2007 Year in Review: Culture

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(Host) The fabric of life in Vermont has a different weave every year.

In 2007 it was full of variety. On the lighter side, the state became the official home of the Simpsons.

And weightier social topics had our attention, especially when it came to one marijuana case in Windsor County.

VPR’s Steve Delaney has more in the second part of our year in review.

(Delaney) Vermont is a place where there’s no consensus on whether the growing and smoking of marijuana should be criminal behavior. For now, it is. But Windsor County State’s attorney Bobby Sand has been saying that should change.

(Sand) "I would gladly allow people regulated access to drugs if it meant that the burglaries, the home invasions, the armed robberies would go down. And, frankly, I think society would be on a far more solid footing under that type of system than the current system based on prohibition.”

(Delaney) Governor Jim Douglas joined a chorus of dissent over decriminalizing marijuana. Later in the year, a 61-year-old woman, a lawyer, was caught with two-and-a-half pounds of marijuana, and Sand refused to prosecute the case as a felony.

Governor Douglas then ordered state police in Windsor County to send their drug cases directly to Montpelier, bypassing the reluctant prosecutor.

In fact, prosecutors routinely decline to go to court for cases that involve small amounts of marijuana. The governor would not say what quantity of possession should trigger prosecution.

(Douglas)"I’m willing to have a discussion about what the appropriate penalty is. But my point is, that’s a discussion for the Legislature, not for an individual prosecutor or anyone else to pursue on his own.”

(Delaney) Attorney General William Sorrell thinks it’s time to address the issue, and that lawmakers should act.

(Sorrell) "There should be a public policy discussion. It should be in the Statehouse.”

(Delaney) That debate will reach the Statehouse next month, but the issue is already in play, distorted somewhat by the side talk over whether the governor can override the authority of another elected official.

Vermont is a place where the passage of civil unions seven years ago divided the state and influenced the next election. Now there’s a push for legal marriages for gays and lesbians. Windsor County Senator John Campbell was among the clearest of the voices calling for that.

(Campbell) "I think it’s time for Vermont now to look back at the law that really set everything in motion, and say, OK, so we found that there’s no major problems experienced with this state. It didn’t cause any catastrophic change in the values of Vermonters. So, therefore, I think it’s time to afford equal rights to people of a same sex that wish to marry.”

(Delaney) But opponents cited the anger generated by the civil union debate, not the calm that followed it. And Republican Senator Kevin Mullin said a gay marriage law is not needed.

(Mullin) "I think I’d like to know why they feel it’s necessary to go that route. … Certainly we saw how divisive the issue of civil unions was for Vermont, and why we need to go down that path again to divide our citizenship up unless there’s a compelling reason to do so.”

(Delaney) The 40 lawmakers who co-sponsored the gay marriage bill said they were trying to start a dialogue on the issue. Governor Douglas came out against it. The Legislature appointed a commission to go around the state taking public comment. Statehouse insiders say gay marriage will not be considered until after the next election.

That’s partly because the Legislature is not under orders from the state Supreme Court to act, as it was in the civil unions case.

(Natural sound of cheese-making plant under narration)

(Delaney) Vermont is a place where cheesemakers are busy almost everywhere, and many of them win prizes for their work.

(Natural sound from plant)

"It’s one of those cheeses that you’re not really sure what it tastes like, and you come back and try it again. "come on, sweetie…"

(Delaney) Vermont is a place where the Simpsons live. Not everyone thinks that’s a plus. But in a national vote held last summer, Vermont’s Springfield won out over a dozen others, in its effort to be named the official hometown of the cartoon TV family, and to host the premier of their movie.

When she got the word, Patricia Chafee of the Chamber of Commerce was both delighted and daunted.

(Chafee) "We’re going to have a lot of work to do. Hopefully we’ll fill up the hotels and restaurants and everyone will get a piece of the action.”

(Delaney) The premiere was a shot in the arm for a town that once thrived on a machine tool industry that’s no longer an economic engine.

(Fade up sound of town meeting and hold under)

(Delaney) Vermont is a place where local government is cherished, especially in the centuries-old institution of Town Meeting. Here’s a sample of this year’s gathering in West Windsor.

(Natural sound of town meeting)

"The result of your ballot is, sixty five votes yes, thirty votes no…”


(Delaney) For VPR News, I’m Steve Delaney


AP Photo/Elaine Thompson 

Note: Our series continues tomorrow with a look at how the weather influenced our lives in 2007.

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