This semester I am taking a special topics class; Issues in the Vermont State Legislature. We meet once a week, it is only a one-credit class compared to the average three-credits, to discuss what is going on in the State House of Representatives and Senate. Today a group of us traveled up to the state’s capital, Montpellier, to sit in on a joint committee meeting. (Fun fact: Montpellier is the only state capital that does not have a McDonald’s within it’s city limits).
The House and Senate breaks up into different committees which focus in on different, more specific topics and issues happening in Vermont. For example, I am focusing on following a House committee called Fish, Wildlife, and Water Resources (to some known simply as Wet and Wacky). Right now, this committee and a few others in the House and Senate are focusing on the issues brought up by Hurricane Irene. Today I sat in on a three hour long joint committee meeting between House Fish, Wildlife, and Water Resources, and the Senate committee on Natural Resources. For the duration of the meeting we heard from many different citizens who were mostly representing some sort of non-governmental organization, or NGO, such as “Friends” of various rivers around the state, citizens councils and conservation districts. All of these representatives had something to say about how legislation should be handled surrounding issues brought up by Irene. These included mostly river and watershed area management and whether or not we should continue to allow development in these areas even through the flood was so damaging to infrastructure in flood hazard zones, as well as ideas to help protect river banks, such as buffer zones, also issues dealing with insurance for any structures in such areas. Many representatives from each committee sat along a large table and took in all this input.
Although this session was three hours, it was rather exciting for me, again I will admit I am some what of a policy nerd. Over this past summer I was working on an internship in a city in New York state and was primarily working on policy pertaining to urban stormwater management. So while such flood management in Vermont is not exactly the same, I was excited to hear about the possibility of some of the policies I was working towards over the summer be examined in Vermont.
However, I couldn’t help but notice a few other things that were going on during this meeting. It is likely that I will be in an atmosphere much like this one soon after I graduate (hopefully), a professional, possibly political atmosphere, so I am especially in tune to how people behave, dress, et cetera. The first thing that I noticed was that the Chairman of the Fish, Wildlife, and Natural Resources Committee was wearing a normal dress/casual suit and birkenstocks and socks. I couldn’t help but smile and point this out to my friend. There is a certain stigma around wearing birkenstocks and sock and I must say I’ve never seen an older man in a suit wearing them, but that’s Vermont for you. Soon after I noticed this, the chairwomen on the Senate Committee on Agriculture was introduced; she was sitting in on the meeting, and she was knitting most of the time (this is something that you will commonly see during a class at Green Mountain). I then noticed another representative wearing camo Crocs with this suit and also had to smile at this. I have not spent any time at any other State building and only have some experience at the city level of government, but I am pretty sure that these fashion statements and hobbies are not very common among state representatives.
This is only one reason why a piece of my heart will always be in the Green Mountain state.