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Two Views: What is a Moderate Republican?

03/11/02 12:00AM

I was recently chatting with a newcomer to the state. He commented on the fact that where he came from he'd be considered a progressive Republican, perhaps in the style of Jim Jeffords. But here, he is more likely to be labeled a "fascist."

He was joking, of course. But as with all jokes, there's a grain of truth in what he had to say. Vermont's political stage is tilted a little to the left of the rest of the country. Hence, political labels are skewed accordingly.

I point to the recent stories of the resignation of Sen. Barbara Snelling and the subsequent appointment of her daughter to take her place. First, let me say that I admire and respect the Snelling family. And I especially like Barbara for her courage and perseverance.

Politically, however, I disagree with some of her positions. Because of those positions, she is often labeled a "moderate Republican."

If so, then moderate Republicans are for civil unions, against abortion restrictions, and maybe a tad lukewarm on an issue close to my heart, school choice. Except for their position on fiscal issues, their views are probably more in sync with so-called liberal members of the legislature.

So what is a moderate? That term conjures up images of someone who wants to try to walk the middle road. A moderate might support abortion rights, but favor some reasonable abortion restrictions such as parental notification. A moderate might support giving benefits and privileges to gay and lesbian couples under a reciprocal benefit-type arrangement but not want to go as far as supporting anything that resembled marriage.

But wait a minute -- anyone who holds those "middle-ground' views in Vermont is labeled a conservative.

Maybe we should do away with the labels entirely and merely talk about issues and politicians' positions on the issues. It would keep things in perspective.

This is Libby Sternberg in Rutland.

And this is Angelo Lynn.

Three events this past year have some Republicans wondering if the term moderate is still part of the party's vernacular.

Last spring, Sen. Jeffords left the Republican Party and shifted the balance of power in Congress.

In January, Sen. Barbara Snelling retired and Republican Senate Minority Leader John LaBarge urged the Chittenden County Republican Committee to recommend at least one moderate candidate as her successor, to demonstrate that the state GOP hadn't lost its moderate voice. The committee chose three conservatives. Gov. Dean picked Snelling's daughter, Diane, a moderate, and LaBarge was proven wrong.

Most recently, gubernatorial candidate Con Hogan dropped out of the Republican primary to run as an independent. While many saw the move as his best political option, it's telling that Hogan, an experienced and moderate Republican, feels more confident outside the current GOP than within it.

So, just what is a moderate Republican?

First, a moderate is open to multiple viewpoints and solutions, and rejects votes cast for purely ideological reasons. Moderates like Jeffords, Snelling and Hogan support pro-choice and civil unions largely because reason trumps ideology.

Second, moderate Republicans consider the big picture, as opposed to single-issues, such as gun control, abortion and school choice.

Third, moderates are those with conservative fiscal values. They pay off debts, balance budgets and budget with a sense of social fairness.

Republican legends like Sen. Aiken, Sen. Stafford, Gov. Davis and Gov. Snelling - all moderates - passed forward-thinking legislation like the billboard law and Act 250, and raised the income tax when needed. Those were broad-minded measures passed with bipartisan support to benefit all Vermonters.

Can anyone imagine Vermont Republicans supporting those initiatives today?

--Angelo Lynn is editor and publisher of the Addison Independent. Libby Sternberg is a freelance writer, former Chair of the Rutland County Republican Party, and is active in education issues.
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