By Heidi Scheuermann, December 2018


Six years ago, upon the considerable electoral defeat in 2012 of Vermont Republicans, I wrote an opinion piece asking where Vermont Republicans were to go from that point (Where To Go From Here, November 2012).


Specifically, my concern was that we had lost our way; that we had become lifeless and uninspiring; that our traditional core values of individual liberty and responsibility, a free market economy that ensures economic opportunity for all, fiscal responsibility, and a smaller, more efficient government in place to ensure programs and resources are there to help our friends and neighbors in need were being drowned out by other, more divisive issues; and that our big tent from years past inclusive of Republicans from the conservative wing to the liberal wing, was somehow becoming smaller rather than larger.


I followed the opinion piece with travels around the state with fellow Vermont Republican, Senator Joe Benning, presenting our case for refocusing on our core issues and developing a clear, inspired message, thus broadening our tent again and reinvigorating and reviving traditional Vermont Republicanism.


Unfortunately, while we had some success over the next four years in expanding our reach to discontented former Republicans, independents, and moderate Democrats, that success came to a halt with the 2018 election.


The question now is why.  Unfortunately, the answer is not a simple one.


Indeed, the disgust among Vermonters at President Trump’s caustic, boorish behavior and the frustration and anger with the national Republican Party that accompanies that disgust is an obvious challenge for Vermont Republicans.  Make no mistake, though, these feelings are shared by people from across the political spectrum – Republican to Democrat, conservative to liberal. 


That said, it is too simple to lay all of the blame for last month’s significant defeat on Donald Trump, Mitch McConnell, and the lot in DC. 


The same can be said with the recent debate about whether Vermont Republicans have become too liberal or too conservative for the voters of Vermont and the blame for the electoral loss being placed on either side of that debate.


Our challenge is a far more nuanced one than both of these allow.


In fact, Vermont Republicans have lost our way all on our own.  We continue to be lifeless and uninspiring.  We lack a clear message that inspires and welcomes Vermonters into our fold, and, in fact, in some cases, we are moving away from our traditional core values that have served this state so well for so many years.  And, for that reason, we don’t have the organization in place to compete electorally.


With last month’s significant defeat, I call again on Vermont Republicans to re-examine carefully where we are and how we move forward.  And, I respectfully propose that the only way to move forward successfully is to look back at our state’s proud and inspired Republican history, to become more inclusive of all, and to distinguish ourselves from the national party.  This is the only way we will be able to gain ground with young families, women, and other working Vermonters and voters so important for electoral success.


First, I call on all of us to examine both the character and legacies of the recent decades of work by distinguished Vermont Republicans, and consider what we might learn from them going forward.  Some of those we might look to include Governor and Senator George Aiken; Governor, Congressman, and Senator Robert Stafford; Governor Deane Davis; Attorney General, Congressman, and Senator Jim Jeffords; Governor Richard Snelling; Secretary of State, Auditor, and Governor Jim Douglas.


What made each of these individuals successful was simple.  It was their integrity, their independence; it was their frugality, their fiscal responsibility, and their decency.


Even more importantly, the legacies each of these Vermont Republicans left were of huge importance to our state and our nation.  For example, every significant piece of national education policy created over the past 50 years has the fingerprints of every Vermont Republican in Washington, from pre-K and special education, to K-12 and post-secondary educational opportunities.  They were firm believers in fiscal responsibility, fighting for smart tax policy, debt reduction, pay as you go laws, and more.  They were leaders on environmental policy, including our land use planning law (Act 250), the clean water and clean air acts, and so much more.  They believed strongly in workforce and job training opportunities, much-needed worldwide humanitarian aid, and disaster relief.  They all fought relentlessly for health care access and affordability, and for important disability policies in an effort to ensure the greatest possible opportunities for individuals with disabilities.


Just as our prior leaders faced serious challenges like those above that needed to be addressed, so do we now.  And I submit that Vermont Republicans can lead the way in this regard.  If we refocus on our core values, we can lead the way in fiscally responsible state spending, in growing our economy, in economically sustainable energy and environmental policies, in caring for our friends and neighbors in need, in returning the education of our children to those who know them best (the local communities) and set the bar for educational excellence, rather than mediocrity in the pursuit of equity, and ensuring all Vermonters have the best possible opportunities available to them.


In order to do so, however, we need to change.


Just as I said in 2012, we need to understand that government is not the enemy of our ideas, or of the people.  Government is, and should be, an instrument of the people put in place to help those in need.


Economic liberty and free enterprise, personal liberty and responsibility, and a limited, non-invasive government in place to help those in need are the very ideals that help everyone, and are the ones proven to work.  Vermont Republicans have a proud and accomplished tradition in this regard, and it’s time to embrace them within the 21st Century landscape.


It’s time to start anew; to break down and rebuild ourselves around our core, timeless principles of liberty and responsibility.  It’s time to acknowledge the demographic shift in Vermont; to understand Vermonters’ priorities are different, and their needs more complex.


It’s time to lead. 


As a political party, we are down.  But our voice is necessary and our ideals sound.  We simply need to embrace our traditional Vermont Republicanism.  Toward that end, I plan to do just that by continuing to serve my constituents accordingly, and embracing an idea from 2012 of a marketing friend of mine.


I am a proud