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Under The Golden Dome:
The Stories Behind Vermont's Citizen Legislature


Program 2:
The Young Turks

In 1961 a group of 11, mostly freshmen legislators— both moderate Republicans and Democrats, would meet to discuss legislation and strategy once a week. They came to be known as “the Young Turks.” In this program five of the original 11 give an insight into the Legislature at that time.

Transcript:

Franklin Billings

Were just thrown together—first philosophically, and we were all of different parties—parties didn’t mean much at that point in the Legislature—but our philosophy was the same. And of course we were thrown together socially because we were the only young people. In those days, young meant thirties.

Gregory L. Sharrow

By 1960 Vermont’s legislature was moving away from its small-town roots. It was meeting every year, and for the first time in a century some Democrats were being elected. In the early Sixties, though, the invisible forces of change took on a collective face, in a group of youthful representatives who came to be called the Young Turks.

Governor Philip Hoff

We were the youngest people in the Legislature, by far. I can remember one day when we sat on the House floor; one of those tedious, nonsensical debates; and I thought, well, it’d be interesting to take a look at the average age. I discovered that the average age of the Legislature was over seventy. And here all of us were, well, around forty, some of us less.

Gregory L. Sharrow

This group, which consisted of moderate Republicans and a few Democrats, included several people with political savvy and connections: Franklin Billings Jr and Ernest Gibson III were both sons of governors; Richard Mallary was the son of Senator Gertrude Mallary; Sanborn Partridge was the son of the president of the Vermont Marble Company; John Downs was a lawyer and chair of the state platform committee; and Democrat Phil Hoff was a lawyer and the sole representative of the city of Burlington.

Franklin Billings

When we went to the Legislature in 1961 it was really dominated by right-wing Republicans. There were eleven of us who were young, a number of us, lawyers, and this is where Phil Hoff started his career, that were elected and — the other people were not given anything, as far as decent committee assignments, because it was being run by really older, much older people, who had been there, and so we would meet after the sessions, and it first started as a social thing, and then we got very serious and we’d meet and discuss legislation and decide who was going to speak and when. It was just happenstance, but we all sat in different places all over the House and so the media and in the Legislature, when we’d get up and speak on certain issues, they didn’t realize that it was all orchestrated until later in the session, only I guess the media nicknamed us “the Young Turks.”

Sanborn Partridge

The gang that the newspapers tagged as the Young Turks were eleven. One of them had been there the year before, but ten of them were freshman Legislators. And we used to get together, I think it was Thursday evenings, or after five o’clock and our house rule was no drinks for the first hour. And we traded information about the committees on which we served. I think we were windows into something like seventeen committees out of twenty, maybe. And so we could clue each other on what was coming up. It was simply a felt need to learn that we were working on.

John Downs

We decided that we were going to make our real pitch, the thing by which we’d be remembered, by supporting a bill that would separate... the right to vote ...from the poll tax. The way the law was, if you didn’t pay a poll tax, you couldn’t vote. So we prepared carefully. We had several speeches that we made. The Legislature listened with great interest. You could tell. When the vote was taken there were thirteen votes for our position, out of 267. So that was a very sobering experience, but a very good one.

Gertrude Mallary

Bill Billings, because he had been around the Legislature as Secretary of the Senate, was much better known than most of the rest of us. Bill was made Chairman of the Judiciary Committee in his freshman year in the Legislature because he was well known and because he had been a candidate for the judgeship before. ...Dalton Mann was a second-termer, a sophmore, and he was also a committee chairman. He was chairman of the banking and Corporations committee. ...Phil Hoff, because he was young and articulate and the Representative from Burlington was much more visible and got a lot of press in the Free Press and others, but the rest of us were mostly faceless freshmen. But because of our relationship with Bill and with Phil, and because of, I guess, who we are and the skills we brought, we were in a position to undertake leadership roles in the next session.

Gregory L. Sharrow

Those leadership roles would soon prove decisive.

Richard Mallary

In 1963 Phil Hoff was inaugurated governor. Bill Billings was elected Speaker and he appointed as committee chairs a significant number of the Young Turks... I was chairman of the Appropriations Committee, John Downs was chairman of Ways and Means Committee, and Tony Farol was vice chairman. Ernest Gibson was chairman of the Judiciary Committee and Stanton Lazarus was Chairman of State and Court Expenses Committee and Dalton Man was chairman of the Bank and Corporations Committee and Sanborn Partridge was chairman of the Education Committee and Byron Hathorne was chairman of the Municipal Corporations Committee.

Gregory L. Sharrow

Vermont was also starting to learn politics from Washington. Franklin Billings followed the example of a US Speaker of the House.

Franklin Billings

I was elected speaker having read Tip O’Neil’s books and seen what Tip O’Neil had done in Congress, I removed almost all of the chairmen and replaced them with the Young Turks. And at that point we had a working majority of younger people.. That were .. looking forward and trying to move the state, we did a lot of progressive legislation.. That’s where we repealed capital punishment, we repealed the poll tax, finally. There were a lot of urban renewal bonds issued, which was a new field, particularly. And there was a great deal of legislation dealing with development of the state for tourism, for business and so forth. And there was for the first time, an organized funding in trying to get equalization of education for the state. So there was just a lot of progressive legislation that was introduced and a great deal of it passed.

Richard Mallary

In essence, virtually all of the members of the eleven-member Young Turks, were either chairs or vice-chairs of the committees or the Speaker and so that particular group essentially took the dominant leadership role in the Legislature.

Gregory L. Sharrow

We heard the voices of Franklin Billings, Philip Hoff, Sanborn Partridge, John Downs, and Richard Mallary. All are former members of the Vermont Legislature.

The interviews were sponsored by the Snelling Center for Government. This series was produced by the Vermont Folklife Center of Middlebury by Bob Merril and Jane Beck. Funding for this series was provided by the Vermont Community Foundation and the Windham Foundation. I’m Greg Sharrow.


 


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