(Host) For 38 years, Jim Douglas has commuted from his home in Middlebury to Montpelier.
First, part time, as a state lawmaker. Then five days a week as secretary of state, state treasurer – and for the last eight years as governor.
VPR’s Nina Keck commuted with Governor Douglas for his last full day of work and filed this report.
(Keck) It was still dark when Governor Douglas said goodbye to his wife Dorothy, who was shoveling snow off their driveway.
(Jim Douglas) "I did part of it."
(Dorothy Douglas) "Yes, he does. Yes he does."
(Keck) Corporal Todd Hayes is one of several state troopers who drives the governor. And by 6:30, he has the car warmed up and ready for the 50-mile drive up and over the Appalachian Gap. And for the record, it’s not a limo, but a Chevy Impala with good snow tires.
(Douglas) "When I came into office, I resolved, frankly, to get rid of my predecessor’s SUV. I thought it was important to make a statement to be a fuel efficient as possible – especially because of the length of the commute."
(Keck) In good weather it’s about an hour and 10 minute drive. But with the early morning snow storm, it’ll take a bit longer. Unlike past trips, they don’t have to stop for any stranded motorists or lost cows.
(Douglas) "I remember once when I was secretary of state, I had a temp employee who was quite late one morning. And she said, ‘Well, fine for you to ask. But you don’t have 40 miles to drive.’ And I said, ‘That’s true. I have 50."
(Keck) As the state trooper quietly and expertly navigates the snow and darkness, Douglas sits in the front seat, puts on a headset and checks his messages. Will the governor miss the perks of his job?
(Douglas) "This is Vermont, so we’re quite a lot different from other places. I had a call from a reporter at a national medium asking about the transitio . And one of her questions was, ‘What’s it like to move out of the mansion and move back home?’ And I had to tell her Vermont is not like that. At least that part of the transition won’t be a problem for me."
(Keck) Not to say there aren’t some nice benefits to being governor here.
(Douglas) "I was at a luncheon yesterday. They insisted that I lead the line through the buffet."
(Keck) Despite the driver and other perks, Douglas says he’s looking forward to a more normal life where he drives himself to and from work, to and from Middlebury College.
(Douglas) "It’s interesting. A lot of people ask, will I have any trouble driving a car? I have to believe it’s not too much more complicated than when I stopped driving eight years ago. There’s an old story about a governor who was in office for a long time and who got up the morning he left the governorship, went outside, got in the car and it didn’t move."
(Keck) Once Peter Shumlin is sworn in, Douglas will be in that position. So how will he get home from Montpelier after his last day of work?
(Douglas) "Dorothy is going to drive our 2000 Neon – with 140,000 miles, to the Statehouse. If she’ll let me, I’ll drive us home. My chief of staff says he’s going to do what he did when Governor Snelling left office 26 years ago. Which is gather all of my staff at the side door of the Statehouse and throw snowballs at the car as I drive away. Hope they don’t break the window."
(Douglas) "Here we are."
(Keck) Jim Douglas walks up the Capitol steps and smiles at old friends like Senator Dick Mazza, who greets him at the door.
The 50-mile commute, the long days, the pressure, dinners away from Dorothy, those parts of the job Douglas won’t miss.
But the friends and colleagues gathered over nearly four decades – that’s different.
Mazza looks wistfully at the governor calling it a sad day. Douglas quips back in mock solemnity. "You’ll just have to carry on." But then he says, more quietly, "I won’t disappear."
For VPR News, I’m Nina Keck in Montpelier.