Under the Golden Dome NEH

Program 1: The Legislature Before Reappointment

Before Reapportionment in 1965, the House had 246 members with a representative from each municipality. Until the early 1960s the history of Vermont was republicanism and it was a part-time legislature that met every two years. But a sea change was under way.

Contributors:

Audio:

 

Transcript:

Glendon Pierce 

When the time to close the boxes arrived, the moderator dumped the ballots out on the table, and he sat down and started countin’ the ballots and he counted “Republican, Republican, Republican, Republican,” and he’d put ‘em in a separate pile, and “Republican, Republican, huh – Democrat! Well.” And he put that over in the other pile. So then he returned to his counting again, and he said “Republican, Republican, Republican, Republican, Glendon Pierce huh! Democrat! That son-of-a-bitch voted twice.”

Gregory L. Sharrow

At the end of World War II the Vermont legislature was much the same as it was at the end of the Civil War. It was a part-time citizens’ legislature that met every two years and adjourned so its members could go home for Town Meetings and sugaring season. Vermont had not seen a Democratic governor for nearly a century, and had never sent an elected Democrat to Washington.

Senator Jim Jeffords

The history of Vermont was Republicanism, but it was never a solid conservative. There was always the two parts of the Republican Party. There was the Aiken faction and the Dean Davis faction. And so that you had the right and the left within the Republican Party.

Sanborn Partridge

You didn’t talk politics, you talked issues and people.

Gregory L. Sharrow 

For a state with a population of 300,000, the House was large and unwieldy: Each town had one vote, so a representative from a town of 80 had the same power as the representative from the city of Burlington.

Gertrude Mallary 

The House was 246 members with a representative from every municipality. And I think there were 53 women.

Governor F. Ray Keyser Jr.

Generally speaking, they didn’t campaign a lot. They were selected because of the fact that they had been Selectmen or School Directors and they really understood some of the practical things that needed to be done. But the process was much more of a town meeting, it was much more of a representative government.

Franklin Billings 

It was a part-time Legislature and they were over, you had to get over by town meeting day because it was time to sugar. And so everybody went home. And it was every other year, too.

Gregory L. Sharrow 

Change began with Ernest Gibson Jr., a war hero and liberal Republican, who after the war established a minimum wage, a pension plan for teachers, a state police force, and a graduated income tax. In short, he introduced a more activist government that required a great deal more attention and time than a part-time legislature could give it.

Robert Gannett 

We realized that with the State’s business becoming more complicated and involving more dollars and more responsibility, that it really didn’t make sense to meet every other year.

So in 1957, I was able to persuade the leadership of the House that we should provide for reconvening in the second year to consider budget changes or other important matters that might come up in the interim, but there was no way that the Senate was going to agree to that or would agree to that. Asa Bloomer... would have no part of changing the procedure. What was good enough him and his predecessors should be good enough for the rest of us in the 1950s and afterwards.

Gregory L. Sharrow 

Rutland County’s Asa Bloomer, the Senate’s cantankerous President Pro Tem, insisted that the legislature limit the issues that could be covered in the second year. These included the establishment of a Department of Administration as recommended by the Little Hoover Commission, the bonding of the new interstate highway program, and the consideration of changes in appropriations as needed.

The law was finally changed in 1959. The Legislature met in 1960, and has met yearly ever since.

Another unwritten tradition provided a means to avoid factions developing in a one-party state.

Gertrude Mallary 

I think that one of the reasons I didn’t run for re-election was because this rather ridiculous mountain rule was still in effect in some counties…

Senator Jim Jeffords 

They used to have what was called a “mountain rule” and because it was felt very strongly that the people on the east side of the mountain always had the benefit over the west side or vice versa, so they had the agreement that the governor would first be elected from the east and then two or four years, whatever they have, they would agree that the next governor would come from the west side of the mountains. And so it was known as the mountain rule.

Gregory L. Sharrow

It wasn’t until 1965, that the mountain rule disappeared from the legislative landscape. From then on, elections would be contests instead of coronations.

Despite the disparity of representation of the 246-seat House, the one-town, one-vote rule meant that the Legislature was bound to listen to its small towns, and for better or worse the composition of the House preserved the rural character of the state.

