What if, in the lieutenant governor's race for the Democratic nomination, voters had had the choice of a veteran state senator who had introduced or co-sponsored at least 10 pieces of legislation that had been enacted into law; who had served on an advisory committee that met off-session to make recommendations about legislation to address certain issues; who had received over 32,000 votes, twice, in the two preceding general elections; and who had at least six years' elected experience in another body prior to serving in the senate?
And what if there were a second candidate who was the leader of one of the chambers of the legislature, successfully guiding that chamber to pass important bills on conditions for workers, climate change, health care, and criminal justice reform; who had won the support of many of the other members of that chamber; and who had served on a "money committee" prior to moving into leadership?
And what if there were a third candidate who represented the younger generation, graduated from UVM, worked as a lawyer for humanitarian causes, and was able to raise upwards of $200,000 to finance their campaign?
What if the year were 2016, and these three candidates were, respectively, David Zuckerman, Shap Smith, and Kesha Ram? Who would the press pick as the top two candidates, to focus their coverage on and declare the race essentially a competition between just those two? If it were 2016, those two would be Zuckerman and Smith, the straight white men, while Ram, the woman of color, with no family ties to established Vermont Democrats, would be discounted.
What if the year were 2020, and these three candidates were, respectively, Debbie Ingram, Tim Ashe, and Molly Gray? Who would the press pick as the only two real contenders then? Why, Ashe and Gray, the straight white people, one of whom is strongly ensconced among prominent Vermont families - granted, one a man and one a woman - but certainly not the lesbian in recovery, any more than the woman of color previously. And the press would hardly know what to do with the other candidate in this four-way race: Brenda Siegel, the low-income single mom with a long history of activism.
Like me, David Zuckerman served four years in the state senate, co-sponsoring 10 (to my 14) bills that were enacted; served on an advisory committee (I chaired the committee I served); received far more votes than other senators from smaller districts (my 40,000-plus votes vs. Zuckerman's 32,000-plus votes, twice, put me as the third highest vote-getter among women in the entire state currently serving — eclipsed only by Treasurer Beth Pearce and Senator Ginny Lyons) and served 16 years in the House (arguably superior to my six years on a town selectboard, but when you include my 13 years as a non-profit executive director and seven years overseas consulting for NGOs, the experience is comparable).
Like Tim Ashe, Shap Smith was leader of his chamber (Speaker of the House instead of President Pro Tem of the Senate); had the admiration and support of many House members (as Tim did of senators); guided the passage of some important legislation; and served on House Ways and Means (rather than Senate Appropriations).
Like Molly Gray, Kesha Ram was younger than her opponents, graduated from UVM, worked as a lawyer in the humanitarian realm (Kesha locally for Steps for Domestic Violence vs. Molly's international work with the Red Cross), and raised over $200,000 (actually, Kesha raised $244K to Molly's $214K). And in fact, Kesha also had substantial elected experience that Molly did not have, having served in the Vermont House for eight years before her run for LG.
Three pairs of candidates with similar credentials and accomplishments, but with glaring differences in other respects. It's true that Tim and Shap both fared well in the press coverage of their respective races and both came in second in the final tally. But given the choice between a straight white man (Zuckerman) versus a lesbian in recovery (Ingram), and a white woman with family connections to influential Vermonters (Gray) versus a woman of color originally from another state (Ram), perhaps we should not be surprised at whom the press picked as the focus of their coverage, and who came in first versus who came in last.
And again, this year there was also Siegel, the low-income single mom with not only activist experience, but also solid grassroots support from statewide organizations, including the Democratic Socialists of America, who also embrace and are embraced by Bernie Sanders. But perhaps given her income and family circumstances it's not surprising that she was not considered a true contender either.
What if Vermont really were exceptional, and race, sexual orientation, place of birth, recovery status, family composition, and income were not reasons for bias?
State Sen. Debbie Ingram, D-Chittenden, of Williston, is the executive director of Vermont Interfaith Action. She also ran for the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor in this year's August 11 primary. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of the Brattleboro Reformer.