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the August 2001 issue of World Press Review (VOL. 48, No.
Voice from Vermont
Jeffrey Simpson, The Globe
and Mail (centrist), Toronto, Canada,
May 29, 2001
was the first U.S. state to abolish roadside advertising signs.
The advertising industry screamed, fought the measure in the
legislature and courts, but lost. Vermonters treasure their
bucolic geography, and they decided that obtrusive billboard
advertising threatened it. So they said no to private roadside
advertising, replacing it with state-sponsored brown-and-white
signs to tell travelers the location of private
James Jeffords, of Vermont, announcing his decision to leave
the Republican Party (Photo: AFP)
The state also set up a trust fund to buy farms to keep them
from development and passed strict ordinances restricting
residential development on agricultural lands. The contrast
with land use in, say, Texas, could not be greater.
Tiny Vermont hasnt been a player in national politics
since Silent Cal Coolidge became president in 1923. After
serving one term, he retired to his hometown in Vermont, and
the state hasnt been heard from since. Last week, however,
Sen. James Jeffords of Vermont walked out of the Republican
Party to become an independent, handing the Democrats a one-vote
majority in the U.S. Senate. Americans will now have divided
government, with Republicans controlling the administration
and the House, and Democrats the Senatea fair reflection
of the country.
After all, Americans gave more popular votes to Democratic
candidate Al Gore than to George W. Bush, who won courtesy
of the Electoral College. The country was split almost evenly
in the presidential campaign; now the government is divided
along partisan lines. The hard conservative agenda Bush has
been pushing will have to be modified.
Jeffords move means trouble for Bushs plans for
environmental deregulation, attempts to change the ideological
composition of the Supreme Court, drilling in the Arctic National
Wildlife Refuge, and maybe even budgets for national antimissile
In Vermont, Jeffords has been hailed by most as a politician
of courage. But for the first time since before the Civil
War, no Republican will represent Vermont in the U.S. Congress
(the other senator is a Democrat, and the lone congressman
is an independent socialist).
Vermont used to be as Republican as the states granite.
It was poor, rural, stuck in its ways, and proud of it. The
state began changing demographically in the 1960s and kept
right on changingVermont is arguably now the most liberal
state in the Union.
Thousands of people fled the Northeasts troubled inner
cities in the 60s, bringing their liberal values to
Vermont. Improved transportationVermonts section
of the U.S. interstate system was the last to be completedmade
access easier. IBM established a plant in Burlington, the
states largest city, and little feeder companies sprang
Vermont turned its countryside into a money-spinner for tourism.
Ski resorts are packed; rooms are unavailable in the fall
for leaf-peeping tours. The old Yankee suspicion
of change married the environmental concerns of the new arrivals
to produce an aesthetic awareness unparalleled in the United
Gradually, politics tracked demography and economics, and
Democrats became the states leading party. The governor
in the 80s was a woman, an immigrant (from Switzerland),
a Democrat, and a Jew. Bernard Sanders, an import from Brooklyn,
became mayor of Burlington as a self-proclaimed socialist;
hes now the states congressman.
James Jeffords was always a liberal Republican. He got elected
with plenty of Democratic votes and, as the national Republican
Party became more militantly conservative and Vermont more
politically liberal, found himself increasingly uncomfortable
as a Republican.
Then came George W. Bush, who talked a more moderate game
during the election than he has practiced thus far as president.
Political estrangement coupled with personal slights led to
Vermonts heroes are all iconoclasts, starting with Ethan
Allen and the Green Mountain Boys who attacked the British
during the Revolutionary War. Jeffords is no Ethan Allen,
but his stubborn streak reminds Vermonters of the kind of
plain-speaking politician they admire, including former Republican
Sen. George Aiken, who gave President Lyndon Johnson sage
advice about Vietnam: Just declare victory and get out. Too
bad Johnson didnt listen.