Incoming legislators go through orientation

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(Host) Lawmakers don’t start work in Montpelier until January. But for the rest of the week, the incoming class of legislators is getting a crash course in legislative process and protocol.

VPR’s John Dillon was in the Statehouse for the orientation.

(Greeter) “Hey, how are you, congratulations! Hi, nice to see you. It’s great that you’re here!”

(Dillon) There are more than a few similarities to the first day of school. It helps to know where to find the cafeteria, and where the bathrooms are.

Statehouse curator David Schutz led freshman lawmakers through the elegantly restored House and Senate chambers, and into the governor’s ceremonial office. Portraits of long-deceased governors stare down from the walls as Schutz mischievously points to a nearly hidden door in the corner of the room.

(Schutz) “I’m going to show you a space that we never show visitors. It’s the only space in the whole Statehouse that I’m tenaciously trying to preserve to its original 1970s glory. And that is the governor’s private bathroom, with shower. So take a peek and head in this direction, quickly.”

(Dillon) The Statehouse is both a museum and a workspace. And the incoming class looked somewhat awestruck to be walking the halls.

Democrat Bill Carris is a new senator elect from Rutland County.

(Carris) “Amazingly impressive. The history, the tour was fantastic. You just don’t realize all that’s here, and what’s gone through. It’s pretty humbling to be here, I’ll tell you that.”

(Dillon) But besides soaking up history, there were more mundane details to attend to.

(Greeter) “Pictures across the hall, both today and tomorrow “

(Dillon) ID photos were taken and payroll forms filled out. Soon, many of the incoming lawmakers were lugging heavy bags of binders and books.

And then it was time for the lectures.

The 40 newly elected lawmakers in the class of 2007 include one mayor and two former mayors. There are farmers, lawyers, businesspeople, retirees and social workers. They listened attentively as veteran legislators spoke about honesty, learning the issues, and forging friendships and alliances across party lines.

Pittsford Republican Peg Flory gave the new class some blunt advice about keeping personal disagreements out of politics.

(Flory) “As soon as we take our jobs too personally, and start insulting others or start feeling personally insulted by positions that are out there, we’ve cheapened the House or the Senate. Disagree all you want. But do it on issues.”

(Dillon) Will Stevens, an organic farmer from Shoreham, will start his first term in January. He said the advice echoed what he heard on the campaign trail.

(Steven) “Orientation has been interesting. I think what a lot of people have spoken to are the things my constituents wanted to hear anyway, which is, are you as good as your word? What is your character? So it was really great to hear that coming from the leadership. That this is what is important in Vermont, that relationships matter and that we can agree to disagree so long as we’re here for some higher purpose. I think that was a great message.”

(Dillon) The freshman orientation continues through Saturday with briefings on the state budget, Vermont archives, and a panel discussion on lawmakers and the media.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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