Long time, no see

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On Aug. 1, 2016, Sen. Patrick Leahy visited Manchester and Bennington during his campaign for re-election. His arrival kicked off a nine-day tour in which he set out to touch base in every county in Vermont.

Derek Carson, writing for the Bennington Banner, reported that Leahy popped into several businesses, checked in on the Putnam Square redevelopment project, chatted with Democratic Party volunteers, stopped by the town offices, and met with members of the Bennington Police Department.

He stopped by again, two and a half months later, on Oct. 22, 2016, for events including a Bennington Coalition for the Homeless gathering, and a Project Against Violent Encounters event. Leahy went on to win re-election. And that was the last we've seen of him.

Let us be clear: We mean Senator Leahy no ill will or disrespect. He's certainly welcome here anytime. And maybe that's why this long absence is such a surprising state of affairs. It's not like Bennington County turned its back on Patrick Leahy: local voters supported him by a 2-1 margin over Republican challenger Peter Milne in November 2016. Now, it's certainly true that Senator Leahy has been very busy trying to be one of the responsible grown-ups in the U.S. Senate. We know he's been busy, because we get emails about his activities in Washington on a regular basis — sometimes with quotes from the senator about the latest outrage from the president or Congressional Republicans, sometimes transcripts of his remarks on the Senate floor, sometimes even video of Leahy speaking on the Senate floor. But two years is a long time, and politics in Vermont are retail, not wholesale. They're built on personal interaction rather than radio and television ads, or video clips customized for social media.

There's just no substitute for being there. We trust Senator Leahy, a veteran Vermont politician, knows this.

And he must also know that here in Southwestern Vermont, we often feel like the powers that be in Burlington and Montpelier don't pay very close attention to what's happening beyond the Chittenden County bubble and the golden dome, respectively. That doesn't mean we've in fact been forgotten, but perception is often reality.

Look, we get it — we're not easy to reach from Burlington. But it's not our fault that decades ago, transportation planners decided a limited access highway connecting Bennington and East Dorset was somehow sufficient for Southwestern Vermont's north-south transit needs. Furthermore, we're worth the trip. So please consider this our cordial invitation to Senator Leahy to come on back to Bennington County, and soon. There's a lot going on down here that he should see and hear.

There's good news: The Bennington region is a top 10 small town arts destination for the second year in a row, and the arts are a big part of our economic future in both Shires.

There's new energy in downtown Manchester, and the potential for great things in downtown Bennington once the Putnam Square project gets moving.

There are challenges, too. PFOA contamination in Bennington and North Bennington remains a significant health issue, not to mention its impact on the resale of many homes. And many of the issues we're struggling with — the opioid epidemic, income disparity, the high cost of health care and lack of affordable housing, for starters — are national issues, too.

A visit would give Senator Leahy the chance to relate his efforts in Washington to what we experience here on a daily basis, and him see first-hand what we need.

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