- File: Marc Nadel
Brian Story could have been talking about any Vermont town when he described the politics of Johnson to Seven Days reporter Chelsea Edgar: "There are a lot of progressives here, but there are also a lot of conservative folks, a lot of farmers who have been here for generations. It's a diverse place, but there was a pretty strong sense of unity, until 2020," said the town administrator.
"I'd say that things have gotten a lot more heated."
In her story for this week's paper, Edgar takes the temperature of the artsy college burg where opponents of President Donald Trump have protested every week since he won election in 2016. Their activism has become a local movement with an agenda not everybody in Johnson embraces.
"Selectboard meetings, once permit-and-gravel affairs, have become forums on the town's duty to condemn racism," Edgar writes in her piece headlined "Torn Apart." That's how Richard Whittemore, a local plumber, describes Johnson today. He characterizes himself as "a good old American that has worked seven days a week all his life" — currently with plans to move to South Carolina.
No one was surprised that the Democratic candidate for U.S. president won Vermont by a landslide. Hundreds of people danced in the streets of Burlington when the national media outlets called the race for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris on Saturday. A few dozen supporters of President Donald Trump expressed their displeasure in a peaceful protest on the steps of the Statehouse in Montpelier.
But the vote totals tell a more complicated story. A higher percentage of Vermonters voted for Republican Gov. Phil Scott than for Biden — 68.8 percent versus 66.4. A greater percentage checked the box for Trump than for gubernatorial candidate David Zuckerman — 30.8 percent versus 27.5.
In the town of Johnson, votes cast followed a similar pattern: Scott, 1,066; Biden, 994; Trump, 528; Zuckerman, 451.
There's room for myriad political views and choices in our brave little state of Vermont — and in this newspaper. We've heard at regional newspaper conferences that many media outlets across New England struggle to attract conservative voices to their opinion pages. Seven Days gets feedback from writers of all political persuasions, from environmentalist Bill McKibben to former Reagan policy adviser John McClaughry.
I take that as a compliment. Whatever politics readers project onto the paper, our goal is to report what's happening in a way that is inclusive, rigorous and fair. All reactions are welcome. If they're signed, cogent and 250 words or less, we'll publish them in the paper and on our website.
For 25 years, it's been my job to assemble and verify the letters to the editor at Seven Days. I love the weekly task because it forces me to pick up the phone and call people — some of whom, judging from their written comments, are very unhappy with us. I get nervous sometimes, but the anxiety quickly dissipates when I hear a voice on the other end of the line. Sometimes I'm in the middle of leaving a message when the person picks up and apologizes for initially screening my call.
From complete strangers, I get story ideas, drop-spot reports and the occasional "Keep up the good work." Even the angriest readers appreciate the effort, which includes editing help to sharpen their points.
Our Sunday-night talks restore my faith in humanity — and, once in a while, yield a new Super Reader.
During this divisive time, I highly recommend starting and working through those difficult conversations.