Mike Covey: It’s privileged Vermonters who love representation

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This commentary is from Mike Covey of Williamstown, executive director of the Vermont Traditions Coalition.

As our current legislative session proceeds to debate bill after bill that impact the lives of every citizen, an unreported threat to democracy has become clear that no one seems willing to acknowledge: that only a privileged few are consistently heard in state government affairs.

In the age of remote telecommunications, affluent city dwellers enjoy stable broadband access with reliable connections that allow them to fully participate in civic discourse – the foundation of our society and democracy. Their opinions are easily heard by legislators and they enjoy the privilege of being represented in the Senate and the State House, as well as, if not more importantly, in committee meetings before any votes are called.

However, rural Vermonters do not enjoy this same privilege. The lack of statewide broadband infrastructure prohibits many from participating in the most basic public debate in politics, which is the very foundation of our republic.

In rural areas where access is available, it is often unreliable or lacks the bandwidth needed to properly run live conferencing applications such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams, or other means of telecommunications.

The impact of this geo-economic disparity is that rural citizens of Vermont are not represented when it comes to legislation that directly impacts their income, property, daily life and culture. H.316, S.201, S.281, and S.129 are just the most recent examples of privileged city dwellers enjoying an outsized voice in state politics.

The catch is that these bills have nothing to do with zoning laws, public transit, industrial sprawl, education or health care, but with wildlife management.

The very people that these policies will impact on a daily basis are underrepresented or completely excluded from the policy-making process, while the wealthy voice their opinions without any skin in the game. If policies are poorly designed, they do not suffer the consequences under which the silenced majority will struggle.

Indeed, the state will doubly victimize rural residents by not providing the infrastructure that allows them to fully participate in the civic life of our communities and the state. Regardless of your position on the aforementioned bills, equal opportunity to participate in our government is something we can all agree on. It’s time for someone to recognize that rural voices are being left out of policy discussions precisely when we need them most.

The days of no taxation without representation are over; today’s equivalent is no representation without telecommunications.

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