Progressive Party, which is currently the most successful third-party on the state-level in the US. Its political platform is proudly populist:

“We put the interests of the farmers, laborers, students, small business owners and seniors ahead of the interests of the large corporations that influence the other major parties.”

In Vermont their message resonates. Officially formed in 2000, the Progressives have since run candidates in every election, successfully tapping into Vermont’s progressive tendencies and quickly earning a respectable political reputation. They currently hold five seats in the Vermont House and one seat in the Vermont Senate. In addition, they have the Mayorship in Burlington, Vermont’s largest city, where they also have several seats on the City Council.

The Vermont Progressive Party achieved its success without a single corporate dollar. They refuse any donation from a corporate entity. In this era of corporate-sponsored politics, the Vermont Progressives offer a welcome and refreshing change.

I recently exchanged an e-mail interview Morgan Daybell, Executive Director of the Vermont Progressive Party:

1) I think the Vermont Progressive Party serves as a great example to other would-be third parties in that initially it has focused on local races and seats in the Vermont House in order to build a political base and reputation. I am curious, however, if the party plans to start entering more regularly into statewide races?

We have been running statewide campaigns since 2000, when we organized as a statewide party. Winning 5% in a statewide (non-federal) race is a requirement in VT for keeping major party status. In 2008, we ran a full slate of statewide candidates (six state offices) and also saw the first Progressive run for Federal office. I anticipate that we will continue to run a full slate of candidates for statewide office, but put our primary effort behind only one or two of those runs in any given year.

2) On that note, where do you see the party in 5 or 10 years?

Our short term goal is to elect 14 members to the House in VT. That would give us the possibility for representation on every house committee. We did elect a state senator in 2008, and I expect we will run in more state senate races over the next several elections as opportunities present.

3) Can you explain the relationship between Sen. Bernie Sanders and the Vermont Progressive Party? I know he is officially an “Independent,” but is there any talk of Sanders running under the Progressive Party label in the future?

The group that coalesced to elect Bernie as Mayor of Burlington in 1981 became the Progressive Coalition (active in the city of Burlington) and then the Statewide Progressive Party. Bernie has always identified himself as an independent, and I don’t imagine that he will run as anything else. He has endorsed many of our legislative candidates in the past, and most recently endorsed Bob Kiss in his re-election campaign. It would be great to have him officially under our banner, but progressives individually support him, and he is supportive of our candidates.

4) How would you characterize the party’s relationship with the Democrats? Is there ever any talk of coalition building to unseat Republicans — such as in the governor’s race this past year?

The relationship really varies across the state. There was a lot of talk with Democrats in late 2007 and 2008 about trying to unite around a candidate in the governor’s race that year. A lot of discussions and meetings, but ultimately the Democrats chose to put up a relatively weak contender late in the race, rather than to rally behind one candidate. In 2004 and 2006 there were some good examples of Ps and Ds working together at the local level. We had a number of agreements, or opportunities, again in 2008, but in several cases those agreements were broken or opportunities did not pan out. That recent history will make discussions in 2010 difficult, but where the parties can find mutual benefit, I imagine we will try to work together.

I believe there are opportunities as well at the local level to work with Republicans. It was not so long ago the Republicans were the party of Teddy Roosevelt (and more recently that Democrats were the party of Strom Thurmond). When we engage those traditional New England Republicans, many come to understand that the modern Republican party has left them behind. Our message of protecting individuals rights and pushing back against corporate domination of our government resonates with them in a way that the Republican party resonated with their great-grandparents.

[Author’s note: Several of the seats held by the Vermont Progressive Party in the Vermont House of Representatives are from traditionally Republican districts].

5) Finally, what piece of legislation would you most like to see passed by Congress and signed into law by President Obama?

Universal health care. Not tax-payer supported health insurance, not MA-style mandates, but cradle-to-grave coverage for all citizens.

Nate Pedersen is a Minnesota native now living in Oregon as a volunteer with the Progressive Democrats of America. See See for more information on the Vermont Progressive Party.

From The Progressive Populist, April 15, 2009

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