McClaughry: Return of the Johnstown Flood

By John McClaughry

Searching for an arresting metaphor for the approaching legislative session, I found a compelling example, as described by contemporaneous reports.

John McClaughry

John McClaughry is vice president of the Ethan Allen Institute.

In the afternoon of May 31, 1889, 14 miles above Johnstown, Pennsylvania, the South Fork Dam gave way. In less than 45 minutes, 20 million tons of water poured into the valley below. Roaring down the narrow path of the Little Conemaugh River, a seventy-foot wall of water, filled with huge chunks of dam, boulders and whole trees, smashed into the small towns of Mineral Point and Woodvale and swept away all traces of their existence.

Scouring its way towards Johnstown, the flood picked up several hundred boxcars, a dozen locomotives, more than a hundred houses and a growing number of corpses.

The residents of Johnstown heard the speeding wall of death, a roar like thunder. Next they saw the dark cloud and mist and spray that preceded it, and were assaulted by a wind that blew down small buildings. Next came the great wall of water that smashed into the city, crushing houses like eggshells and snapping trees like toothpicks. It was all over in 10 minutes. But there was more yet to come.

After dark, the 30 acres of debris, at places 40 feet high, that had piled up behind the Pennsylvania Railroad’s Stone Bridge caught fire and burned through the night, blanketing the ravaged town in a dark cloud of acrid smoke. The flood had killed 2,209 people and leveled four acres of downtown Johnstown.

What has this to do with the 2023 Vermont legislature? Consider.

As a result of the 2022 election, Republican Governor Phil Scott won reelection with 70 percent of the vote. But his popularity did not provide much help to other Republicans. They elected seven senators, as before, but their House delegation dropped from 43 to 38. The Democratic House leadership will make absolutely sure that there won’t be any unexcused defections on key votes by its 104 members.

The Democrat-led House and Senate now have, and will enthusiastically use, the power to drive through any measure its leaders, spurred on by their clamoring interest groups, decide upon. The governor may get a respectful hearing on practical questions of implementation, but he will have no power to stop this coming Johnstown Flood.

In 2020 the Legislature passed, over Scott’s veto, the Global Warming Solutions Act. This sweeping measure mandated millions of metric tons reduction of CO2 emissions from heating, transportation and other fuel uses; created a legislatively-controlled 23-member “government within the government” to direct agency regulators to advance the program; and authorized “any person” to sue the State to act more urgently to achieve the mandated reductions.

A year ago the Climate Council released its Initial Climate Action Plan containing a long list of legislative and regulatory proposals. Its leading proposal was the clean heat standard. This is a clever “stealth tax” to force customers of fuel oil distributors to pay for CO2-reducing ideas favored by the unaccountable Public Utility Commission. Scott vetoed it, and the House sustained the veto by a single vote.

The Democratic leadership was stunned, and furious, at losing this “crown jewel” of its endless war against the Menace of Climate Change. Next spring they’ll send an updated version of the clean heat standard back to the governor, who can sign it, let it pass without his signature, or veto it and watch as his veto is quickly overridden.

That’s just the most prominent example of what to expect. The Senate president pro tem-elect, Sen. Phil Baruth, has already announced the coming death of the Sportsmen’s Bill of Rights. This law prohibits cities and towns from passing restrictive firearms laws, leaving any regulation to action by the Legislature. It was passed by the House 128-5 in 1988 and signed by Gov. Madeleine Kunin. Lt. Gov. Howard Dean later boasted that “I got it passed.” No matter. It will be gone.

Single payer health care, abandoned as unaffordable by Gov. Shumlin in 2014, will be back. The Vermont-NEA teachers union will demand that the legislative majority, which it owns on any educational issue, target parental choice in education for extinction. Even Sen. Chris Bray’s constitutional amendment to abolish private property in favor of “common property of all the people” is likely to reappear.

With the disappearance of the federal billions that the state will soon have spent, millions of new tax dollars will have to be raised to cover the cost of this endless cavalcade of liberal spending. New regulations will issue to implement the Green Police State. (Full details to follow in January.)

Remember the Johnstown Flood metaphor. You’re about to see its like flooding out from beneath the Golden Dome.

John McClaughry is vice president of the Ethan Allen Institute.

Images courtesy of Public domain and John McClaughry
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10 thoughts on “McClaughry: Return of the Johnstown Flood

  1. As long as Vermont allows the purchase of legislators by lobbyists with out of state pots of gold, the people will have no representation. Is it any wonder why nothing gets done to ease the lives of those paying the bills? If each and every one of us could buy our own legislator or two or three, maybe the people would be recognized by them. As it stands, with election laws, mail in ballots, election month instead of day, Dominion counting machines, social justice non-profit orgs. and the worst governor Vermont has ever had, that we the people are not represented. What did this republican governor do to help his party? Why should any thinking person stay here. The scenery is wonderful but the quality of life and the stress on regular people is too much to bear. My exit plan starts now!

