Politics of Vermont

The politics of Vermont encompass the acts of the elected legislative bodies of Vermont, the actions of its governors, as overseen by the Vermont courts, and the acts of the political parties that vie for elective power within the state. Vermont's constitution, which was drafted in 1777 when Vermont became an independent republic, reflects the concerns of a sovereign state; it was the first to ban slavery. Voters may choose among several parties including the Democratic and Republican political parties, as well as several smaller parties. Vermont has been a pioneer in legislation pertaining to land use, gay rights and school funding. Between 1854 and 1962, the state usually voted Republican. Thereafter, the governor's office has alternated between the Democratic and Republican parties. The legislature has been primarily Democratic since the mid-1980s.


Vellum manuscript of the Constitution of Vermont, 1777 – this constitution was amended in 1786 and replaced in 1793 following Vermont's admission to the federal union in 1791
Engraving of Thomas Chittenden – first and third governor of the Vermont Republic and first governor of the State of Vermont (March 4, 1791 – August 25, 1797)

Vermont is one of four states that once was an independent nation, as the Republic of Vermont. The other states that used to be independent are Texas as the Republic of Texas, California as the California Republic, and Hawaii as the Kingdom and later Republic of Hawaii.

In 1777, the state's constitution was the first in North America to provide for the abolition of slavery, suffrage for men who did not own land, and public schools.

The Constitution of Vermont is organized into two sections, one declaring the rights of inhabitants and the other defining the governing power.[1] In 21 articles, the rights of the inhabitants enumerated by the Vermont constitution address, among other things, the prohibition of slavery, compensation for use of property, freedom of worship, "free and pure" elections, freedoms regarding search and seizure, freedom of speech and press, trial by jury, the right to bear arms, and the right to assemble. In 76 sections the governing powers enumerated by the Vermont constitution address, among other things, the composition of the legislative, executive, and judicial bodies and their powers, the conduct of elections, and general administrative powers of government.

Notable constitutional provisions

The Vermont constitution and the courts support the right of a person to walk (fish and hunt) on any unposted, unfenced, land. That is, trespass must be proven by the owner; it is not automatically presumed.[2]

Vermont is the only state in the union without a balanced budget requirement.[3] Nevertheless, from 1991 and as of 2011, it had balanced its budget.[4][5]

Legislation by statute

Vermont legislators sometimes have addressed the character of the state and the rights of Vermonters with landmark legislation, organized here according to the pertinent title in the Vermont Statutes Annotated, which is the official codification of the laws enacted by the General Assembly.

Alcoholic beverages—Title 7

Vermont is an alcoholic beverage control state. Alcoholic beverages may be sold in local grocery stores unless the town in which the store located has voted "dry" at their town meeting. Only state-licensed establishments may sell stronger alcoholic beverages in bottles. The number of these stores is limited. Prices are set by the state. The state directly controls the licensing of establishments that sell alcoholic beverages by the drink. In 2007, through the Vermont Department of Liquor Control, the state took in more than $14 million from the sale and distribution of liquor.[6] There are 75 State Liquor Stores and 1,350 taverns in the state.[7]

Conservation and development—Title 10

Governor Deane C. Davis (January 9, 1969 – January 4, 1973) – signed into law Vermont's Act 250 development legislation

After passage of the billboard-regulating Highway Beautification Act of 1965,[8] Vermont moved to ban billboards outright in 1968. All billboards were gone from Vermont by 1974. Vermont is one of four states[9] to have prohibited by law all billboards from view of highway rights-of-way, except for signs on the contiguous property of the business location.[8][10][11]

After the legislature was redistricted under one-person, one-vote, it passed legislation to accommodate American emigrants from New York, which earlier legislatures had ignored. The new legislation was the Land Use and Development Law (Act 250) in 1970. The law, which was the first of its kind in the nation, created nine district environmental commissions consisting of private citizens, appointed by the governor, who must approve land development and subdivision plans that would have a significant impact on the state's environment and many small communities. As a result of Act 250, Vermont was the last state to get a Wal-Mart; there are five, as of June 2016, but only the Williston and St. Albans stores were new construction.[12]

