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Davis: On Politics And Boondoggles

I came in with FDR in 1931, probably much to the chagrin of some of the family. Everybody was a Republican other than one or two Democrats. But Barre was a union town, and labor supported Roosevelt pretty much down the line. I used to go to the movies on Saturday afternoon, and they’d show the news of the day – which was usually about five days old. When Roosevelt came on the screen the crowd would cheer. When Wendell Wilkie, his 1940 Republican opponent, would come on, the crowd would boo. Those of us from Republican families had to slink down deeply into our seats.

My father was a Republican, but I don’t remember him saying an awful lot about that election.

FDR was very fond of Vermont and came here in 1936. He didn’t want people to know he had polio, so when he arrived by train in Waterbury they built a fence closing in the walkway on each side. That way, people couldn’t see the lower half of his body as he walked from the train by putting his hands on the fence rails.

Later he traveled by car to Hanover to meet up with Mrs. Roosevelt, who was visiting at Dartmouth. On the way they had a flat tire in what is known as Williamstown Gulf. There’s a spring there, and local legend has it that he filled his water bottle from the spring while they changed the tire. That spring still flows down that mountain today.

At the time of this visit, Republicans had been riding him for being a boondoggler, meaning he gave away money for political benefit. Roosevelt took the press and whatever dignitaries would go with him and went out to the Wrightsville Dam just north of Montpelier. The dam was a New Deal project built by the Civilian Conservation Corps – the CCC – in response to the 1927 flood.

FDR went to the dam, waved his hand and proclaimed, “Now this is what I consider a good example of a boondoggle.”

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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