Graham Newall 

It was my greatest good fortune to serve in the fifties. I served with people who are typically hundred percent Vermonters, who loved this state and who were not playing politics. Whose vote was really what it says in our oath: “To the best good of the same.” And I realize even to this day how much we lost with 150 man House. We were representatives from the smallest little towns...But these little towns, they could get up and of course, many of them had had great experience in town meetings and talking. And they were good talkers.

Gregory L. Sharrow 

Many were also shrewd politicians. One was Loren Pierce, a well-known lawyer from Woodstock. Veteran legislator Bob Gannett relates one of Pierce’s particularly effective tactics: a demonstration of how people were abusing the bounty on porcupines. A town clerk paid five dollars for each set of ears.

Robert Gannett 

He decided, and he had permission of the Speaker, to show how it was possible to fabricate these duplicate sets of ears, so he had a table set in front of his seat there in the front row and he gave an exhibition of how it could be done with skinning pieces of porcupine and threading them in a certain way. So it was a first hand exhibition and it was very persuasive and it was the best possible evidence that could be given and the bounty was repealed. It was wonderful.

Gregory L. Sharrow 

We heard the voices of Glendon Pierce, James Jeffords, Sanborn Partridge, Gertrude Mallary, Ray Keyser, Franklin Billings, Robert Gannett, and Graham Newell. All but Glendon Pierce 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.

Program 3: Philip Hoff and Reapportionment

Philip Hoff was elected Governor in 1962, the first Democratic Governor in over 100 years which served as a watershed of changing politics. In 1965 Reapportionment was accomplished which reduced the House from 246 to 150 members, no longer basing representation on geography but on population. This of course had a major impact on the Legislature and on Vermont.

Contributors:

Audio

 

Transcript:

Richard Mallary

1963 Phil Hoff was inaugurated governor.

George Little

I think when Phil was elected he made some significant changes in the way state government worked. And I think that that was the point in the history of Vermont that changed the way we did things back earlier and we began to catch up with the twentieth century when Phil got in.

Gregory L. Sharrow

In the late 1950s, Vermont was undergoing major changes – construction of the national interstate system was under way. With the interstate came an influx of new faces and ideas, gradually changing the makeup of the legislature. Ray Keyser preceded Phil Hoff as governor.

Governor F. Ray Keyser Jr.

I served two years as Governor, ran for re-election and, after a recount in an off year, Phil Hoff was elected Governor. This was a watershed of changing of politics. I recognized that at the time, although very few people in Vermont, having had a hundred and four years of Republican governors, realized the political scene in Vermont was changing. Before the election I had done a graph of the voting in the off years. This is non-presidential years. And where, when I was elected in a presidential year, received the most votes of any Republican candidate at that point, four years before that in an off year when Bob Stafford was elected, he won on a very slim margin after a recount. And the trend, if you started back in the early fifties through, in the off years, ignoring the presidential years, the votes for the Democratic candidate kept climbing and climbing. And if you drew a graph of it, they crossed in the year that Phil Hoff was elected.

Governor Philip Hoff

I’ve looked back at my election. It’s true that I was the focal point, but if you look back over the last few elections in Vermont, you can see the Democrats beginning to emerge as a real political force in this state.

Gregory L. Sharrow

Hoff and the Democrats ushered in a change that was long overdue -- the end to the old one-town, one-vote system, which had been ruled unconstitutional in Federal court. Even as they made the changes, everyone knew that reapportionment of the legislature would dramatically change Vermont’s political landscape forever.

Peter Mallary

Reapportionment was an incredibly powerful historical moment. People sat in that chamber and voted themselves out of a job. I don’t know how it gets more emotional than that for a politician. For a public servant.

Gregory L. Sharrow

The old system was so out of balance that when Hoff was elected to represent Burlington, he sat one seat away from Gertrude Mallary, who represented Fairlee.

Gertrude Mallary

I had as much clout in the House as the member from Burlington. And of course, that was obviously wrong. And reapportionment, it changed the House most of all because it reduced the House from 246 members to 150. And it was in terms of population, not of geography. The ridiculous thing, the amazing thing is how long the old way lived before it succumbed, I mean it’s completely unequal for me to have as much of a vote as the member from Burlington.