Act 148 effectively requires the towns to recycle glass and plastic in 2015, and food waste by 2020. Landfills will no longer accept these wastes after those dates.[13]

Crimes and criminal procedure—Title 13

After executing 26 people, Vermont put its last convict to death in 1954. The first 21 were executed by hanging, the last five by the electric chair. Vermont abolished the death penalty in 1965. As of 2015, Vermont is one of eight states along with Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Kansas, Maine, West Virginia, and Wyoming in the Union to allow any adult to carry a concealed firearm without any sort of permit. There is no statute barring public nudity in Vermont unless it constitutes "open and gross lewdness and lascivious behavior",[14] however local ordinances may bar disrobing in public.[15] In 2010, the state enacted a law requiring that a DNA sample be taken from everyone arraigned on a felony, which is entered into a database controlled by the FBI.[16] The age of consent in Vermont is 16.[17]

Domestic relations—Title 15

Governor Howard Dean (August 14, 1991 – January 9, 2003) – signed into law the Vermont civil unions and educational funding laws

In Baker v. Vermont (1999), the Vermont Supreme Court ruled that, under the Constitution of Vermont, the state must either allow same-sex marriage or provide a separate but equal institution for same-sex couples. The state legislature chose the second option by creating the institution of civil union. The 2000 bill was passed by the legislature and signed into law by Governor Howard Dean. It granted same-sex couples nearly all the rights and privileges of marriage.[18] Passage of this law engendered a backlash against this and other perceived changes to Vermont culture, which became manifest in the Take Back Vermont movement in the same year.[19]

In 2009 however, the state legislature passed a same-sex marriage bill that was vetoed by Governor Jim Douglas. The legislature overrode the veto, making Vermont the first state to recognize same-sex marriage as the result of a bill passed in the legislature and not due to a judicial ruling.[20]

Education—Title 16

Vermont's Act 60, known as "The Equal Educational Opportunity Act", was a law enacted in June 1997 by the Vermont legislature to achieve a fair balance of educational spending across school districts, independent of the degree of prosperity within each district.[21] The law was in response to a Vermont Supreme Court decision in the Brigham vs. State of Vermont case,[22] wherein the court ruled that Vermont’s then existing educational funding system was unconstitutional, because it allowed students in towns with higher total property values to receive a higher level of education funding per pupil than students in towns with lower property values.[23] For most towns the "equalized yield" for any local taxes above the statewide level decreased property taxes and increased the funds available for their schools, however, certain ski towns that had been spending much more per pupil than most districts, experienced the opposite result. Among them was the town of Killington, which voted 3:1 to secede from Vermont and join New Hampshire due to what the locals say is an unfair tax burden.[24][25] "Gold Towns", such as Killington, generally were satisfied with the resolution in 2003 contained in Act 68, which continued "equalized yield", but gave those towns latitude to spend more at home.[26]

Elections—Title 17

The state is one of three [27] in the nation that does not require political candidates to disclose personal financial information.[28] Vermont is one of two states who allow prison inmates to vote, the other being Maine.[29]

Health—Title 18

As a result of statutory benefits such as Dr. Dynasaur, Vermont, with 9.5% of the population with no medical insurance, has the second best coverage in the country, as of 2004.[30]

In 2007, when confronted with an allegedly liberal issue, assisted suicide for the terminally ill, the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives rejected the measure by a vote of 82–63.[31] In 2013, the state passed Assisted Suicide legislation, Act 39. It was the third state to do so. [32] Also in 2007. the governor signed the "Prescription Confidentiality Law", required that records containing a doctor's prescribing practices not be sold or used for marketing purposes unless the doctor consented. This statute was struck down in 2011 by the U.S. Supreme Court in Sorrell v. IMS Health, Inc. as a violation of the First Amendment.

