Is America Ready for Bernie Sanders?

Bernie SandersBernie Sanders, Independent Senator from my old home state of Vermont, is running for President in the Democratic primaries. This is a picture from the press conference he held today (April 30) on the lawn of the Capitol to talk about why he is running and take a few questions.

It was classic Bernie – no backdrop, no flash, he said up front that he didn’t have a lot of time (the whole press conference lasted less than 15 minutes).

What are the most pressing issues he sees that need to be addressed?

  • Income inequality – stopping the decline of the middle class
  • Repealing Citizen’s United
  • Raising taxes on the richest Americans and making sure corporations pay their fare share
  • Creating millions of new, decent paying jobs
  • Addressing climate change
  • Invest in infrastructure
  • Universal healthcare – implementing a Medicare for all system
  • Providing free college tuition

I lived in Vermont for 10 years. Bernie is one of the most accessible politicians I have ever met – and I met him several times, including in Burlington’s food co-op.

Contrary to popular belief, Vermonters are not all liberals. Most of the time we lived in Vermont, there was a Republican governor. One year when the governor and Bernie were running for reelection for different offices, I would see lawns with yard signs for both men. How could that be? I would hear more conservative Vermonters say that they didn’t agree with Bernie on every issue, but you always knew where he stood. The list of issues above are the same ones Bernie has been talking about for years.

He always ran his campaigns like he was running for the first time – even when he would regularly get 65+% of the vote. He would hold town hall meetings across the state, usually provide a meal, give a short speech and then take questions.

Will this scale for a nationwide campaign? I don’t know, but I hope he finds a way to reach the millions of people in this country who believe their vote and their voices don’t count. Bernie can give them a reason to believe he is on their side.

I do know that I am pleased to see him in this race – and hear him say over and over that he is in it to win.

As Rolling Stone’s Matt Tiabbi put it in his latest article – Give ’em hell, Bernie.

Vermont Governor Signs GMO Labeling Law

Shumlin-GMOs

Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin on Thursday signed Vermont’s first-in-the-nation GMO labeling bill into law on the Statehouse steps in Montpelier. Joining him was Brigid Armbrust, 11, of West Hartford (in black), who launched a letter-writing campaign in support of GMO labeling. Photo by John Herrick/VTDigger

The Vermont Legislature passed and the Governor has signed the first GMO labeling law that does not have a trigger mechanism – for example, other states have passed GMO labeling laws that only take effect if neighboring states also have these laws.

From an article by VTDigger, a statewide news website:

Vermont will be the first state in the nation to require food manufacturers to label products containing genetically modified ingredients. It will also likely be the first state to defend the GMO labeling law in court, state officials say.

“Vermonters have spoken loud and clear: They want to know what’s in their food,” Gov. Peter Shumlin said. “We are pro-choice. We are pro-information. Vermont gets it right with this bill.”

Zuckerman-GMO

Sen. David Zuckerman, P/D-Chittenden, was the lead sponsor of the bill to require manufacturers to label products containing GMOs. Photo by John Herrick/VTDigger

Leading the charge for this legislation has been State Senator David Zuckerman, an organic farmer who I would regularly see selling his produce at the Burlington Farmers Market, who has worked nearly two decades while a legislator and now senator to pass a GMO labeling law. He believes Vermont’s law will cause a “domino effect” across the country.

“This is one of the cases where grassroots democracy really did win the day and hopefully we can carry it on into the future,” Zuckerman said.

The bill sets aside funds to cover the expected lawsuits from seed, chemical and food companies. The law is set to take effect July 1, 2016.

If you live in California, there is a GMO labeling bill, SB 1381, that needs a push from citizens to get it to the floor of of the Senate. The Organic Consumers Association has information on senators to call to make this happen.

Vermont was also the first state to call for an amendment to the Constitution to reverse the Citizen United ruling by the Supreme Court allowing unlimited campaign contributions and to put language in the Constitution that corporations do not have the same legal rights as persons.

Once again, the work of one person made this happen.

Earlier in the session it appeared there was no appetite in Montpelier for such a resolution, but a call to Sen. Dick Sears, D-Bennington, from one of his constituents got the ball rolling, he said.

“Dr. Steven Berry is a minister in Manchester,” Sears said. “He contacted me, and I’ve known him for several years, and we talked about it, and the more I heard, it made sense to me.”

Sears said he decided to put the resolution back on the “fast track” by holding hearings on the topic and eventually bringing it to the Senate floor for a vote where it passed 25-2.

“I think it’s an important resolution,” Sears said. “Congress isn’t going to act, and we’ve got to do something to get this country back under control.”

I hope this will get other states to pass similar calls for this amendment. It takes 34 states to call for a convention to add amendments to the Constitution and 38 states to ratify them.