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How The Doyle Town Meeting Survey Came To Be

Taylor Dobbs
Sen. Bill Doyle (R-Washington), pictured here in the Statehouse in January, has been surveying Vermonters on key issues before the Legislature for the past 45 years.

For the past 45 years, Washington County senator Bill Doyle has been surveying Vermonters about their views on key issues pending before the Legislature.

In 1970, Bill Doyle was a freshman senator in Washington County and one of the biggest issues facing Vermont was Governor Deane Davis’s proposal to enact the state’s first ever sales tax.

During his gubernatorial campaign in 1968, Davis said raising new tax revenue was a last resort, but once he was in office, he says he realized that the state’s financial picture was worse than he originally thought. Davis said it was important for him to deal with this issue head on and that meant a sales tax.

“I elected to mention it in my inaugural address and propose it in my inaugural address,” said Davis. “Immediately the roof fell in and all the press said, 'Well, he said it was a last resort and he’s made it a first resort.'”

Davis says he was determined to convince lawmakers to support his sales tax plan and he says he considered not running for re-election if he was successful with his tax proposal.

“I also made the silent commitment to myself that time that I wouldn’t run for governor a second time! My mind changed about that!” said Davis. “I made that decision as part of the decision to face up to the bitter medicine right at the start and it’s a good thing that I did.”

"The information was so valuable, so well received, I said, 'Why not know how people feel about the issues?'" Sen. Bill Doyle on why he expanded his Town Meeting Survey

Senator Doyle wanted to know how his constituents felt about having a sales tax and he circulated a questionnaire to gauge their support. He got such a good response that he expanded it in the following years.

“The information was so valuable so well received, I said, 'Why shouldn’t I want to know how people feel about the issues that I represent? How else would I know? Sixty thousand people live in our county.”

This year Doyle’s survey seeks opinions on prohibiting drivers from using cell phones, legalizing marijuana, increasing the state minimum wage, labeling GMO products, and the creating a state bank. He also includes this question: “Do you believe that Vermont health care is moving in the right direction?”

“It’s so complex, I thought the only way to do it is ‘Do you believe?’ and just have a general idea,” said Doyle. “And probably 10 percent or 15 percent do have comments on the back on the questionnaire. It’s just as valuable as the numerical results.”

Doyle expects that roughly 14,000 Vermonters will fill out his questionnaire this year and he hopes to have some preliminary results in about 10 days.

Bob Kinzel has been covering the Vermont Statehouse since 1981 — longer than any continuously serving member of the Legislature. With his wealth of institutional knowledge, he answers your questions on our series, "Ask Bob."
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