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, school funding, and gay rights. Between 1854 and 1962, the state usually voted Republican. Thereafter, the governor's office has alternated between the Democratic and Republican parties with each election, while the legislature has been primarily Democratic.
- 1 Constitution
- 2 Legislation by statute
- 3 The governor and the legislature
- 4 Court rulings
- 5 Political parties in Vermont
- 6 Other political history
- 7 See also
- 8 Footnotes
- 9 External links
Vermont is one of four states that was once an independent nation, as the Republic of Vermont. The other formerly independent states 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. The rights of the inhabitants enumerated by the Vermont constitution address in 21 articles, among other things, the prohibition of slavery, compensation for use of property, freedom of worship, "free and pure" elections, search and seizure, freedom of speech and press, trial by jury, the right to bear arms and the right to assemble. The governing powers enumerated by the Vermont constitution address in 76 sections, 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 supports 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 assumed.
Legislation by statute
Vermont legislators have addressed the character of the state and the rights of Vermonters with sometimes 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. Beer and wine may be sold in local grocery stores unless the town in which it is located has voted "dry" at their town meeting. Only state licensed establishments may sell stronger alcoholic beverages in bottles. The quantity 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, it took in over $14 million from the sale and distribution of liquor. There are 75 State Liquor Stores and 1,350 taverns in the state.
Conservation and development—Title 10
After passage of the billboard-regulating Highway Beautification Act of 1965, Vermont moved to ban them outright in 1968. All billboards were gone from Vermont by 1974. Vermont is one of four states to have prohibited all billboards from view of highway rights-of-way by law, except for signs on the contiguous property of the business location.
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 four, as of March 2008, but only the Williston store was new construction.
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.
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 5 by the electric chair. Vermont abolished the death penalty in 1965. Vermont is one of four states 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", however local ordinances may bar disrobing in public. In 2010, the state enacted a law requiring that a DNA sample be taken from everyone arraigned on a felony, and entered into a database controlled by the FBI. The age of consent in Vermont is 16.
Domestic relations—Title 15
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, which granted same-sex couples nearly all the rights and privileges of marriage. 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.
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.
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. The law was in response to a Vermont Supreme Court decision in the Brigham vs. State of Vermont case, 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. 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, which had been spending much 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. "Gold Towns", like Killington, were generally satisfied with the resolution in 2003 contained in Act 68, which continued "equalized yield" but gave those towns latitude to spend more at home.
The state is one of three in the nation that does not require political candidates to disclose personal financial information. Vermont is one of two states who allow prison inmates to vote, the other being Maine.
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. In 2013, the state passed Assisted Suicide legislation, Act 39. It was the third state to do so.  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 US 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. In the same year, the state outlawed smoking at workplaces.
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.
Motor Vehicles—Title 23
In Vermont a driver may regard double yellow lines as "advisory," meaning that they are merely a warning not to cross over them. However a motorist will not be ticketed for that as an offense by itself.
Municipal and County Government—Title 24
The governor and the legislature
In 1985, the Vermont legislature passed and in 1986 voters narrowly defeated an equal rights amendment to the Vermont constitution. However in 2007, 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, which had passed both chambers of the legislature by a veto-proof majority. Douglas had previously vetoed a similar bill in 2006.
Upon his entry into office with the death of his predecessor 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. This set a precedent of fiscal restraint, which has continued in Vermont as of 2011. 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.
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. 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.
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. 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.
Political parties in Vermont
Political party affiliation was not a factor in Vermont politics from 1778-1797. Starting in 1798, leading politicians were members of the Democratic-Republican Party until about 1830. Thereafter, Anti-Masonic Party and Whig Party politicians held sway until 1853.
Starting in 1854, the state voted solidly Republican until 1962. Starting in 1963, the governor's office alternated between the Democratic and Republican parties with each election. In 1987, the Democratic Party captured both houses of the legislature. Since 1987, Vermont House and Senate have each been Democratic for all but two of the eleven terms between then and 2013. Vermont was for many years a stronghold of the Republican Party.
