John LaBarge: Time for Chittenden dominance of Legislature to end

Editor’s note: This commentary is by John LaBarge, of Grand Isle. He is a former representative of Grand Isle County in the Vermont House of Representatives.

A recent announcement to close three rural Vermont State College campuses (since withdrawn, for now) raises the question, “does Chittenden County govern the rest of Vermont?” There is growing evidence that it does. Vermont must consider what “equal representation” in our state really means.

Media reports say the state colleges are running out of cash and will need $25 million to avoid insolvency. At the same time, UVM is asking for $25 million more, in addition to its annual $42 million allocation, to help its own Covid-19-related lost revenue. This despite the fact that UVM has a $566 million endowment.

At a time when three other state colleges in small rural Vermont towns face extinction, UVM boldly sticks out its hand for $25 million dollars, the exact amount the state colleges outside of Chittenden County need just to survive. UVM functions on a financial plane far above the state colleges. For example, the reconstruction of the athletic facility alone costs $95 million.

John Labarge

Here is the interesting part in all of this — media reports say six of the 13 trustees of the state college board, including the chair, live in Chittenden County. None live in Randolph, Lyndon or Johnson, the host towns for the three campuses slated for closure. The Vermont State College Board of Trustees is only one example of Chittenden County’s power and dominance imbedded in state government.

Chittenden County’s influence is also seen with the UVM Medical Center in Burlington continues its steady march across our state, seeking to be Vermont’s single healthcare provider.

Chittenden County consists of 20 towns and holds 36 seats in the Vermont House and six of 30 seats in the Vermont Senate. A seventh senator lives in Colchester but represents Grand Isle. Yet the 63 Northeast Kingdom towns of Caledonia, Essex and Orleans counties have just 17 representatives. Essex County alone has 17 towns (just three shy of Chittenden County), but just two House representatives and two senators.

There is more. Of the 13 major House committees seven have a chair or vice-chair from Chittenden County. Of the 12 major Senate committees Chittenden holds eight chairs or vice-chairs. Chittenden alone has 36 of the 76 votes needed to pass a bill in the House. It controls six or seven of the 16 votes needed to pass legislation in the Senate.

As each election year passes Chittenden County grows more and more liberal. Burlington’s political power is now void of political diversity. Controlled by liberal Democrats and likeminded Progressives, the City Council’s political diversity no longer exists, nor is it tolerated by city voters.

It is in the Legislature that Chittenden power threatens the rest of Vermont. It is there that state laws affecting all Vermonters are written and passed. It is there that mandates affecting all of us personally, our businesses, our local education systems and our taxes are created and it is there that all state and federal funding is disbursed throughout our state.

Chittenden County, with politicians politically and culturally separated from rural Vermont, controls legislative committees and the House and Senate floors.

So, it begs the question: does Chittenden County govern the rest of our state? Is there true equal representation in the makeup of the Legislature? Should the rest of Vermont challenge in court how we apportion seats in the Legislature?

After more than two decades of single party rule in Montpelier, political balance must be restored. A fight to change apportionment could take years. It may never happen. One party ruling as a super majority and one county having so much political power statewide is unhealthy to democracy and a possible death knell for rural Vermont.

The solution is before Vermont voters. Choose your representatives wisely. Vote to restore balance to the concentrated power and thinking that now exists in the State House. Until that happens, Vermont outside of Chittenden County will continue to be treated like a backwater.

This commentary originally appeared in Vermont Daily.

Images courtesy of Public domain and John Labarge
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22 thoughts on “John LaBarge: Time for Chittenden dominance of Legislature to end

  1. If Vermont were to develop an electoral college type of format for determining the party affiliation of the legislature, you’d see a sea change in its make up. One only has to go no further than take a look at a county map of the state after gubernatorial elections and one would see clearly that a major majority of these counties supported the Republican candidate. Unfortunately the huge population of Addison and Windham counties carried the day for the Democrat. With the Dem/Lib/Progs in control, this will never happen because they know they would lose control.