  2. two or three grown-ups and our presidents could not write the number
    of our $$$$$$$$$++++++ debt on a roll of papers

    A roll of toilet tissue would not be long enough

  3. I think my wife and I have seen the best of USA’s American years.

    What a god awful way to leave our state and country for our own heirs.

    The Bad Guys snuck in while we were enjoying our Liberties.

  4. Re: Sen. Chris Bray’s constitutional amendment to abolish private property in favor of “common property of all the people” is likely to reappear.

    John, are you referring to Sen. Bray’s Proposal 9? For those unfamiliar with this tyranny, Bray’s proposal is to regulate water use in Vermont, as detailed in his sponsorship of S.237 and its several precursors from earlier legislative sessions.

    If so, your admonition is not an exaggeration. Mr. Bray’s proposals will effectively regulate the ownership rights of any private property on which a constant flow of 3 ½ gallons per minute of water is used during a 24-hour period. That amount of water is roughly what one lawn sprinkler on a typical 5/8” garden hose uses when running constantly. According to the text of Wray’s proposal, any ‘water supply’ use exceeding the 24-hour use of that one lawn sprinkler, including but not limited to toilet flushing, bathing, dish washing, clothes washing, drinking (pets and humans), household cleaning, car washing, or any of the other myriad uses of water, would be regulated and require extensive permitting and metering data.

    Of course, there are a couple of ‘exceptions’. Fire suppression and snowmaking. And I wonder how much the ski industry lobbyists contributed to Mr. Bray’s election campaign.

    Wray’s S.237 is the epitome of an overly complicated piece of legislation. It will not only be rife with legal interpretation and restrict our property rights but create the largest bureaucracy in the history of our state government. And the point John is making is that there isn’t a damn thing the conservative third of Vermont’s population can do about it.

    One recourse, and this is important, is that the perpetrators of this tyranny must abide by it too. But already we’re seeing that while all of the people in Vermont’s ‘animal farm’ are equal, some, starting with the ski industry, are more equal than others.

    You know, Orwell never projected what happened after tyranny consumed his animal farm. Did the community thrive? Did it go bankrupt? I’m afraid we’re about to find out.

    “Man is the only creature that consumes without producing. He does not give milk, he does not lay eggs, he is too weak to pull the plough, he cannot run fast enough to catch rabbits. Yet he is lord of all the animals. He sets them to work, he gives back to them the bare minimum that will prevent them from starving, and the rest he keeps for himself.”

    “The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.”

    • As a first-time candidate for a House seat, I garnered well over a thousand votes. These voters are clearly NOT getting what they voted for. In addition, the remainder are generally laggards in relation to informed consent. Article 22 is a perfect example of something that’s touted as favoring women’s rights when it does just the opposite.

  5. The soon unchecked cornucopia of Progressive wet-dream-spending, without fear of veto….will NOT go un-noticed by the credit rating agencies.. The free covid slush fund billions $ will soon be spent …People do not realize the very negative effects of a credit downgrade….it RAISES the cost of borrowing funds (to pay for your progressive wet dreams)….higher interest must be paid. So here are some stats on JUST HOW MUCH DEBT VT (and local) have issued…and I think a possibility that VT will get placed on a “credit watch”….until the rating agencies see just what mess the Progressives make at the session’s end in 2023 (these same agencies will also know that VT’s Gov is now a “Neutered Eunuch” and all but powerless as VT’s supposed CEO).. Wall Street is not kind…..Wall Street is not “Kumbaya & Feel Good” – all unicorns and Fairy dust….they will demand higher interest rates – if they see large wastrel spending with the money loaned to VT: States are NOT allowed to declare bankruptcy…so lenders have no recourse (in courts) on their side if things go REALLY bad (and a few years out they just might)….so lenders will just charge more and more interest…which COMPOUNDS!

    “n the fiscal year of 2020, the state of Vermont had state debt totaling 3.41 billion U.S. dollars. However, the local government debt was 1.17 billion U.S. dollars. By the fiscal year of 2026, it is forecasted that Vermont’s state debt will be about 3.88 billion U.S. dollars, and the local government debt will be about 1.32 billion U.S. dollars.”

    Any increase in costs to borrow could easily add up to several tens of millions $$.

    are there any grown ups left in VT Gov’t – Legislature?

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