In 2009, Vermont passed the strictest law in the nation controlling the marketing of pharmaceutical drugs to doctors, hospitals and other health providers.[33] In the same year, the state outlawed smoking at workplaces.[34]

On June 6, 2013, Vermont became the 17th state to decriminalize marijuana. The statute makes possession of less than an ounce of the drug punishable by a small fine rather than arrest and possible jail time.[35][36]

Motor Vehicles—Title 23

In Vermont a driver may regard double yellow lines as "advisory," meaning that they merely are a warning not to cross over them. A motorist will not be ticketed for that as an offense by itself.[37][38]

Municipal and County Government—Title 24

Having tried to discourage suburban sprawl, the legislatures of 1998 and 2002 moved to encourage downtowns. In 2008, there were 23 designated downtowns and 78 village centers.[39][40]

The state has an "open meeting" law. This requires special attention when a quorum of an elected government group is meeting anyplace, including socially.[41][42]

Federal elections

Presidential elections results
Year Republican Democratic
2012 30.97% 92,698 66.57% 199,239
2008 30.45% 98,974 67.46% 219,262
2004 38.80% 121,180 58.94% 184,067
2000 40.70% 119,775 50.63% 149,022
1996 31.09% 80,352 53.35% 137,894
1992 30.42% 88,122 46.11% 133,592
1988 51.10% 124,331 47.58% 115,775
1984 57.92% 135,865 40.81% 95,730
1980 44.37% 94,628 38.41% 81,952
1976 54.34% 102,085 43.14% 81,004
1972 62.66% 117,149 36.47% 68,174
1968 52.75% 85,142 43.53% 70,255
1964 33.69% 54,942 66.30% 108,127
1960 58.65% 98,131 41.35% 69,186
1956 72.16% 110,390 27.81% 42,549
1952 71.45% 109,717 28.23% 43,355
1948 61.54% 75,926 36.92% 45,557

Historically, Vermont was considered one of the most reliably Republican states in the country in terms of national elections. From 1856 to 1988, Vermont voted Democratic only once, in Lyndon B. Johnson's landslide victory of 1964 against Barry M. Goldwater. It was also one of only two states—the other being Maine—where Franklin D. Roosevelt was completely shut out in all four of his presidential bids. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Republican presidential candidates frequently won the state with over 70 percent of the vote.

In the 1980s and 1990s many people moved in from out of state.[43][44][45] Much of this immigration included the arrival of more liberal political influences of the urban areas of New York and the rest of New England in Vermont.[44] The brand of Republicanism in Vermont has historically been a moderate one, and combined with the newcomers from out of state, this made Vermont friendlier to Democrats as the national GOP moved to the right. As evidence of this, in 1990 Bernie Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist, was elected to Vermont's lone seat in the House as an independent. Sanders became the state's junior Senator in 2007. However, for his entire career in the House and Senate, Sanders has caucused with the Democrats and is counted as a Democrat for the purposes of committee assignments and voting for party leadership.[46]

After narrowly supporting George H. W. Bush in 1988, it gave Democrat Bill Clinton a 16-point margin in 1992—the first time the state had gone Democratic since 1964. Vermont has voted Democratic in every presidential election since.

Since 2004, Vermont has been one of the Democrats' most loyal states. It gave John Kerry his fourth-largest margin of victory in the presidential campaign against George W. Bush; he won the state's popular vote by 20 percentage points, taking almost 59 percent of the vote. (Kerry, from neighboring Massachusetts, also became the first Northern Democrat ever to carry Vermont; Johnson was from Texas, Clinton from Arkansas and Al Gore, triumphant in the Green Mountain State in 2000, from Tennessee.) Essex County in the state's northeastern section was the only county to vote for Bush. Vermont is the only state that did not receive a visit from George W. Bush during his tenure as President of the United States.[47] Indeed, George W. Bush is the first Republican to win the White House without carrying Vermont; he lost it in 2000 as well. In 2008, Vermont gave Barack Obama his third-largest margin of victory (37 percentage points) and third-largest vote share in the nation by his winning the state 68% to 31%. Only Obama's birth state of Hawaii and Washington, D.C. were stronger Democratic victories. The same held true in 2012, when Obama carried Vermont 67% to 31%.

