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Explore our coverage of government and politics.

Davis: Bipartisan Politics

It was the summer of 1952. I drove from my home in Barre to Chelsea Vermont to look at the used cars being sold by a guy named Kennedy. Word on the street assured me that his cars were the best deals around. This was my introduction to one of the great Vermont characters of the 20th century.I didn’t bring home a shiny Ford that day, but I did acquire a life-long friend. His name was Walter Kennedy. But from childhood he’d been known as “Peanut.” In the early ‘60s, Peanut got the political bug while working on behalf of a conservative candidate for governor, Roger McBride. McBride soon disappeared from Vermont politics, but Peanut didn’t. In 1960 he was elected to the Vermont House of Representatives and became Speaker in 1971. In 1974, he ran as the Republican candidate for governor against Tom Salmon. His politics were different than mine, but we agreed as much as we disagreed.

Later, as a Democrat in the Hoff, Davis, and Salmon administrations, I worked very well with many Republicans, including Peanut.
He, like other conservative Republicans, was fiscally conservative, suspicious of government problem-solving, and pro-business. But they also respected the separation of church and state and were bedrock supporters of the Bill of Rights. The Constitution was seen as the foundation of who and what we are as a people and not as a political tool to be played with.

But back to cars. One day in 1972 my car was parked in front of my house in Barre and wouldn’t start. I had raised the hood and was gazing at the engine, without a clue as to what I was looking for, when a long, black Chrysler Imperial pulled up.

Peanut got out, looking very distinguished in a black suit, crisp white shirt, and bow tie. “What’s the matter, Tom,” he asked in his Chelsea twang, a dialect found nowhere else in Vermont.

“No idea,” I replied.

Peanut looked at the engine, removed his jacket, folded it neatly, and placed it along with his bow tie on the back seat. “Got a paper clip?” he asked.

I retrieved one. Peanut bent it and mysteriously attached it somewhere under the hood.

“Try it now,” he said. The car came back to life.

“It’s the secondary resistor,” he told me.

I had no idea then, and still don’t know, what a secondary resistor is.

Born in 1931, the son of Gov. Deane Davis and grandson of a State Treasurer, former Secretary of Human Services Tom Davis served Vermont under governors Hoff and Salmon, directed Sen. Patrick Leahy’s Burlington office, and represented New England for the US Department of Labor. In a recent series of interviews with producer/writer Mark Greenberg, Tom recalls some of the people he encountered during past political events and campaigns, and reflects on the changes he’s seen in a country and state that are radically different from the one he entered 85 years ago.
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