Vermont towns call for Bush impeachment

From AP, via the Burlington Free Press, March 9:

NEWFANE — Voters gathered Tuesday in an 1832 white-clapboard town hall to conduct their community’s annual business and to call for the impeachment of President Bush.

“In the U.S. presently, there are only a few places where citizens can act in this fashion and have a say in our nation,” said Selectboard member Dan DeWalt, who drafted the impeachment article that was placed on the warning — or official agenda — for this year’s town meeting.

“It absolutely affects us locally,” DeWalt said. “It’s our sons and daughters, our mothers and fathers, who are dying” in the war in Iraq.

The article, approved by a paper ballot, 121-29, calls on Vermont’s lone member of the U.S. House, independent Rep. Bernie Sanders, to file articles of impeachment against the president, alleging that Bush misled the nation into the Iraq war and engaged in illegal domestic spying.

At least three other southern Vermont towns, spurred by publicity about Newfane’s resolution, brought up similar resolutions during Tuesday’s meetings and endorsed them. They were Dummerston, Marlboro and Putney.

In Newfane, the impeachment item came at the end of a roughly four-hour meeting that was devoted mostly to the local affairs of the town of 1,600 residents in southeastern Vermont. Some residents stayed alert with the help of coffee and sweet pastries offered as a school fund-raiser at the back of the hall.

Among the other items discussed was whether the town should fix some of the 100-year-old sidewalks in the village, and whether rebuilding a covered bridge to accommodate 40,000-pound trucks would leave heavier rigs still getting around the span by using the town’s battered dirt roads.

Discussion of impeachment took up more than 30 minutes, reflecting the intense interest in the topic and a division over whether town meeting was an appropriate place to debate the issue.

Ann Landenberger argued that it was appropriate for towns to weigh in. “As a teacher I can’t say to my kids that what happens on the national level doesn’t affect us at the local level,” she told the Newfane meeting. “Would that we could all be in a cocoon, but that is not the case.”

Greg Record, a local justice of the peace, said in an interview after the meeting that the town is made up of people from the “far left,” and he criticized the amount of time and attention such advisory votes are given.

“We spend more time on these things than on a million dollar budget item,” he complained.

The president did have supporters during the debate.

Lenore Salzbrun defended Bush, saying she had close friends who died in the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. “I am so grateful that our president didn’t just put his head in the sand … and did go out and fight,” she said.

“How many attacks have we had on the U.S. since September 11?” asked another resident, Carlton Brown. “Maybe some of the terrorists around the world are sitting up and taking notice that we’re not going to be patsies.”

The debate also touched on an age-old criticism of Vermont’s Town Meeting Day tradition: Many residents work during the day and can’t participate. Helen Prescott said she wished the impeachment resolution had been put on the ballot, giving residents until 7 p.m. to come to the poll at the town’s Union Hall and vote on the question.

“For us to make this decision for all the residents of Newfane scares me,” she said.

The Bush vote is not the first time Newfane has used its town meeting forum to take a state or national stand. Last year, for example, the town went on record against the Iraq war.

Sanders issued a statement after the Newfane vote that said the Bush administration “has been a disaster for our country, and a number of actions that he has taken may very well not have been legal.” He said given the reality of Republican control in the House and Senate “it would be impractical to talk about impeachment.”

He added that “all of our energy must go into the November elections with the goal of ending Republican control of the House and Senate.”

Jim Barnett, chairman of the Vermont Republican Party, issued a statement taking issue with Sanders. “Congressman Sanders should reject this resolution not because it is ‘impractical,’ but because it is wrong,” he said, adding that “we should not be impeaching presidents just because we disagree with them.”

DeWalt told his fellow townspeople that it wasn’t a matter of agreeing or disagreeing with the president on specific issues. He said Bush had violated his oath of office by ignoring the constitutional requirement that international treaties are the law of the land.

“You can love the Iraq war and you should still vote to impeach the president,” he said.

See our last posts on Vermont and the anti-war movement.

See also our special report on Vermont’s resurgent secessionist movement.