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Another dramatic change was the 1965 reapportionment of the Vermont House of Representatives. Under federal orders, Vermonters voted on a plan to move from a 246-member House (with one vote for each town) to a 150-member House (with membership in accordance to population). Overnight, power shifted from small, traditional, agrarian towns to urban centers like Burlington, heavily populated with the New Class and increasingly affiliated with the Democratic Party.
And at college campuses around Vermont students were increasingly politicized and radicalized, mirroring what was happening across the country (and around the world). In fact, throughout the late 1960s and 1970s students at the University of Vermont and Goddard College helped Bernie Sanders get organized and, eventually, elected as mayor of Burlington in 1981. Getting elected as Senator in 2006 was simply an extension of the political ambitions he had when he arrived in Vermont in 1964.
Before the 1960s—and even before statehood—Vermont was characterized by proud if scrappy farmsteads, rugged individualists and, beginning in the 19th century, a strong sense of Republican identity. Over the years, people moved to Vermont to get away from the oppressive homogeneity of the suburbs and the interminable regulation of big government.
But many of these rugged individualists have since been displaced by wealthy newcomers searching for a 10-acre parcel of manicured Heaven. Many small farms have been bought by out-of-state developers and turned into gated communities. And the independent, hardscrabble Republicans have been replaced by these ‘flatlanders’—typically wealthy Progressives and left-wing Democrats keen on using legislative means to achieve some abstract, utopian ideal.
In some ways, the story of Vermont is the story of America, writ small. The 1960s, in both its cultural and political dimensions, ushered in a new Vermont—and paved the way for a loss of local control, the erosion of the concept of individual freedom and the death of the “Vermont Tradition.”
These are changes that all of us, not just Vermonters, should lament—for in the small state’s forgotten political tradition was embodied the same spirit of liberty, freedom, and independence which had inspired the American Founding. It is Vermont’s departure from this tradition—at the hand of people like Bernie Sanders and Howard Dean—that we should remember today.
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