Richard Mallary

I think it was because of the people who recognized that this was the end of an era... the concern of the rural areas that... the historic power of the rural areas and the agricultural community was going to be seriously dissipated

Gregory L. Sharrow

When Hoff asked Bill Billings to convene a committee on Reapportionment, Billings picked Emory Hebard, a Republican from Glover, to chair the committee. Hoff was furious.

Robert Billings

And I said, “Governor, I think you must think, and I’ll tell you what you’ve got to think, that Emory Hebard can get the small towns to realize this is the law, even though they’re voting themselves out of office. And we can’t get them. I can’t get them and you can’t get them. And it’ll work out.”

Gregory L. Sharrow

The passage of the Reapportionment bill in 1965 was a pivotal moment in Vermont’s history. Former governor Tom Salmon remembers Vivian Tuttle, Town Clerk and Representative from Stratton, which then had about 40 residents.

Governor Tom Salmon

And my memories that night were Vivian Tuttle, a little lady, very short, diminutive, a very slight build, with her hands literally quaking— she wasn’t a public speaker, but getting up to explain her vote, why she was going to vote in favor of reapportionment and vote herself out of a job. And then, later that evening, a farmer from Stannard, up in the Northeast Kingdom, Frank Hutchins rose, a dairy farmer, and rued this backwater decision to dismember the House. And, you know, real tears flowed down his eyes. And that was very moving.

Governor Philip Hoff

And I recognized that, for him and for many Vermonters, this constituted a major change in their lives and their concept of what Vermont was all about. And I defy anybody who saw that man and heard him not to have been sympathetic. You know, there are very few absolutes in this world and each of us tends to build our own world around ourselves and our background and our history and our philosophies. And you have to be sympathetic to that, I think. So yes he broke into tears and it was, quite honestly, I understood.

Catherine Beattie

They reapportioned and Danville was placed with Danville, Peacham and Groton. And then I didn’t run again. It has changed the whole complexion of the Legislature. It really has. It’s just progress and change, that’s all.

Governor Tom Salmon

We could never have got there were it not for two people. One was Governor Hoff, the other was Speaker Franklin Billings. They summonsed a meeting of a group of Republicans and Democrats they viewed as moderates, or at least open to persuasion. We met on night -- and they both made sterling appeals for this group of moderates to come together and reach closure on one of the reapportionment bills, so we could move on with our life and not find ourselves embarrassingly in violation of Federal Order to get reapportionment done. So the success story of reapportionment, getting the job done, was truly bipartisan.

Governor Philip Hoff

No question that reapportionment— it changed the nature of Vermont, really. Changed the nature of the Legislature.

Gregory L. Sharrow

We heard the voices of Richard Mallary, George Little, Ray Keyser, Philip Hoff, Peter Mallary, Gertrude Mallary, Franklin Billings, Tom Salmon, and Catherine Beattie. 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.

Program 4: Women and the Legislature

Women had been in the Legislature since Edna Beard in 1921. In 1953, Consuelo Bailey became Vermont’s first woman speaker and then the nation’s first woman Lieutenant Governor. Yet despite these milestones, women continued to be separate and unequal in the State House, until a group of activist women from Chittenden County made their presence felt in the 1970s.

Contributors:

Audio

 

Transcript:

Louise Swainbank

It was a shock to me the way women were treated in the Legislature... I had come from a women’s society, teaching school, and a lot of respect for women. And when I got over there, I found that women were expected to be Clerks and do the mechanical work... The Equal Rights Amendment came up and then women came to the forefront.

Gregory L. Sharrow

Women had been in the Vermont legislature since Edna Beard in 1921, and in 1953 Consuelo Bailey became Vermont’s first woman speaker, and then the nation’s first woman lieutenant governor. Yet as Louise Swainbank said, women continued to be separate but unequal in the state house until a group of women from Chittenden County emerged in the Seventies.

Governor Madeleine Kunin

At first I thought, well, I’m going to have a tough time in the Legislature. One, because I’m a Democrat and there were very few Democrats at that time. We were a real minority. And the other, because I’m a woman and there were very few women. Well, it turned out that my biggest liability was neither of those, but the fact that I was from Burlington, which was the big city!

Gregory L. Sharrow

Madeleine Kunin won a seat in the Vermont House of Representatives in 1972, running on a platform that stressed educational, environmental, and poverty issues.

