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The Valley Reporter
P.O. Box 119
Waitsfield, VT 05673

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‘Beyond being rented for the day’

By Jim Boylan

Since I wrote my "I am Incredulous" letter two weeks ago I have received lots of feedback. Much of it agreeing with me, some disagreeing.

Many years ago I worked for the Appalachian Volunteers in southern West Virginia and eastern Kentucky as a community organizer. We sometimes monitored local elections.

These elections for county offices such as the high sheriff of Hazard County were notorious for the level of vote-buying that went on. When folks sold their vote they clearly knew who they were selling it to. You got a pint of moonshine and $5 or $10 to vote for the ticket of one county faction or the other. The system was fairly sophisticated; even the Kennedys participated. When John Kennedy beat Hubert Humphrey in the West Virginia Democratic Primary to put JFK on the road to the presidential nomination, his brother Bobby was running his campaign. The local lore was that Bobby would give one or the other democratic faction in a county the money to buy the election and put more money in an out-of-state bank escrow account. The local faction could only access the funds when John won the primary in their county.

The day after that famous 1960 primary, the Logan, West Virginia, newspaper, The Logan Banner, said the election was a spree of "flagrant vote-buying, whiskey flowing like water, and coercion of voters.... You name it and we just about had it." A Logan political boss, Claude "Big Daddy" Ellis, claimed that the Kennedy camp sent him more than $50,000, which went for "sawbucks and half-pints," the standard payoff to voters who let precinct workers "assist" them in choosing the designated slate. Ellis quipped that JFK didn't "buy West Virginia; he just rented it for a day."

The big difference between those elections and our upcoming bond vote is those voters knew who was manipulating their vote. Here, in what we Vermonters believe is a sophisticated, modern, liberal, transparent democracy, the voters of Waitsfield do not have the same opportunity.

Some people have said to me that the anonymous donor may have good and pure intentions. That could be.

My question to the voters of Waitsfield is, "How can we judge what the motive or intentions of the person or persons are who are offering $100,000 to the town, essentially contingent on a positive vote for the Farm Stand site, are if we do not know who that donor is?

I sincerely hope the voters of Waitsfield are beyond being "rented for the day."

Jim Boylan lives in Waitsfield.


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