Guard service, universal health care on Town Meeting warnings

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(Host) In Vermont, the first Tuesday in March is a day dedicated to the details of local government. But Vermont also has a tradition of raising national, even international, issues at Town Meeting. Next week, dozens of towns will debate universal health care and the Iraq War. Organizers of the non-binding ballot initiatives say these issues are intensely local as well.

VPR’s John Dillon has this report:

(Dillon) At least 53 towns will consider ballot items that focus on the Iraq War. But it’s much more than a statement against U.S. policy. In most towns, the resolution calls for a special commission to investigate where the call-up has hurt the ability of the National Guard to respond to emergencies at home.

Monica Cahilly helped get the resolution on the ballot in Warren in the Mad River Valley. She says Vermont has the second highest percentage of National Guard members activated for duty.

(Cahilly) “So there is a growing concern that Vermont will be facing a readiness problem. And who will address the readiness? Will that be our local fire departments that will be required to handle missions that were previously covered by the Guard? So that’s one aspect. The second aspect is the impact on our local communities and businesses and the families posed by significant deployment of the Guard.”

(Dillon) The Iraq War resolution opens with a statement of support for the troops, and it says that the country was led into war for reasons that turned out not to be true. In Westford, Rosalind Andreas says she hopes the town meeting vote leads to more dialog about the war.

(Andreas) “We think it’s very important, that because Vermont has this Town Meeting tradition it’s a way for us to start the conversation, and go on record. It is my understanding that interest is being shown in other states as well.”

(Dillon) This isn’t the first time that Town Meeting has focused on issues of war and peace. In the early 1980s, towns went on record in support of a freeze on nuclear weapons. More recently towns debated genetically modified food, and the USA Patriot Act.

Last year, 16 towns in Windham County passed resolutions calling for the state to support universal health care. That resolution is now on 20 other ballots around the state.

Richard Davis is with the Vermont Citizens Campaign for Health in Brattleboro.

(Davis) “And so what we’re hoping to have happen is after Town Meeting this year, we’ll have a list of towns that have passed this resolution. And then have a media event, probably a press conference, and try to show the legislators who are working on this issue that there is a mandate from a significant number of people in Vermont for them to act now and do something decisive.”

(Dillon) Even those though the resolutions are non-binding, the organizers say it’s a way for voters to have a voice on issues that affect their lives just as much as school tax rates and local budgets.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon.

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