Ethno-political culture of the last century has seen a dramatic shift in voter turnout in the Green Mountain State. Americans of French descent overwhelmingly vote Democratic, and are the largest ethnicity in Vermont. Vermonters of English descent, (sometimes known as the “Yankee” Vermonters) overwhelmingly vote Republican. Americans of English descent make up between a fifth and a quarter of the state and Americans of French descent make roughly one third of the state. All other ethnicities in the state breakdown roughly 50-50 along political lines, however the predominance of French-Canadian descended Vermonters who vote Democrat the overwhelming majority of the time has led to a dwindling of the “Yankee Republicanism” for which Vermont was once synonymous. The Irish Catholic vote has fluctuated during this time, while the French-Canadian vote has remained solidly Democrat and the vote of the “Yankee” Vermonters of English descent has remained solidly Republican. Since 1992 Vermont has voted the Democrat in every Presidential election. Prior 1992 Vermont had voted for the Republican in every single Presidential election with the exception of 1964.
The Vermont Secretary of State maintains a list of designated major and minor parties. For the years 2011-12, they were:
Major Political Parties in Vermont
Minor Political Parties in Vermont
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 US Congress. The replacement act appeared to extend slavery.
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.
- 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.
- Vermont Constitution retrieved May 29, 2008
- State Balanced Budget Requirements: Provisions and Practice
- Editors (12 April 1999). "State Balanced Budget Requirements". National Conference of State Legislatures. Retrieved 2013-12-30.
- Goodnough, Abby (23 April 2011). "Vermont Exercising Option to Balance the Budget". New York Times. Retrieved 2013-12-30.
- 2007 Annual Report of the Department of Liquor Control
- Bottoms up, Vermont. Burlington Free Press. December 7, 2008.
- Editors. "Vermont: Proud to be Billboard-Free!". Billboard Control Case Study. Scenic America. Retrieved 2013-12-29.
- along with Alaska, Hawaii, and Maine
- McCrea, Lynne (5 January 2009). "Billboard ban turns 40". Vermont Public Radio. Retrieved 2012-12-29.
- Title 10 V.S.A. Chapter 21, Section 481-506
- Title 10 V.S.A. Chapter 151: State land use and development plans, Section 6001-6093
- Dentel-Post, Aaron (November 5, 2014). "Barton doesn't plan to join solid waste district". The Chronicle (Barton, Vermont). pp. 13A.
- along with Alaska, Arizona and Wyoming)
- 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.
- MacQuarrie, Brian (August 23, 2006). "Law of nature prevails in Vermont—Brattleboro teens shed clothes with impunity". Boston Globe. Retrieved 2014-01-20.
- Lefebvre, Paul (January 12, 2011). "Commissioner Flynn makes his debut". the Chronicle (Barton, Vermont). p. 1.
- 13 V.S.A. Chapter 72: Sexual assault Section 3252
- Goldberg, Carey (March 17, 2000). "Vermont's House Backs Wide Rights for Gay Couples". New York Times. Retrieved July 13, 2013.
- Jack Hoffman (September 24, 2000). "Civil unions seen as target of 'Take Back Vermont'". Rutland Herald.
- Goodnough, Abby (April 7, 2009). "Vermont Legislature Makes Same-Sex Marriage Legal". New York Times. Retrieved May 23, 2010.
- "Laws & Regulations : Act 60 Links & Resources". Education.vermont.gov. Retrieved 2013-06-20.
- "Finance Reform in Vermont: The Legislature Responds to the Brigham Supreme Court Decision". Education Resources Information Center. 1998-04-00.
- Commissioner (June 2011). "Vermont’s Education Funding System". Vermont Department of Education. Retrieved 2014-01-02.
- Killington Secession Not Too Popular in VT | New Hampshire Public Radio
- CNN.com - Killington residents vote to secede from Vermont - March 4, 2004
- Editors (March 2008). "Historical Background". Access. School Funding.
- the other two are Idaho and Michigan
- Dunbar, Bethany M. (24 November 2010). "Vermont's public access laws come under scrutiny". Barton, Vermont: the chronicle. p. 10.