Vermont's two Senators are Democrat Patrick Leahy, the longest-serving member of the Senate, and independent Bernie Sanders. The state is represented by an at-large member of the House, Democrat Peter Welch, who succeeded Sanders in 2007.

The governor and the legislature

In 1985, the Vermont legislature passed[48] and in 1986 voters narrowly defeated an equal rights amendment to the Vermont constitution.[49] In 2007, however. Governor Jim Douglas signed a landmark civil rights bill banning discrimination on the basis of gender identity by employers, financial institutions, housing, public accommodations, and other contexts, after it had passed both chambers of the legislature by a veto-proof majority.[50] Douglas previously had vetoed a similar bill in 2006.[51]

Upon his entry into office with the death of his predecessor, Republican Richard A. Snelling in 1991, Governor Howard Dean faced a national economic recession and a $60 million state budget deficit. Facing some opposition in his own Democratic Party, he advocated for and received from the legislature a balanced budget.[52] This set a precedent of fiscal restraint, which has continued in Vermont through 2011.[5] In 1999, five moderate Democratic legislators, called "Blue Dogs", joined with Republicans to pass Democratic, but fiscally conservative, governor Howard Dean's plans for an income tax cut.[53]

In 2009 Governor Douglas vetoed a bill allowing marriage for same sex couples in Vermont. The Vermont House and Senate overrode the veto the next day.[54] Also 2009, Governor Douglas vetoed a budget bill—a first in Vermont history. The Democratically controlled legislature returned to special session and overturned the veto.[55][56]

Court rulings

By a court decision from 1903, State vs Rosenthal, people have the right to carry firearms without a permit.[57][58]

The Vermont Attorney General attempts to uphold bills that have passed into law, which included the 2007 "Prescription Confidentiality Law." Attempting to uphold that state statute, which was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in Sorrell v. IMS Health, Inc., cost the state $4,003,000.

In Randall v. Sorrell, the Supreme Court overturned the strictest campaign financing statute in the country. The state was obligated to pay the plaintiffs $1,395,000.

In 2012, the federal district court struck down the state's law giving it a say on whether Vermont Yankee nuclear plant stays open or not. The state appealed.[59] In August 2013 Entergy announced the decommissioning of the plant in the fourth quarter of 2014. It cited economic factors, notably the low cost of electricity caused by cheap natural gas.[60]

Other political history

In 1854, the Vermont delegation, consisting of three congressmen and two senators, vigorously, but unsuccessfully opposed the repeal of the Missouri Compromise in the U.S. Congress. The replacement act appeared to extend slavery.[61]

Mountain Rule

From the founding of the Republican Party in the 1850s until the 1960s, only Republicans won general elections for Vermont's statewide offices. One method that made this possible was imposition of the "Mountain Rule." Under the provisions of the Mountain Rule, one U.S. Senator was a resident of the east side of the Green Mountains and one resided on the west side, and the governorship and lieutenant governorship alternated between residents of the east and west side. Nominees for Governor and Lieutenant Governor were allowed two one-year terms and, later, one two-year term. For nearly 100 years, likely Republican candidates for office in Vermont agreed to abide by the Mountain Rule in the interests of party unity. Several factors led to the eventual weakening of the Mountain Rule, including: the long time political dispute between the Proctor (conservative) and AikenGibson (liberal) wings of the party; primaries rather than conventions to select nominees; the direct election of U.S. Senators; and several active third parties, including the Progressives, the Prohibition Party, and the Local Option movement. In the 1960s, the rise of the Vermont Democratic Party and the construction of Interstate 89 also contributed to the end of the Mountain Rule. Though I-89 is a north-south route, it traverses Vermont from east to west and changed the way Vermonters viewed how the state was divided.[62][63]

World War II

On September 16, 1941, prior to the United States of America joining World War II, the state declared that the nation was in an armed conflict, enabling servicemen to receive state wartime bonuses. This resulted in national headlines that Vermont had declared war on Germany.[64]

