Home Commentary An Open Letter to Vermont Voters

An Open Letter to Vermont Voters

Dear Vermont Voters: What are the valid selection criteria we should be using to screen applicants for seats in Congress?

During the 1970s, orchestras across the United States became concerned that members weren’t chosen by ability but handpicked by conductors. They designed a novel and effective solution. Auditioning musicians played from behind a curtain. Judges listened and rated the musician’s ability unaware of age, gender, or appearance. 

The results? Using this blind test meant ability and talent were the deciding selection factors, and women’s participation in orchestras dramatically increased. The winners? Female musicians and audiences hearing the best music played by the best musicians. 

Let’s imagine Vermonters decide to screen our congressional applicants using a similar blind method. Voters occupy one side of the curtain; applicants the other. We don’t know their age beyond 25, who they know, their relationship status, or other non-relevant factors. We can’t see them and they can’t see us; there’s no cheerleading, no visual cues, no clapping. All applicants receive the same questions on a written form and answer via laptops. However, exactly what are the valid selection criteria Vermonters should be using to screen congressional applicants? 

We were taught the best predictor of future performance is past performance. So perhaps we should judge applicants based upon their accomplishments, problems faced and overcome, and solutions they provided to help Vermonters. As a result, we don’t ask what they want to do, but what they have actually done. Oh, and no conductors allowed.

Here are some sample categories and questions voters might present to applicants.

  • Economy and jobs — Give us an example of when you created a job. Tell us what factors made it easier or more difficult to create that job. What specifically have you done to strengthen your local economy or the Vermont economy? What were the measured results?
  • COVID-19 — What steps have you personally taken to lessen the impact of the pandemic in Vermont? What made it effective? Please share how you measure effectiveness.
  • Education — School boards and Vermont citizens need to address concerns such as remote instruction and curriculum choices. Tell us about a situation in which you balanced competing interests. How exactly did you craft the process? What factors did you consider?
  • Health care — Describe a health-care solution/idea you have crafted to any of Vermont’s present health care problems. How did you involve Vermonters/stakeholders in this solution? Name a time when you addressed a facet of Vermont’s health care system. What exactly did you do?
These categories aren’t mine. They are the top four issues Virginia voters considered during their recent election. I live in rural Lamoille County, and we have the same issues. Should November elections be decided on answers to questions like those above? Might we select different applicants using this method?

I’d like to add one more category:

  • Inflation — The costs of gasoline, food, and services increase almost daily. What steps and actions have you personally taken to lower the costs to Vermont citizens? Tell us how they were effective and what was the actual impact on Vermont citizens? Please begin with rising energy costs.
Let’s shift for a moment and look at routine problems our citizens face. It’s January and you have a frozen water pipe. Do you care what the plumber looks like when they arrive to unthaw your pipe? Should looks be a selection factor when choosing anyone to work on your home or in any other occupation? And by the way, I’ll bet you’re thrilled when they knock on your door!

Your car, a “late model vehicle” has a mechanical issue. You take it to a local mechanic. Do you consider the mechanic’s religion, gender, or race? Or do you care that they can fix your clunker for under $500? 

Your teenage daughter has a medical issue and needs to see a health-care professional. Do you choose them based upon their age or marital status? Or do you choose them for their bedside manner, the questions they ask, their explanation of treatment options, etc.?

Congressional openings are a generational opportunity to choose the very best leaders for all Vermonters. Shouldn’t the selection process be at least as fair, rigorous, and impartial as choosing a musician in an orchestra? Can we agree they shouldn’t be treated like coronations, entitlements, or political beauty pageants? Should Vermont media help facilitate an open, honest, and inclusive discussion? And do we have an obligation as voters to spend as much time on the relevant selection factors as we do looking for our plumber, our mechanic, and our health-care provider?

Matt Krauss, of Stowe, is a happily retired state employee, former Montpelier resident, and former Vermont legislator. Feedback is welcomed at mattkraussvt@gmail.com