Town meeting resolution focuses on National Guard

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(Host) Vermonters opposed to the war in Iraq want to take their case to Town Meeting. They hope to get a resolution on the ballot that calls for a special commission to look into the use of the National Guard. That commission would examine whether deployments have hurt the Guard’s ability to respond to emergencies at home.

VPR’s John Dillon reports.

(Dillon) Town meetings in Vermont often feature a blend of local, national and even international issues. In the early 1980s, peace activists sponsored resolutions that called for a freeze on nuclear weapons. In 2003, a dozen towns voted to criticize the USA Patriot Act.

Ben Scotch is a Montpelier lawyer who worked on the Patriot Act initiative. He says the idea for the Iraq War town meeting resolution came from a number of people after a recent peace rally in Montpelier.

(Scotch) “It is clear that practical steps have to be taken, and in Vermont, practical steps are taken both in the Legislature and in Town Meeting. So Town Meeting locations are a natural for something like this.”

(Dillon) The draft resolution leads off with a statement in support of the men and women in the armed forces. But it says the country was led into war for reasons that turned out not to be true. The document focuses on the role of the National Guard in the conflict.

Under most circumstances, once the Guard has been activated the soldiers fall under the authority of the Defense Department, not the governor. But a 1990 Supreme Court decision reserves some authority for the states. The Vermont Constitution also allows the state Legislature to look at how the guard is used.

(Scotch) “The resolution asks the Legislature to set up a special commission to look at the impact of Guard deployments on readiness in Vermont. The reason for this is, under governing Supreme Court law, governors do have the power to speak to the question of Guard deployment when the remaining Guard are too few to do their mission.”

(Dillon) Governor Jim Douglas said last week that about 30 to 40 percent of the Vermont Guard force will eventually be activated. The governor says that should leave enough on hand to deal with natural disasters or other emergencies in Vermont.

Scotch says the commission would provide a much more detailed look at that question. He also has a ready answer for critics who say Town Meeting should focus on local matters, not questions of war and peace.

(Scotch) “The war in Iraq really is in every sense a local issue. And the link between the war and the towns in Vermont is primarily the National Guard but it also – as the resolution indicates – it’s the impact of the war on our standing in the world. It has to do with the future of our kids and our grandkids. I can’t think of anything more local than that, really.”

(Dillon) Organizers hope to get the resolution before the majority of towns in Vermont. They need signatures from five percent of the town’s voters to get it on the ballot.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon.

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