See also


  1. Framers (2010). "Constitution of the State of Vermont—As established July 9, 1793 and amended through December 14, 2010". Vermont Statutes Online. Vermont State Legislature. Retrieved 2013-12-29.
  2. Vermont Constitution retrieved May 29, 2008
  3. State Balanced Budget Requirements: Provisions and Practice
  4. Editors (12 April 1999). "State Balanced Budget Requirements". National Conference of State Legislatures. Retrieved 2013-12-30.
  5. 1 2 Goodnough, Abby (23 April 2011). "Vermont Exercising Option to Balance the Budget". New York Times. Retrieved 2013-12-30.
  6. 2007 Annual Report of the Department of Liquor Control
  7. Bottoms up, Vermont. Burlington Free Press. December 7, 2008.
  8. 1 2 Editors. "Vermont: Proud to be Billboard-Free!" (PDF). Billboard Control Case Study. Scenic America. Retrieved 2013-12-29.
  9. along with Alaska, Hawaii, and Maine
  10. McCrea, Lynne (5 January 2009). "Billboard ban turns 40". Vermont Public Radio. Retrieved 2012-12-29.
  11. Title 10 V.S.A. Chapter 21, Sections 481–506
  12. Title 10 V.S.A. Chapter 151: State land use and development plans, Sections 6001–6093
  13. Dentel-Post, Aaron (November 5, 2014). "Barton doesn't plan to join solid waste district". The Chronicle. Barton, Vermont. pp. 13A.
  14. Vermont Legislature. "13 VSA § 2601 Lewd and lascivious conduct". Title 13: Crimes and Criminal Procedure Chapter 59: Lewdness and Prostitution, Sub-Chapter 1: Lewd And Indecent Conduct. State of Vermont. Retrieved 2014-01-20.
  15. MacQuarrie, Brian (August 23, 2006). "Law of nature prevails in Vermont—Brattleboro teens shed clothes with impunity". Boston Globe. Retrieved 2014-01-20.
  16. Lefebvre, Paul (January 12, 2011). "Commissioner Flynn makes his debut". the Chronicle. Barton, Vermont. p. 1.
  17. 13 V.S.A. Chapter 72: Sexual assault Section 3252
  18. Goldberg, Carey (March 17, 2000). "Vermont's House Backs Wide Rights for Gay Couples". New York Times. Retrieved July 13, 2013.
  19. Jack Hoffman (September 24, 2000). "Civil unions seen as target of 'Take Back Vermont'". Rutland Herald.
  20. Goodnough, Abby (April 7, 2009). "Vermont Legislature Makes Same-Sex Marriage Legal". New York Times. Retrieved May 23, 2010.
  21. "Laws & Regulations : Act 60 Links & Resources". Education.vermont.gov. Retrieved 2013-06-20.
  22. "Finance Reform in Vermont: The Legislature Responds to the Brigham Supreme Court Decision". Education Resources Information Center. 1998-04-00. Check date values in: |date= (help)
  23. Commissioner (June 2011). "Vermont's Education Funding System" (PDF). Vermont Department of Education. Retrieved 2014-01-02.
  24. Killington Secession Not Too Popular in VT | New Hampshire Public Radio
  25. CNN.com – Killington residents vote to secede from Vermont – March 4, 2004
  26. Editors (March 2008). "Historical Background". Access. School Funding.
  27. the other two are Idaho and Michigan
  28. Dunbar, Bethany M. (24 November 2010). "Vermont's public access laws come under scrutiny". Barton, Vermont: the chronicle. p. 10.
  29. Ring, Wilson (October 1, 2008). Vt., Maine only states to allow all inmates to vote. Burlington Free Press.
  30. healthsignals new york: Health Economics
  31. It's sudden death in Vermont for assisted suicide proposal
  32. Title 18, Chapter 113: Patient choice at end of life, Section 5281–5292
  33. Remsen, Nancy (28 June 2009). "Tough drug law gains attention outside Vermont". Burlington, Vermont: Burlington Free Press. pp. 1A.
  34. The Chronicle, July 1, page 3A, "Businesses now 100 percent smoke-free" Vermont Department of Health
