Freedom, unity and democracy

Vermont is championed across the nation for its preservation of small-town direct democracy in the form of Town Meeting Day, held the first Tuesday in March. But few focus on the Vermont General Assembly, a gem of simple, democratic government quite literally nestled in the Green Mountains. State government, in many places, is synonymous with corruption, evoking memories of political machines in Illinois and New York. Yet Vermont has a system that in many ways prevents corruption. The Vermont General Assembly — consisting of the House and Senate — meets from January until May. They are paid $600 a week, only while the legislature is in session. Thus, Vermont legislators are public servants in the truest sense of the term. They aren’t full-time politicians, a notion that the Founding Fathers rejected. Our legislators are also our farmers, lawyers and teachers. Legislators in Vermont don’t do it for the money, as there’s no way you can feed your family working only half of the year. They can’t just be complacent and collect a paycheck. The only incentive to become a state legislator in Vermont is a genuine one, to conduct the business of the state and serve its citizens. There seems to be a correlation between how much legislators are paid and how large their state’s deficit is. California, the poster child of budget mismanagement, pays legislators $113,000 per year, and has a debt of $18 billion — to put this into perspective, Vermont’s total budget is just over $1 billion. It seems odd that the legislators who do the worst job get paid the most, huh? The starting salary for members of the United States House of Representatives is $174,000. An August Rasmussen poll found that just 16 percent of Americans describe the performance of Congress as “good.” Granted, the amount of business that Vermont — population 621,000 — is surely less than that of New York – population 19 million. Vermonters like to keep it simple. Our representatives do just that, representing the interests of Vermonters in Montpelier for half of the year, then returning to their lives as private citizens. In Vermont, elected officials have fewer constituents and, thus, average citizens have greater access to government. Vermont and Texas have the same number of legislators, while the population of Texas is 40 times that of Vermont. Living in a small state means that when traveling abroad — or sadly, in other parts of the United States — people don’t know where you’re from. But when a state gets bigger, democracy shrinks, deficits soar, corruption breeds and disunity grows. Sure, our congressional delegation consists of only one person, but Vermont preserves Rousseauian democracy in a way that no other state has and represents the purest form of direct democracy that exists in America today.