    • I have pushed for a 3 district break-up of the ChittendenCo, Six Pack – Hommogenized toa single complete FAR Left Wing.

      Burlington and S Burl get 2, Southern towns get 2, and eastern/northern towns get 2.

      It could be 6 seperate districts, which would still be more equal representation.

  2. Vermont is corrupt on so many levels. Money mismanagement on so many levels. There is no plan or cohesiveness.

    We have a unique Vermont problem, our little state is easily manipulated and the organizers/Marxist have known this for decades and have been working under the cover of American loving democrats. In our division of the conservative side elected Bernie Sanders in years past, because we couldn’t see the big picture.

    We’ve been played at every corner. They reframed the Take Back Vermont movement to make people out to be anti gay. We should have immediately pivot and changed the platform. They had us exactly where they wanted.

    We are ALWAYS on defense, falling for their arguments and letting them frame the conversation so we lose in the court of public opinion. We put out people to run of office knowing full well they won’t get in nor have a prayer of wining anything over and over and over. Not only that we don’t give them any backing half the time or a fair playing field. It’s worse than a general sending their troops for slaughter, it’s like the general sends two of his own platoon to fight each other.

    We need to frame the conversation, and not by red meat tired, used up phrases that trigger those who’ve been indoctrinated within our subverted boarders.

    To the rino’s credit they at least know the language of the people, such that they get themselves elected to our detriment.

    When people fail to recognize the entire country turns red and we become socialist, it only shows we don’t have a grasp of the seriousness or the problem.

    We could perhaps use an elite team of representatives that understand, working in harmony within the VT GOP. Not divisiveness of our current arrangement but a blessing such that we have folks working many angles. A traditional stance where we have current Victories and an elite group working in deep blue territory.

    If Trump can’t win in Vermont, how is somebody of lesser caliber, less well known, running on the same platform going to win in Vermont? I’m not saying this to be defeatist, but to understand our unique issues. Many, many people know about it and know more than I ever will.

    When are we going to come together? Take an offense rather than defense. Can’t win without an offense. Even a small victory would be wonderful.

  3. I’ve been posting comments in many article like this. There should be only 2 senators from each county. Sen Benning introduced a bill a couple of years ago limiting it to three. So a bill has been on the table. The elites in control from Chittenden country won’t allow it to be in any committee.

    Time for outright harassment of them. Make their home life miserable.

    • That is the only way to regain any ground at all. We should modify Alinsky to suit our own needs. WE better do something before its too late.

  4. To take John’s superb commentary one step further, not only do the representatives and senators from Chittenden County control their respective houses by holding close to majorities of the committee chair and vice chair positions, but by so doing, they play a very important role in advising the Speaker or the President Pro Tem with respect to the selection of committee assignments for all the rest of the members. To assure a majority vote in the most important committees, they pack them with members on whom they can usually rely to vote with the leadership on major bills, that being a somewhat overlooked or hidden extension of the depth of control held by Chittenden County members.

    With respect to Mr. LeTourneau’s recommendation that the state constitution be amended to address the problem at hand, it is certainly worth consideration, but by the time that process
    might be completed, a majority of those of us now living in Vermont might be dead.

  5. John LaBarge’s observations are spot on. We looked at this issue twenty years ago when I served in the legislature with John. History has shown that it will not be changed by the legislature unless ordered by the courts. By tradition the House and the Senate reapportion their own chamber with minimal input from the other. If House leadership were to attempt significant alteration to the Senate districts they could expect similar reprisal from the Senate. Within each chamber, and within each party, there is significant pressure to retain the status quo. At that time there was no state legislative body in the US that had a six member district similar to the Chittenden Senate and very few that had a multi member district. Federal courts have ruled against multi member districts in the past and, if challenged, I am confident that the Federal court would rule against the Chittenden Senate district. I suspect all the Vermont Senate districts and the Vermont multi member House districts would be found unconstitutional. We did not challenge it then and I doubt it will be challenged soon because the cost of this lawsuit in Federal court would be several hundred thousand dollars in legal fees. It would take someone with deep pockets and they would face multiple opponents representing many special interests bent on preserving the current system. But John LaBarge is correct . If Vermont had been reapportioned as all single member House and Senate districts in the 1960s in would not be the same state that it is today.

