Remembering the old Legislature

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(Host) The start of a new legislative session always reminds commentator Will Curtis of his own years in Vermont’s citizen Legislature.

(Curtis) By the 1960’s, Vermont’s dairy industry was undergoing major changes. No longer were distributors willing to pick up 100 gallon cans at each farm. They wanted to be able to siphon off milk from bulk tanks into tank trucks. Some farmers were turning their stables into milking parlors, enabling them to pump milk directly into the bulk tanks. This meant greater efficiency but a major expenditure. Since dairy farming was a break-even affair at best, we couldn’t see the economics of continuing to milk cows. We sold our precious Jerseys. It was like selling children but since our herd had a fine reputation, the cattle went to good homes.

For the first time in years we were free from twice-a-day milking. What to do with ourselves? Jane took up her watercolor brushes again and became involved in environmental issues. I had always been interested in politics so I ran for town representative for Hartland for the General Assembly. These were the days of one representative for each town, long before proportional representation. It was also the time when you could run on both the Democratic and Republican ticket. I was unopposed except for one write-in for Peter Rabbit.

In my first days in the Statehouse I was happy just being able to walk in the halls where Vermont greats like George Aiken once strode. Not being a tobacco user, I was interested that beside each seat in the house was a big brass spittoon, and that they were frequently used by some of the older members. I am still annoyed with myself that I didn’t buy one when a few years later, spittoons were abolished.

I was fortunate that long-time Woodstock legislator and speaker of the House, my friend, F.S. ‘Bill’ Billings, Jr., asked me to room with him in Montpelier. Together we made the weekly trip from Woodstock to the capitol by Route 14. Route 89 was still a dream in the engineers’ minds.

Philip Hoff had just been elected governor, the first Democratic governor in 100 years, and there was a heady feeling of change. Vermont was changing also, farms were being abandoned and mountainsides cleared for ski resorts; a sense that while change was inevitable, care must be taken to guide it in constructive paths. Environmental conservation was in the air and I was pleased to be part of the newly formed Conservation Committee. As a farmer, I knew how important it was to protect Vermont’s land.

I’m proud to say that I too, served in the Vermont General Assembly.

Will Curtis is an author and naturalist in Woodstock, Vermont.

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