U.S. Bernie Sanders’ appearance in last week’s Independence Day parade in Warren, which a family friend photographed, had me thinking: When was the last time we saw members of our congressional delegation here in southern Vermont?
Clearly, the COVID-19 pandemic had a big impact on the ability of Sanders, I-Vt., Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., to meet with any constituents in person.
Indeed, for more than a year, public events big enough to accommodate the likely audience for a member of Congress were not allowed. Let’s put it this way: In 2016, Bernie filled the gym at Burr and Burton Academy in Manchester, with flooding chairs the length of the basketball court and students in the bleachers. (I was there!).
So please don’t take this the wrong way. This is not “Where have you been?”
But now, southern Vermont is back in the hospitality business, and we’re in position to be welcoming. As of Wednesday, it will be a month since the Green Mountain State lifted all COVID restrictions. Here in the Northshire, the Vermont Summer Festival horse jumping show is back, and the porches and lawns of hotels and inns are full of wedding revelers.
According to our files and to the best of our recollection, the last time Sanders or Leahy was seen at a public event by their southern Vermont constituents was in 2018.
For Sanders, it was a swing through Springfield, Brattleboro and Bennington on Jan. 26, 2018, culminating with an appearance at an American Legion conference at Bennington Post 13.
Leahy stopped in Bellows Falls on Nov. 8 of that year, and in Bennington on Nov. 10, where he got a first-hand look at the Putnam Block renovation project.
Can we hope to see either senator in person this summer?
It’s an open question, and if we asked the Magic 8-Ball, it would say “reply hazy, try again.”
“It’s now likely that Congress will be in session well into August because of the mounting legislative workload, so the entire forward schedule is unknown,” David Carle, Leahy’s communications director, said Friday.
An email to Sanders’ press office wasn’t returned by press time Sunday, but given that Sanders is in the same deliberative body with the same workload as Leahy, we can extrapolate with confidence that he’ll be busy in Washington as well.
That said: Welch found his way to Brattleboro on June 4, checking in with care providers at Brattleboro Memorial Hospital, taking in a performance at the New England Center for Circus Arts, and meeting with the organizers of a BIPOC-specific Community Supported Agriculture growing program at the Retreat Farm.
While I did not hear back from Welch’s office about plans to visit Bennington County, he has been making the rounds of our state the past few weeks — he visited Waterbury on Saturday. I’m not good at predictions, but Magic 8-Ball says “Signs point to yes.”
Welch was last in Bennington about a year ago, on July 31, when he stopped by the Sunrise Family Resource Center to talk about a child care bill that passed the House with bipartisan support.
The best thing about that day? He asked me for a lunch recommendation, and I got to give him driving directions that included “turn right at the moose wearing a mask.”
That, dear readers, is a maximum 802 moment.
Meanwhile, Vermont political observers, and a good many would-be potential candidates, are waiting to see what Leahy decides about seeking another six-year term in office. With the Democrats nominally in control of the Senate, Leahy is chair of the Appropriations Committee and the body’s President Pro Tempore. That sort of seniority does not grow on trees.
But Leahy is also 81 years old, and both he and his wife, Marcelle Leahy, have recently faced health issues.
It’s not a stretch to say numerous political futures are hinging on Leahy’s decision, given the multitude of dominoes that would fall as elected officials traded their positions for a bid at one of two open congressional seats. (That’s presuming Welch would seek Leahy’s seat in the Senate.)
Rolf Carlson of Commonwealth Dairy is one of the witnesses when the Task Force on Revitalizing Vermont’s Dairy Industry meets at 9 a.m. Monday. Dairy is still an important part of the state economy and its culture, and it has an important role to play in economic development, land use, tourism, climate change and water quality, and that’s just scratching the surface.
Tuesday at 1 p.m., the Legislative Advisory Committee on the Statehouse asks an important set of questions about how legislative staff operated during the pandemic, and what lessons can be applied moving forward. While the panel has already made one of its most important determinations — that yes, committee proceedings will be held in person — they’re also thinking about what configuration will work for the Statehouse and its workers, and about the building’s long-term needs.
Over and over, members have pointed out how integral the statehouse support staff was in assuring the General Assembly could govern remotely. Now, those very workers — the Office of Legislative Counsel, the Legislative Joint Fiscal Office and the statehouse information technology department — will have a chance to talk about what worked and what didn’t.