By Don Keelan
Recently, a newspaper reported on California’s population, now pegged at about 39 million and declining. I could not help but compare that huge number to Vermont’s population of about 645,000. The publicity directed at Vermont’s U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy’s retirement made me think of the lopsided representation in the U.S. Senate.
Senator Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) has been a member of the U.S. Senate for two years, representing 39 million constituents from his home state of California. Senator Padilla has very little, if any, influence over what takes place in the U.S. Senate, even though he represents better than 10% of the U.S. population.
Conversely, Senator Leahy, representing a fraction of the U.S. population, has outsized influence over the Senate as one of the longest-serving members (48 years). He was only out serviced by the late Senators Robert Byrd of West Virginia and Daniel Inouye of Hawaii, 51 years and 49 years. Per capita representation in the U.S. Senate is a topic for another day; however, it is longevity today.
Before I am accused of heresy by commenting negatively on a Vermont icon, allow me to note that I have a great deal of respect for Senator Leahy. The senator’s support and active participation in the 2007 U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree event was just one example of my interfacing with the senator; I cherish his support of moving a 60-foot Balsam tree from the Green Mountain National Forest to the U.S. Capitol.
The senator would be the first to admit that not everyone agrees with what he says and does. Serving for 48 years in the U.S. Senate is not something I condone; it is too long and can be corrupting, if not counter-productive.
Many will consider me a fool for even questioning the longevity benefit of our Washington senators (Senator Sanders is now in his 16th year in addition to 16 more years in the House of Representatives). By having our two senators in such powerful positions, tens of millions of dollars, if not hundreds of millions, have made their way to the Vermont treasury. We in Vermont far outstrip on a per capita basis what is shelled out to other states; this is the true reward and benefit of longevity.
The flow of funds into the state from Washington is why there will never be anything negative spoken by the Vermont Legislature or administration, Democrat or Republican, towards our two U.S. senators. When those entities are made aware that $50 million could be coming to Vermont, only a buffoon would cast any negative aspersions.
An example of silence was the height of the EB-5 Northeast Kingdom financial scandal. Never a word was raised about what role was played by Senators Leahy or Sanders in their relationship with the convicted culprits, Ariel Quiros and Bill Stanger.
Nor was any inquiry ever opened when the Burlington College financial collapse became public and the $7 million loan from a Burlington bank, backed by the State, came into question. In both cases, Montpelier was closemouthed for a good reason: you don’t poke a gift horse in the eye.
Getting elected to Washington from Vermont is a free pass to do anything one pleases as long as the funds keep coming in our direction. How else can one explain the lack of questioning when Senator Sanders, working as Vermont’s U.S. Senator, diverted his time on two occasions to run for president and campaign for dozens of other out-of-state candidates?
Vermont needs to secure hundreds of millions of dollars annually to carry out infrastructure, social, education and other projects for which it no longer has the financial ability to undertake.
It is too late to replace our aging U.S. Senators, Welsh and Sanders. In the next senatorial election, we can elect two 30-year-olds and continue to send them back every six years. Therefore, in time, Vermont will regain its Senate longevity. We need the money from Washington, not so much personal political philosophy.
Don Keelan writes a bi-weekly column and lives in Arlington, Vermont.