Election Day 2008

Vineyard voters go to the polls on Tuesday to cast their ballots for President and Vice President in an election that is by any measure historic. The country is in turmoil, with the economy in a deep crisis that even the best and brightest financial experts cannot completely unravel, unemployment is soaring and confidence in elected leadership is ebbing lower than a full moon tide.

The main theme and rallying cry of this election has been change, and whatever the party affiliation, few can argue with that.

And as people around the country hunker down for what promises to be a long, lean winter, the Vineyard is no exception. Construction work has dried up, at least for now, the real estate market is at a virtual standstill and many people on fixed incomes, including the substantial elderly population, are worried about how to pay for their most basic needs when the snow flies: food, shelter and transportation.

All that is a backdrop for Tuesday when record numbers of voters are expected to turn out for the national election.

But this is a state and local election as well and on Tuesday Vineyard voters will confront a number of choices and questions when they pick up their ballots. In a series of five questions voters will be asked to consider eliminating the state income tax, abolish greyhound racing in the commonwealth and reduce the penalty for possession of small amounts of marijuana to a civil offense. They will be asked to endorse a nonbinding single payer health care system and they will be asked to endorse a new county charter with shorter, two-year terms for elected members of the county commission. They will elect three county commissioners and nine members of the Martha’s Vineyard Commission.

And they will cast a crucial vote for Cape and Islands state representative.

The race has been long and cluttered, beginning with a primary contest in September.

And by now the four candidates are well known: Dan Larkosh of West Tisbury, Melissa Freitag of Falmouth, Jacob Ferreira of Vineyard Haven and Tim Madden of Nantucket.

There are no polls to tell us how the candidates are doing. But most agree that the Vineyard is likely to be the battleground for this election, which will send a new representative to the state house for the next two years to replace Rep. Eric T. Turkington, who is stepping down after twenty years on the job.

There are many issues to consider, but none more important than the Steamship Authority, and on that alone the four candidates bear close evaluation. Melissa Freitag and Jacob Ferreira, who are both bright and full of energy and enthusiasm, lack seasoning and knowledge on boat line matters.

Dan Larkosh has boomeranged and misled voters on his positions, especially on the Steamship Authority. In an interview with this newspaper just before the primary he proudly cited his backing from the boat line union and declared his unequivocal support for a bill that would put the boat line under control of the state Department of Transportation. In a second interview, this week, Mr. Larkosh changed his position dramatically, saying that he no longer supports the state bill and that he now intends to “use his influence” with the unions to keep the bill out of the legislature. Mr. Larkosh has shown himself to be similarly unstable on the question of the housing bank — before the primary he said he was against it; now he says he supports it.

That’s two wild swings in positions in six weeks on two key issues for the district.

What is Mr. Larkosh’s real agenda if he is elected? No one can be sure.

By contrast Tim Madden of Nantucket, with ten years as legislative liaison working alongside Mr. Turkington, is a steady voice of experience, especially on boat line matters. He lived through the extremely volatile period six years ago when two Islands, outmatched by powerful and corrupt politicians from New Bedford, fought to keep control of the boat line that is their lifeline, and only just barely won. He’s been there, done that. And again in contrast with Mr. Larkosh, whom the Cape Cod Times described as over-confident last week, Mr. Madden has no airs about him. A modest businessman who got his start painting houses on Nantucket more than three decades ago, he remembers where he comes from. And he knows well the things that matter most to Islanders who live in isolation from the mainland — chief among them guarding the boat line whose core mission is to provide dependable year-round ferry service to the people of the two Islands.

As the Gazette goes to press, with five days to go until the election, Mr. Madden has won the endorsement of an impressive group of Vineyard people, many of them leaders in this community.

This time around the Nantucket candidate deserves the Vineyard’s support. The Gazette endorses Tim Maddden for state representative.