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Two hundred and twenty years ago last Friday [March 4], the U.S. Congress ratified Vermont’s petition to become the fourteenth state in the American union. Becoming part of the young republic was an auspicious beginning for the small state as it joined others in history’s greatest experiment in self-rule and human freedom.
Unfortunately, the Green Mountain State—and, some might argue, the rest of the United States—long ago forsook these principles. In fact, for many people, one of the greatest historical mysteries is how a rural, agrarian-based and solidly Republican New England state became so radically left-wing.
Why have liberal-Left politicians—like Congressman Peter Welch (D), and Senators Patrick Leahy (D) and Bernie Sanders (I)—been so successful in a state that for more than a hundred years was characterized by fierce independence, rugged individualism and a home-grown style of Republicanism?
The answer isn’t as simple as some think. Contrary to popular opinion, Vermont was not taken over by Hippies during the 1960s. While they certainly contributed to the counter-cultural “feel” of the state, many of them left after only a few winters. Many of those who stayed eventually chose to shed their tie-died rags, start businesses and become part of small-town life. Only a stubborn few chose to retreat further into the woods.
But other groups—like the intellectual and managerial elites who David T. Bazelon in 1967 called the “New Class“—also began to move to Vermont. Lured by teaching jobs, a nascent high-tech industry and the possibility of leading a more bucolic existence, they arrived by the thousands.
Over time, these “urban refugees” realized they could easily join school boards, run for office and re-create Vermont as a modern-day Utopia. (Bernie Sanders and former Governor Howard Dean formed part of this wave of newcomers.) The reserved and taciturn native Vermonters were simply overwhelmed by this tide.
Other seismic shifts took place at the same time which facilitated the development of a liberal-Left ethos that dominates to this day. For example, the election of Democrat Phil Hoff as governor in 1962—due primarily to the unpopularity of the Republican incumbent—ended 108 years of Republican domination. Hoff’s election ushered in a six-year period of centralization, bureaucratization and government planning.
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