Governor Madeleine Kunin

And, uh, I soon learned though that the most powerful committee in the House was the House Appropriations committee. And I also learned early on that not all legislators were equal. We may have gotten there... by the vote so we were equally elected but the leadership and the committee chairs wielded a lot of power. And so I looked around me and I said, “Well, you know there are 180 people here, but there are about a dozen who really call the shots.” And there had never been a woman in a leadership position before, so I decided to run for the position of Democratic Whip, which is the number two spot in the leadership hierarchy... and, as a result of that, I gained a position on the House Appropriations Committee. And the budget itself is the most important legislation that the legislature has to deal with – You have to pass a budget each year. And it wasn’t just a question of money, it was a question of values.

Gregory L. Sharrow

Four years later, Gretchen Morse followed Kunin down the interstate to Montpelier.

Gretchen Morse

When I got elected I ended up being one of the only Republican women, and, yet, I felt a great allegiance and collegiality with many of the other Democrat women candidates that won. And so we went to Montpelier with kind of a group. We car-pooled together, we often stayed overnight together. We knew each other as people. We shared a lot of things in common. We had small children. Madeleine was kind of like our big sister. And she was very, very generous with her skills and her mentoring, regardless of party. The other thing is, I didn’t really feel among the women friends that I had there that there was a lot of ego, I mean we were very excited about participating and joining. And not necessarily being the “it”. So there was a lot of teamwork. We held caucuses together and took on issues that crossed party lines.

Sallie Soule

When I got to the House there were women helping women. And as I came in, I didn’t ask for the traditional committees that women often do. I did ask for Ways and Means, which is a tax writing committee. And Madeline got me on Ways and Means, which was almost unheard of in those days, for a freshman to get on a money committee. It was totally scary, too, because I really didn’t know much about taxes. And I had to learn awful fast.

Gregory L. Sharrow

Sallie Soule’s interest in politics was born out of a difficult personal experience. Her career was a sign that women would bring new energies, new issues and new perspectives into the state house.

Sallie Soule

My third pregnancy I lost a child that went to term and the baby died because it was a blue baby and at that point the doctor said to me, “No more babies.” And I said, “All right. If I have one, get pregnant again, I’m going to have an abortion.” And he said, “No abortions.” Well, that’s again what rather radicalized me in terms of some of my thinking. And I think a lot of people’s career in politics or whatever they do comes from their personal experience, no question about it. And this was a searing experience in my life, and so I think that began my interest in abortion rights, women’s rights... And I do think, very clearly, that people’s political life or their business life or whatever it is, a lot of it comes from their own personal experience.

Louise Swainbank

Sallie was a wonderful and very strong legislator. She was a Rock of Gibraltar, you know. She was courageous, and so was Madeleine Kunin. And Susan Auld was another very strong Legislator. And there were women before that time who were good Legislators. I don’t mean that there weren’t. But these people were activists and were willing to fight for their strong rights.

Gregory L. Sharrow

When debate began over whether Vermont should ratify the Equal Rights Amendment, the opposition included Phyllis Schlafly of the conservative Eagle Forum — yet support appeared from often unexpected quarters.

Louise Swainbank

It came up fairly early, as I remember, and it was quite obvious that we had the votes and so, we decided not to speak too much. In other words not to kill it by over-talking... but it did pass both Houses, .. and we did ratify, but, of course, it never was ratified nationally. Phyllis Schlafly appeared and with cohorts and organized the opposition at a hearing. That was very interesting. But some little man from Barre, got up and said “I’m not going to pay any attention to somebody who comes in here from Illinois.” And of course, we were all just delighted. ...and I think that the very process of working through all that, really, nation-wide, changed attitudes toward women. And I think we’ve made a great many changes in a relatively short period of time.

Gregory L. Sharrow

When Kunin was elected governor in 1984, record numbers of women followed her into the state government. By the end of the century, Vermont had the highest percentage of women state legislators in the country.

Louise Swainbank

Those strong women from the Burlington area were very effective and they gave courage to some of the rest of us. And I think it was just a change in the general feeling about women. And the Governor’s Commission on the Status of Women was very prominent at the time. We had a lot of support.

Gregory L. Sharrow

We heard the voices of Louise Swainbank, Madeleine Kunin, Gretchen Morse, and Sallie Soule. 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.