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Kunin: State House Revisited

Whenever I’m invited to come back to the Vermont State House I experience both the familiar and the new. The golden dome still sparkles in the sun against the blue sky like it did the day I was sworn into office as the governor of Vermont thirty years ago. I have affection for the state house, almost as if it were a person. For sixteen years I walked through its doors, as a legislator, Lt. Governor and Governor.
Almost all the faces have changed, but the tempo of activity remains the same. When I visited the other day, I was immediately approached by Representative Jill Krowinski: “We’re having a press conference on the 42nd anniversary of Roe. V. Wade. Can you come?”

“Yes,” I said, and began to follow her through the crowd, at a slow walk, being stopped by greetings from those who recognized me. I found the right room and spoke in favor of the Supreme Court decision that made abortion legal - a still controversial decision.

Then I went to my original destination - room 11 to lead off a press conference for Mobius, which promotes mentoring between adults and children.

There was no controversy here. These were the people who changed children’s lives. I sensed the love and generosity of spirit that permeated the room.

The Vermont legislature, unlike the United States Congress, functions well. The difference between Vermont and Washington is that people break bread together, converse together. Step into the cafeteria and you will see them, Democrats, Republicans, Progressives, and yes - lobbyists - often sitting at the same tables.

Most are there to pass legislation which will serve the public good. Yes, there is partisan ship, but legislators don’t always vote in lock step with their party. The word “compromise” is not synonymous with “cave in.” Attendance at sessions is excellent, partly because Vermont legislators don’t have to spend most of their time raising money.

Some things have changed - some for the good, some not. There are more women and more lobbyists. But debate remains civil, the doors of the State House remain open to every Vermonter and – most important of all - we still have a part-time citizen legislature. There is no moat around the state house, Legislators go home most evenings and have to stop at the supermarket, the post office, or the gas station where they run into their constituents - who are not shy about expressing their opinions. The voices of the people are heard.

Madeleine May Kunin is a former governor of Vermont, and author of "The New Feminist Agenda, Defining the Next Revolution for Women, Work and Family," published by Chelsea Green.
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