  35. "Vermont becomes 17th state to decriminalize marijuana, making possession of less than an ounce of pot punishable by fine". NY Daily News. Retrieved 6 June 2013.
  36. 18 VSA, Therapeutic use of cannabis, Section 4471–4474
  37. State of Vermont Drivers Manual retrieved September 10, 2012
  38. 23 V.S.A. Chapter 13: Operation of vehicles, Chapter 1036
  39. MacKay, Noelle, Executive Director of Smart Growth (June 21, 2008). My Turn:Good to see support for smart growth. Burlington Free Press.
  40. Title 24: Municipal and County Government, Chapter 76A: Historic downtown development, Section 2793a. Designation of village centers by State Board
  41. Secretary of State. "A Pocket Guide to Open Meeting Law 1999". State of Vermont. Retrieved 2013-12-29.
  42. 1 V.S.A. Chapter 5: Common law, General rights, Sections 310–314
  43. "Modern Vermont 1940-today: Flatlanders vs. Woodchucks". Vermont Historical Society. Retrieved December 5, 2012.
  44. 1 2 Cohen, Micah (October 1, 2014). "'New' Vermont Is Liberal, but 'Old' Vermont Is Still There". The New York Times. Retrieved February 23, 2015.
  45. Capen, David. "A Planning Tool for Conservationists: Spatial Modeling of Past and Future Land Use in Vermont Towns". University of Vermont. Retrieved December 5, 2012.
  46. Powell, Michael. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/11/04/AR2006110401124.html Exceedingly Social, But Doesn't Like Parties. The Washington Post November 5, 2006.
  47. Hallenbeck, Terri (March 31, 2012). "President Obama tells Vermont crowd there's 'more work to do'". The Burlington Free Press. Gannett Company. Retrieved December 12, 2012.
  48. Associated Press (March 1, 1985). "Vermont House Passes Equal Rights Measure". New York Times. Retrieved 2013-12-29.
  49. Pierceson, Jason (2005). Courts, Liberalism, and Rights: Gay Law and Politics in the United States. Philadelphia: Temple University Press. p. 132. ISBN 1-59213-400-9.
  50. Acts and Resolves of the 2007–2008 session of the Vermont General Assembly, Act 41 (S.51). leg.state.vt.us
  51. H.865 from the 2005–2006 legislative session. leg.state.vt.us.
  52. Butterfield, Fox (September 6, 2001). "Vermont Governor Won't Seek Re-election". U.S. New York Times. Retrieved 2014-01-01.
  53. Remsen, Nancy (January 23, 2009). Flaherty, former 'Blue Dog' Democrat, dies. Burlington Free Press.
  54. Wmur.com Vermont Legislature Legalizes Gay Marriage
  55. The Chronicle, June 3, 2009, page 1A, "Dems find chink in Governor's armor", Paul Lefebvre
  56. Wptz.com "Vermont House, Senate Override Douglas Veto," (June 2, 2009)
  57. "State V. Rosenthal". Guncite.com. 1903-05-30. Retrieved 2014-01-05.
  58. "State V. Rosenthal". Constitution.org. 1903-05-30. Retrieved 2014-01-05.
  59. Hallenbeck, Terri (August 19, 2012). "Money in, money out". Burlington Free Press. Burlington, Vermont. pp. 11A.
  60. "Entergy to Close, Decommission Vermont Yankee". PR Newswire.
  61. Gresser, Joseph (September 21, 2011). "Coffin shares Civil War stories with NVDA". the Chronicle. Barton, Vermont. p. 12.
  62. Newspaper article, The Mountain Rule in Vermont, New York Times, February 12, 1895
  63. Magazine article, Mountain Rule Revisited, by Samuel B. Hand, Vermont History Magazine, published by Vermont Historical Society, Summer/Fall 2003, pages 139 to 151
  64. "It happened today". Florida Today. Melbourne, Florida. September 14, 2013. pp. 1A. Retrieved September 14, 2013.

External links

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