- Ring, Wilson (October 1, 2008). Vt., Maine only states to allow all inmates to vote. Burlington Free Press.
- healthsignals new york: Health Economics
- It's sudden death in Vermont for assisted suicide proposal
- Title 18, Chapter 113: Patient choice at end of life, Section 5281-5292
- Remsen, Nancy (28 June 2009). "Tough drug law gains attention outside Vermont". Burlington, Vermont: Burlington Free Press. pp. 1A.
- The Chronicle, July 1, page 3A, "Businesses now 100 percent smoke-free" Vermont Department of Health
- "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.
- 18 VSA, Therapeutic use of cannabis, Section 4471-4474
- State of Vermont Drivers Manual retrieved September 10, 2012
- 23 V.S.A. Chapter 13: Operation of vehicles, Chapter 1036
- MacKay, Noelle, Executive Director of Smart Growth (June 21, 2008). My Turn:Good to see support for smart growth. Burlington Free Press.
- Title 24: Municipal and County Government, Chapter 76A: Historic downtown development, Section 2793a. Designation of village centers by State Board
- Secretary of State. "A Pocket Guide to Open Meeting Law 1999". State of Vermont. Retrieved 2013-12-29.
- 1 V.S.A. Chapter 5: Common law, General rights, Section 310-314
- Associated Press (March 1, 1985). "Vermont House Passes Equal Rights Measure". New York Times. Retrieved 2013-12-29.
- 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.
- Acts and Resolves of the 2007–2008 session of the Vermont General Assembly, Act 41 (S.51). leg.state.vt.us
- H.865 from the 2005–2006 legislative session. leg.state.vt.us.
- Butterfield, Fox (September 6, 2001). "Vermont Governor Won't Seek Re-election". U.S. (New York Times). Retrieved 2014-01-01.
- Remsen, Nancy (January 23, 2009). Flaherty, former 'Blue Dog' Democrat, dies. Burlington Free Press.
- Wmur.com Vermont Legislature Legalizes Gay Marriage
- The Chronicle, June 3, 2009, page 1A, "Dems find chink in Governor's armor", Paul Lefebvre
- Wptz.com "Vermont House, Senate Override Douglas Veto," (June 2, 2009)
- "State V. Rosenthal". Guncite.com. 1903-05-30. Retrieved 2014-01-05.
- "State V. Rosenthal". Constitution.org. 1903-05-30. Retrieved 2014-01-05.
- Hallenbeck, Terri (August 19, 2012). "Money in, money out". Burlington Free Press (Burlington, Vermont). pp. 11A.
- "Entergy to Close, Decommission Vermont Yankee". PR Newswire.
- Finnigans, Slaters, and Stonepeggers: A History of the Irish in Vermont by Vincent Feeney, page 15, page 148 and page 162-163
- Changing Patterns of Voting in the Northern United States: Electoral Realignment, 1952-1996 page 45 "historian Charles Morrissey has noted that Canadian support for the democratic party..." "Table 3.5 Frenchest towns were most Democrat voting towns" Page 50, table 3.6 also shows towns with highest portion of French ancestry have highest portion of Democrat voters, highest portion of English ancestry corresponds with highest portion of Republican voters
- The Princeton Encyclopedia of American Political History. (Two volume set) edited by Michael Kazin, Rebecca Edwards, Adam Rothman page 535
- Franco-Americans of New England: Dreams and Realities By Yves Roby page 239
- Real Democracy: The New England Town Meeting and How It Works By Frank M. Bryan page 264
- Secretary of State (2011). "Party Organization in Vermont". Elections: Political Party Organization. Retrieved 2013-12-29.
- Gresser, Joseph (September 21, 2011). "Coffin shares Civil War stories with NVDA". the Chronicle (Barton, Vermont). p. 12.
- "It happened today". Florida Today (Melbourne, Florida). September 14, 2013. pp. 1A. Retrieved September 14, 2013.
- Politics of Vermont at DMOZ
- Vermont Statutes and Constitution on line
- Congressional Papers collection, Center for Digital Initiatives, University of Vermont Library