  6. A simpler correction would be to amend the state constitution giving the people the power and right of referendum and recall, along with no allowing out of state college students to vote.

  7. When we field 79 of 150 possible candidates for the house, which is what we did in 2018.What can we expect? The one and only thing that concerned republicans should be doing is recruiting people.

    • The elite who control the Republican Party in this state are too willing to cooperate with the Democrats. They find a lot of common ground with them. Why do you think they erected David Kelley against Dean in 1994? Neither he nor the GOP ever expected him to win, nor was there a viable attempt made to campaign.

  8. The label for liberals in our state needs to change to progressive liberals as it seems most all liberals now are progressives. It seems in fact that Vermont no longer has a Democrat party as it has passed the tipping point to a progressive party. Look well to your vote, stop the march to progressive socialiam in our state.

  9. Something I mentioned in a comment on a past article and I’m glad to see others have the same concerns. In order to rectify this problem, the state Supreme Court must be populated with strict constitutionalists or totally neutralized. Great piece and thanks to the author.

  10. Chittenden Country and its gaggle of Liberals be it City Seats or in the State House,
    they rule the roost and it is very slated and the remainder of the state has little or no
    real voice…………… Just watch & listen to the shenanigans under the golden dome !!

    Committee Seats are a joke, seats are filled to support agenda policies only, State
    concerns are not even a topic………… pretty sad, but we let it happen.

    Wake up, people……………..

    • Thanks John for your point of view!! This state is in terrible shape and does need to be more evenly split, ,so that those of us outside of Chitt. County do have a chance to put this state on a more level path going forward. Right now we are headed a hundred miles an hour into the ground!!

      I care what happens to us all and will VOTE accordingly, will you??

  11. Well it’s about time! I have been harping on this for a long time. Prior to a politically motivated decision and supported by the Warren supreme court, the 1963 case forced states to elect state senate districts by population. Prior to that faulty decision the Vermont senate had one or two senators per county. The senate was supposed to by the deliberative body for laws being passed by the lower chamber, the house of representatives. The senate was to ensure laws passed represented the state as a whole and not a specific district or county. In other words, equal representation. This case needs to be brought in front of the Vermont supreme court and then appealed all the way to the US Supreme court. The house of representatives is already decided by population per district. As it is now, Chittendon county gets 6 senators and Washington gets 3 because of population. This is counter to the original concept and creates the Chittendon/Washington county power base of 9 liberal votes in the senate. Add the one in Colchester and you have 1/3 of the senate votes are liberal/progressise out of the 30 member senate.

    So who out there knows how to get this started? The current legislature won’t take their own power away. Maybe a petition drive in the rural counties would get it going. Every taxpayer outside of Chittendon and Washington county are being taxed and controlled through restrictive laws without representation. Remember that line, “taxation without representation”. That’s what we have now with the super majority. It’s their way or the highway. In other words, you have no say in anything!

    • It is such a major problem, been there as you say for decades. What are we doing? For the love of God we can’t seem to save ourselves. It needs constant and vigilant efforts.

  12. Yes I fully agree. Balanced Representation is needed. Also if I recall Vermont does not have a State Electoral College? Like our founders of the constitution, Vermont should create its own for major elections. This would allow all Vermonters to have their vote voice heard, instead of be weighted by the popular vote!

    • Unfortunately, under the current set up, areas with the largest concentration of folks get to call the shots. As for the college closing issue, the answer while painful short term can save the tax payers thousands long term. Unfortunately, the hand wringing and moaning will most likely carry the day and these under water institutions will survive as long as at least ONE student wants to attend.

  13. So entirely true, but the aforementioned lawsuits to change apportionment should be pursued full-force, no matter how long the process might take.

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