Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks in Essex Junction on March 1, 2016. (Photo: GLENN RUSSELL/FREE PRESS FILE)
by Dan D'Ambrosio
A growing number of Vermonters are expressing outrage that four of the state's most prominent Democratic Party superdelegates have committed to vote for Hillary Clinton rather than Bernie Sanders, despite Sanders' overwhelming victory in Vermont's primary.
By the end of last week, some 3,000 people had signed an open letter posted online by advocacy group Rights & Democracy that exhorted Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.; Gov. Peter Shumlin; former Gov. and Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean; and party Committeewoman Billi Gosh to cast their superdelegate votes for "our fellow Vermonter Bernie Sanders," to "honor democracy in action."
James Haslam, executive director of Rights & Democracy, said a vote for Sanders is virtually dictated because the senator garnered 86.1 percent of the vote in the Vermont primary, receiving all 16 pledged delegates and "winning every single town in Vermont," as confirmed by the Secretary of State's Office.
"With this overwhelming and historic support, we request all Vermont superdelegates cast their votes for Senator Sanders," the letter states. "While some superdelegates might have made a 'promise' in the past to other candidates, it would be irresponsible and undemocratic to ignore the Democratic primary results."
At least four of Vermont's superdelegates, including Rep. Peter Welch and Secretary of State Jim Condos, have said they will vote for Sanders. "The people of Vermont have spoken," Condos said last month.
Billi Gosh rejects that perspective, saying Sanders' win in the Vermont primary has no affect on her support for Clinton.
"Bernie is from Vermont, I'm a superdelegate from Vermont, this is getting a lot of attention, but for me nothing has changed," Gosh said. "She's way ahead of him in pledged delegates."
Jerry Greenfield, co-founder of Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream, signed the open letter and said the superdelegate debate is "really a matter of the democratic process."
"The superdelegates in Vermont ought to be representing the will of Vermonters," Greenfield said. "I'm saying that 86 percent of the people in Vermont voted for Sanders in the primary, and it just seems absurd to me that these so-called superdelegates don't want to represent the view of Vermonters."
Greenfield said he thinks the entire purpose of superdelegates is to "undermine the democratic process" by reasserting control by party elites.
"One thing this election cycle is showing is that the traditional party establishment doesn't have the same control over the process as they used to," Greenfield said.
History shows that superdelegates have done nothing to re-establish Democratic Party control over the election process. They have never tipped the balance from a candidate who won the majority of pledged delegates to a candidate who trailed in delegates.
'I like Bernie Sanders'
The reference in the open letter to a "promise" to support other candidates applies to Sen. Leahy, who told the Burlington Free Press in February, before the New Hampshire primary, that he would be backing Clinton. He has made similar comments to multiple media outlets over many months.
"I won't say anything against Bernie Sanders. I like him. I work very well with him," Leahy said in an interview in Washington. "If he was the nominee, I would enthusiastically campaign for him. But I told him I gave my word to Hillary Clinton. I believe she'd make a great president, and I'll keep my word."