I'm sitting here sick at home, sipping tea, with a cold that is simultaneously attacking my lungs, nose and ears. A couple days ago I sounded worse than I felt. Now I sound and feel equally bad.
But, I did watch the gubernatorial debate on the TV last night, which fortunately didn't keep me up past 9, live-wire that I am.
Right from the start, the sponsors made this debate theirs with a sign-language rendition of the Star Spangled Banner by students from the Austine School. Then moderator Anne Potter, the deaf school's principal, read the questions to the candidates in sign language, with an interpreter. It had the very powerful effect of bringing the hearing members of the crowd, including the candidates, into their world.
It then appeared that the three candidates had had little exposure to that world of those with disabilities that the various sponsors represented. When they were asked what they would do to ensure police had sufficient training to respond to those with mental illness, I would venture to say none had given it a moment's thought, despite the fact that there have been several fatal shootings by police in recent years of those with mental illness.
Democrat Gaye Symington was the only one among the three candidates who learned a few words of sign language to greet the crowd. Nice touch.
She then practically bust a gut trying to sound smoother than she has in earlier debates. She succeeded, except for the fact that the effort was all over her face. When it comes to debating, independent Anthony Pollina has got her whooped, and it is part of what cost her some union backing. Whether that's entirely as it should be is another question. Does a candidate have to be smooth on the debate stand to make a good governor? Was it fair that JFK was better looking than Richard Nixon just as TV came into prevalence? Fair or not, it's part of the reality.
On one occasion, in answering a question about mental health care, it surprised me Symington didn't take Republican Gov. Jim Douglas to task over the Vermont State Hospital, which just yesterday failed to win federal certification again and still sitting there in Waterbury in an aged building after how many years of talk?
(***Update**** As I was typing this blog, an e-mail was winging its way to my in-box from the Symington campaign blasting Douglas over the state hospital. So perhaps she was off in debate/sign language class when word came out Wednesday about the certification.)
Then on another occasion, she looked out over the Brattleboro audience and let Douglas have it over Vermont Yankee. She borrowed a few lines from Senate President Pro Tem Peter Shumlin about nuclear waste piling up on the banks of the Connecticut River, accused Douglas of caring more about Entergy Corp. than Vermonters and roused the crowd in a way she is often unable to.
She got under Douglas' skin with it too. He fired back that that was absurd; he most assuredly does not care more about Entergy than Vermonters.
The dynamic between the two of them is changing as I expected it might during this campaign. There's more anger involved.
- Terri Hallenbeck