Letter: Marthage refuses calls to debate
Posted Thursday, July 12, 2018 7:42 am
To the Editor:
As the fireworks and barbeques of Independence Day are still fresh in our memories and we enter the height of the campaign season, it is only natural to think about our democratic traditions that have made our country's political system the envy of the world. Candidates from all walks of life throw their hats into the ring firmly convinced that their beliefs and policies are the best for the constituencies they hope to represent. Sometimes the viewpoints of the candidates are similar and other times they are diametrically opposed to each other. After debates, forums and much scrutiny it is the electorate that ultimately decides who is the best candidate, who has the best ideas, and who should occupy the office in question. It is an American tradition and the essence of our democratic process.
But the ideal does not always play out in reality. Sometimes candidates refuse to participate. They are not willing to subject themselves to the scrutiny of the voters. Their reasons can vary. They might be on the wrong side of the issues. In the case of incumbents, maybe their past performance was less than stellar. Perhaps it is a calculated decision by the candidate's advisors and lobbyists that debates are too risky and there is a need to play it safe. In the end, the failure of a candidate to participate in an unscripted and unpackaged environment results in a disservice to the voters. Unfortunately, such is the situation in Bennington County.
On August 14th the voters will be going to the polls to select a Democratic candidate for the office of Bennington County State's Attorney. By many accounts this race is the most important countywide election in quite some time. The candidates and their viewpoints could not differ more. The election will determine how criminal justice is handled over the next four years. Are the citizens of Bennington County satisfied with the status quo or is there a desire for change? Unless there are vigorous debates and forums whereby voters can ask meaningful questions to both of the candidates, we may never know.
To date, the current State's Attorney has not been willing to engage in a debate or forum on the most important issues that have surfaced in this race: the rate of incarceration in Bennington County, the feasibility of a drug court, and whether the length of time the candidates have resided in the area is important. All of these issues would get a thorough airing in a one-on-one public setting. There have been three offers by local organizations to sponsor such forums but my opponent has declined or ignored them all.
There is a long-valued tradition in Vermont and throughout the rest of New England to attend town meetings, express opposing viewpoints, and listen to concerns of the voters. The same is true in the election process but time is running out in Bennington County. Full participation is needed. We owe it to the citizens in the name of democracy.
Letter: Endorses Gottlieb for State's Attorney
Posted Sunday, July 8, 2018 8:39 pm
To the Editor:
I am writing to publicly endorse Arnie Gottlieb in his bid to be Bennington County's new State's Attorney. There are many reasons to endorse him: I'll focus on the most compelling ones. Arnie is a seasoned, experienced trial lawyer. He has successfully defended scores of clients in criminal cases. He recognizes that a reliable prosecutor is one who is able to distinguish between individuals who should be charged and those who should be referred to diversion, or not charged at all. He will not waste the precious resources of the office to pursue cases that don't warrant prosecution. Arnie is intelligent, compassionate, seasoned and pragmatic. He is a listener.
The discernment he demonstrates is markedly lacking in the current county prosecutor. It is well-known and beyond cavil that she charges indiscriminately. She over-charges. Contrary to her claims, (See the Bennington Banner, June 28) Bennington County does send the most people to prison of any county in Vermont.
When Arnie first announced he was running, on a platform of reform, including greater use of alternatives to prosecution and incarceration, a drug court, the use of diversion, bail reform, and so forth, the current prosecutor's response was to say that Arnie was an outsider and couldn't understand local needs and values. The reality is that the current prosecutor is woefully out of step with our values. A population that is struggling with generational poverty, drug addiction, homelessness and joblessness has been treated most harshly by the State's Attorney's office. In my fifteen years working at Sunrise with young families struggling with homelessness, addiction, lack of employment and education opportunities, I was struck by the universality of the normalization of prison. Every family I worked with had members in jail; weekend visits to Marble Valley, to Chittenden, and Southern State, by young mothers and fathers and their infants and toddlers, were routine. Bennington doesn't have more crime than other counties, but it sends more folks to prison: that's the truth. And the devastating long-term effects of an overzealous prosecutor on our citizens and on the morale and culture of our community must not be minimized: housing, jobs, and opportunities are effectively closed off for those with a criminal conviction. And try getting an old conviction expunged in Bennington County.
The current Bennington State's Attorney is considered an outlier, a hard-line law-and-order holdout, by other counties in Vermont because of her rigid resistance to reform. She claims that Bennington hasn't had the resources to create a drug court. Ask any defense lawyer in the county if this is so, and if the absence of reform in Bennington has anything to do with a lack of resources. It's the lack of will by the State's Attorney that has prevented Bennington from joining the rest of the state in implementing cost-saving reforms. She's suddenly changing her tune, talking about reform, because she feels the winds of change blowing. She's had more than enough time to lead Bennington and embrace a more liberal, tolerant and effective stance.
The current prosecutor's assertion that Arnie could not serve Bennington County well because he did not grow up here is frankly insulting (to him, to the intelligent people of Bennington County, and to all the people who came to Vermont from other places), and almost doesn't merit mentioning. But because it sounds too much like the kind of noxious provincialism we hear from the reprehensible occupant of the White House, I must say this: I am not from Vermont. I chose Vermont, to raise my children, to make a life, to work and contribute to my community. So many productive, generous and talented people in Vermont have come from somewhere else, just as is the case in our country as a whole. I welcome Arnie Gottlieb to Vermont, and am grateful to him for his willingness to serve. We are fortunate that our state, and our county, attract civic-minded people with integrity and talent.
I hope every person who reads this letter remembers to vote for Arnie Gottlieb in the primary on August 14. Be the change, Bennington. You deserve something better, and you can make it happen if you vote.
Amelia W. Silver,
The author notes that although she is the treasurer for T.J. Donovan's election campaign, the opinions expressed in this letter are solely her own and do not reflect the opinions of the Vermont attorney general.