The Senate had a different character from the House. It was smaller, more intimate and often thought of as more genteel than the larger body. When there were differences between bills that the Senate and the House passed, a committee of conference was selected with three members from the Senate and three members from the House to work out a compromise version of the bill.
I always thought the difference between the two chambers was that in the House of Representatives you could get up and give an impassioned speech and make a difference. You could sway votes. In the Senate, obviously, when it’s a lot smaller, …the idea of pounding your chest and tearing your garments and giving this William Jennings Bryant speech in the Senate, that’s nice for the television cameras, but it generally doesn’t produce a lot of votes.
Gregory L. Sharrow
Over the last half-century the most obvious changes in the Vermont legislature took place in the House, which after reapportionment shrank from 246 members to 150--but the Senate, too, had its own particular character.
The Senate is more genteel in its exterior, but it’s driven by some very dominant personalities. There’s the old line that house members love, the problem with running for the Senate is that if you win, you’re in the Senate.
I was seven years in the House and sixteen years in the Senate. And it’s an interesting comparison between the two bodies, as far as that goes, too. Some people like the bigger body, but I enjoyed the Senate very much. It’s a little more intimate. You get a little closer to the people you’re working with you. It’s in many ways more informal. It’s like a great big committee. It’s thirty people instead of 150.
The irony to me was that when I was in the House I used to look across at the Senate chamber and say, “My goodness, not for me. I’m much happier here in the House where there are other people from all the towns.” With the change that had taken place, it was soon evident to me that the Senate was just where I belonged. There were a number of Senators, in 1973 when I went to the Senate, with whom I’d served in the House in the early times. In the Senate you serve on a number of committees and the variety is, is a real plus to serving in the Senate. And it also puts an extra burden on the Senators because you have to keep up with the work in two or three or even more committees.
Governor Madeleine Kunin
I had three terms in the house and then two terms as Lieutenant Governor. And as Lieutenant Governor, I presided over the Senate. So that was my Senate experience. And the Senate is a very different body. The house is more diversified and more— I don’t know, lively. I guess you might say. And at that time, in the early seventies, there were also interesting characters who were in the House. You know, real Vermonters. I can’t remember the name of – (laugh) Stub Earl! Stub Earl, who had his spittoon. Stub Earl, the Earl of Eden is what he called himself or was called. And I remember thinking when I first got there, there were a number of people who had lost a finger or a thumb. And then I realized, these are people that worked the land and with machinery. That’s why it was kind of their emblem.
Conference Committee is a very important committee to be on now because that’s where the differences between the House and the Senate are worked out.
Gregory L. Sharrow
Commitees of Conference arise when a bill is passed through both the House and Senate, and the versions are different.
In the Committee of Conference three people from the House and three people from the Senate are essentially determining the final form of the legislation that is probably going to pass and all you need to have is a majority of each of the committee, so that two House members and two Senate members write the report of the Committee of Conference.
My third term in the House, Senator Newell had started in the House with me and then he went over to the Senate. And we found ourselves in one of these – a Committee of Conference for one of these bills that had to pass. It was expenditure of money for a new building, as I recall it, either at Brandon Training School or at the Weeks’ School. He represented the Senate and I represented the House. And by the time we were still in our Committee of Conference, everything else had been wrapped up and, in effect, everyone was waiting on a decision to come out of this group of six people. And I remember, we were in a small committee room downstairs. And in those days, one way you knew adjournment was coming, was about three days before they wheeled a piano into the well of the House. And during the breaks between action. With 246 people, not everybody had an assignment in those days at the end, so there’d be a lot of sitting around, so they’d have the piano. They’d have songs and all. I can remember hearing the piano and people singing upstairs and we couldn’t agree down there. And, finally, I gave in, .the House gave in. And Senator Newell and his Senate committee prevailed. And we went back upstairs and adjourned. But, for the most part in our State House, decisions and events like that didn’t result in hard feelings and permanent feelings. We respected other people’s right to their opinion. We knew somebody had to give, and sometimes it would be one side and sometimes another.
Gregory L. Sharrow
We heard the voices of Edgar May, Peter Mallary, Arthur Gibb, Robert Gannett, Madeleine Kunin, Sallie Soule, 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 Merrill and Jane Beck. Funding for this series was provided by the Vermont Community Foundation and the Windham Foundation. I’m Greg Sharrow.