This is my final post on my conversation back in September with Marguerite Ladd and George Putnam, of the Cambridge, VT government. (You can read the first post here.) On my first trips to New York and Maine, the subject of politics came up in subtle ways, but I never raised it myself. In Vermont, I decided to dip a toe in, and found it was a good place to do so.
First, I needed to be brought up to speed on the Vermont Town Meeting tradition, which George explained takes place once each year, in March, on a declared state holiday. The agenda for a town meeting includes the election of officers, the town budget, and questions from the town. In Cambridge, the election of officers is conducted through open discussion, not by secret ballot. The regional newspaper offers coverage of the meetings and those who can’t attend can watch the livestream from home. (You can, too. Check it out.)
George said that “One of the good things about town government is there’s very little politics in it.” There are no traditional political parties involved when folks run for the selectboard, which can include three or five members. In 2019, George said there were four good candidates for open positions. They didn’t campaign ahead of time but, instead, “stood up and explained their positions.” George, himself, has written quite a bit about town government, as he has learned about it from the perspective of a selectboard member.
Marguerite noted that the candidates’ positions don’t necessarily line up with the national parties, and George said that local views in town are “a mix, where it comes to state and national politics.” Still, it seems that Cambridge, Vermont is a place where civility can rule. Note that the two candidates for an open seat in the Vermont House made news in 2018 with their respectful campaign and the fact that they joined together for a musical duet following a debate. (Lucy Rogers ultimately prevailed.)
Finally, Marguerite answered my last question from our conversation. Perhaps her description of Cambridge’s residents gets to how the politics remains civil.
How would you describe Cambridge?
To me, it’s a unique mix — and maybe by unique, I mean the actual ratio — of traditionalists and people who are forward thinking. And maybe that’s the magic ratio. They’re all passionate about their beliefs but also share that common goal of a high standard and quality of living that’s equal for all. What that means to them is different for different people, for sure, but somehow it merges into a good median of what needs to happen to keep Cambridge sustainable and keep it growing, with moderate growth being key there.
In the end, everyone is searching for that quality of life. Being able to live in a place you love, do the stuff you love, and have neighbors who aren’t crazy. Somehow it shakes out that, even with all the different viewpoints, that’s what makes Cambridge what it is, and also that it can thrive. Even if they wouldn’t say out loud they’re working together, I think that common denominator is there at the core of it.