Op - Ed, Opinion

How Vermont has changed

By Nicholas Boke

This commentary isby Nicholas Boke of Chester, a freelance writer and international education consultant. It was published earlier this month in VTDigger.

I left Vermont in 2004 mainly because I wanted to work overseas. But I also felt the need to get away from the Vermont bubble. It was such a safe place, a reasonable place where people cared about the environment and worked together on political issues; community mattered in Vermont.

My 20 years in Weathersfield had been wonderful, but it was time for something new. I found education projects in Africa and the Middle East, finally focusing mostly on Lebanon, where I lived for six years and to which I returned regularly until Covid hit.

And that was when my wife and I, after considering a number of possibilities, decided to return to Vermont.

It was an easy decision. Along with our Vermont friends and our familiarity with the state, we had watched the governor and commissioner of health do an excellent job of dealing with Covid. The state seemed, in general, to resemble the one we had left. Gov. Shumlin’s state of the state address that emphasized the opioid crisis had worried us, but everybody everywhere was worried about this.

So we bought a house in Chester and sort of picked up where we’d left off all those years ago.

Vermont isn’t, however, the Vermont we left.

Oh, our new neighbors are as neighborly as our Weathersfield neighbors had been. The Chester Select Board is as reasonable and open minded as most Select Boards had been. The town road crew is fully dedicated to keeping the roads safe.

But we watched members of the Springfield school board who didn’t understand critical race theory (CRT) try to ban it from the schools, while citizens who understood CRT kept the effort from passing.

Our local school board was the only one to push back on the Agency of Education’s ruling that “mascots” like Chieftains weren’t appropriate, though it finally did the right thing.

And the newly elected chair of the state Republican party decided to hold a “Let’s Go Brandon” rally (until others convinced him it was a bad idea) while school teams (and parents) occasionally decided that taunting their opponents with racist slurs was OK.

Gun violence, often drug related, seemed a regular thing. West Pawlet’s unpermitted militia training site drew national attention.

Vermont’s second-highest-in-the-nation homelessness rate was unsettling, as was the state’s high percentage of short-term rentals when there were so few houses or apartments on the market.

Vermont had changed, but when we told but friends in other states what Vermont was doing about everything from PFAS to the housing crisis, we still seemed to be ahead of the curve.

Not only, however, has Vermont changed. I have, too.

I noticed this when I read last fall about Elmore voters rejecting the proposal to shift from voting at Town Meeting to voting by Australian ballot. Weathersfield had dealt with this issue not long after we arrived in the mid-‘80s. A major argument was that the elderly didn’t want to drive at night, so I wrote an op-ed proposing running school buses to bring citizens to and from the meeting. Nobody bit.

All that remained of town meeting was an informational session, with voting by Australian ballot the next day. This change made me very sad.

But when I read, 35 years later, about Elmore’s decision not to replace town meeting voting with voting in private the next day, I was even sadder. I had shifted from wanting to preserve Vermont’s lovely face-to-face politics to wanting to make sure that everyone could vote — the daylong vote to put the issue on the ballot drew 40% of Elmore’s voters, as opposed to the 11% who met in person to reject it.

These days when democracy — everywhere — seems to be so threatened, we should do everything we can to make sure everybody can vote.

Some things — even some excellent things — must change.

One comment on “How Vermont has changed

  1. I don’t understand what sense or point you are making here. The more out of staters move in, the more the issues will increase. The state was just fine with the mix of traditional conservatism and hippy social ideas. Now everyone wants to be California. No thank you.

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