If you’re from Vermont, you know that Montpelier is our seat of government, not so much because your teacher told you so but because you’ve heard that Anglicized appellation referred to by adults in your growing up years as part of a joke, a jab or perhaps the occasional cuss. And if you’re not from Vermont, you likely remember learning that fact when you memorized a list of state capitals in elementary school and wondered when such knowledge would ever come in handy. You see, we Vermonters are an independent lot and don’t take kindly to lots of rules and regulations coming from our capital, figuring that common sense mixed with a bit of courtesy is mainly what a body needs to make her/his way in life. And that’s why even today Vermont has a part-time legislature and not full-time professionals at the helm. For example, Gordon Booth was a local, longtime legislator who farmed for a living and served in the legislature on the side. Long before the advent of cell phones, Mr. Booth made himself available to the neighbors he represented by having a telephone installed in the barn. His listing in the phone book gave both the house and barn numbers so you had a better chance of catching him one place or the other when he wasn’t at the State House, which by the way was the first commercial building constructed from our own Barre granite.
Now just recently, I had occasion to attend a hearing of the House Human Services committee, which prompted me to write this week’s entry. As part of my job, I have often had occasion over the years to testify before various legislative committees about sundry topics, most related directly to tourism. But last week I drove down to Montpelier as an ordinary citizen to give support for a cause in which I believe. While I may not know the outcome of that particular issue until the end of the current legislative session, I was reminded by the process of it all why Vermont is such a great state to live in.
Montpelier is the smallest of the fifty state capitals and the only one without a McDonald’s Restaurant—those are Vermont’s governmental claims to fame. But far dearer to me is the access that I, ordinary citizen, have to the farmers, doctors, lawyers and other ordinary folks who’ve been duly elected by the good citizens of Vermont to represent them, albeit part time. I drove to Montpelier and hunted for a parking spot—great little town but irksomely short on parking. Well, I finally found a spot about a fair taxi cab’s ride from the State House and murmured under my breath just a trifle about how all these legislators were taking up the best parking spots. By now I was thinking I’d be late, so I hurried on foot to the capitol through the frosty Vermont air and approached the stately granite steps that climb to the oversized doors that made me feel Lilliputian as I entered this seat of government without being stopped, questioned or subjected to an intrusive pat down, the likes of which should be followed by a marriage proposal or at the very least the offer of dinner and a movie. And there I was, making my way down the bustling corridor and heading for the Sergeant at Arm’s office to seek assistance in locating the committee room. I was greeted by a page, just a slip of a young fellow dressed in an ugly green blazer (close on the ugliness scale to its more famous cousin that has inspired many a professional golfer). This young man escorted me to the committee room; I smiled, thanked him, shook a few hands upon entering and took a seat in the crowded room, content in knowing that whether I laud the outcome or decry it, I had first-hand access to those making the tough decisions. And that is just one more reason why I love Vermont.
Todd Paton has more than 20 years of experience working in the Vermont tourism industry. Currently the Director of Visitor Services for Rock of Ages, one of Vermont's oldest, continuously operating attractions, he has served on the board of directors of the Central Vermont Chamber and the Vermont Hospitality Council. He is an active member of the Vermont Chamber of Commerce and the Vermont Tourism Network. He is a past Chair and current member of the board of directors of Vermont Attractions Association, a consortium of Vermont attractions established in 1956 to promote the highest standards of hospitality among Vermont's tourism-related properties.