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Vermont Legislature
Follow VPR's statehouse coverage, featuring Pete Hirschfeld and Bob Kinzel in our Statehouse Bureau in Montpelier.

House Rejects F-35 Amendments To Adjutant General Bill

VPR/Kirk Carapezza

While the Vermont House backed a proposal Wednesday to change how the state selects its top military leader, it resoundingly rejected a number of amendments aimed to bring the debate over basing the F-35 fighter jet in South Burlington to the House floor.

The House voted to advance a bill that would replace a vote by a joint session of the Legislature with a 10-person panel charged with vetting potential candidates who have certain military credentials.

Vermont and South Carolina are the only two states whose Legislature elects their adjutant general. Today’s vote in the House came after lawmakers rejected a civilian critic’s bid to become adjutant general. James Marc Leas, a lawyer from South Burlington and staunch opponent of the Air Force’s plan to base F-35s in South Burlington, ran for adjutant general in February.

At the time, Leas said the Vermont National Guard and Vermont’s congressional delegation had put the federal mission ahead of the interests of Vermonters living around Burlington International Airport and those who’ve raised concerns about the noise the stealth fighter jets would create.

“It’s the Air Force saying that – not me,” Leas argued shortly after the Legislature chose General Steven Cray. Leas cited the Air Force’s draft Environmental Impact Statement. “They’re saying that 2,944 homes in the four communities around the airport will be unsuitable for residential use. They’ve already demolished 120 homes because of F-16 noise.”

“It’s the same problem,” Leas added referring to the F-35s. “We need to build a campaign in our state to protect our homes.”

Earlier this week, Rep. George Cross, D-Winooski, tried to take up the theme of that campaign. He proposed several amendments, one of which was designed to delay the potential F-35 basing in Vermont. The House overwhelmingly rejected that amendment as non-germane to the bill.

Cross also authored an amendment that would allow civilian leadership to be considered for the adjutant general post.

“We have people in this state who are very intelligent, who have great leadership skills, who in fact can lead all kinds of organizations,” Cross told his colleagues on the House floor Wednesday. “Sometimes the best person to be the adjutant general in a particular era may not be a military person.”

But Rep. Kurt Wright, R-Burlington, and other House lawmakers opposed the amendment, saying it’s important to have military credentials to serve as adjutant general.

“Our National Guard is not like other institutions, and I think that we have to expect that the person who is going to run the national guard and lead men perhaps into battle – whether we like it or not – have had experience in the military, in the guard,” Wright said.

The qualifications approved by the House would require that any person hoping to become adjutant general of the Vermont National Guard must be a Vermont citizen and have served in the U.S. Armed Services.

The bill comes up for final approval later this week.

Earlier: F-35 Critics Offer Amendments To Adjutant General Bill

VPR News: Longtime General Elected To Lead Vermont National Guard

Kirk is a reporter for the NPR member station in Boston, WGBH, where he covers higher education, connecting the dots between post-secondary education and the economy, national security, jobs and global competitiveness. Kirk has been a reporter with Wisconsin Public Radio in Madison, Wis.; a writer and producer at WBUR in Boston; a teacher and coach at Nativity Preparatory School in New Bedford, Mass.; a Fenway Park tour guide; and a tourist abroad. Kirk received his B.A. from the College of the Holy Cross and earned his M.S. from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism. When he's not reporting or editing stories on campus, you can find him posting K's on the Wall at Fenway. You can follow Kirk on Twitter @KirkCarapezza.
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