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A hallowed promise

‘This year, that conversation is more important than ever as we collectively work to fight the pandemic and support a strong recovery. Our shared work must prioritize Vermonters’ safety and well-being, build economic security, and advance equity and justice.’

Becca Balint, D-Windham, is President Pro Tem of the Vermont Senate. Her remarks followed Gov. Phil Scott’s 2021 inaugural address on Jan. 7, the day after the armed insurrection in Washington, D.C.

Montpelier

Like the Speaker of the House said, the past 36 hours have shaken us. And I know I speak for so many Vermonters when I say that I watched in sadness, alarm, and disgust at the scenes that unfolded in our nation’s capital yesterday.

The insurgency in D.C. took place just a few hours after Vermont Senators gathered at our own statehouse here in Montpelier to be officially sworn in.

It was an event that was formal, civil, steeped in history and tradition, and bound by rules. We came together as Vermonters, not as Democrats, Progressives, and Republicans. When we were sworn in, we all took the identical oath of office: A hallowed promise to uphold and defend the constitution of our state and our nation.

We swear that we will be “faithful and honest representatives and guardians of the people” and we vow to be “true and faithful to the State of Vermont.”

The closing words of the oath are an explicit affirmation that we — as Vermont State Senators — are sworn to support both the Vermont Constitution and the United States Constitution. This vow is one we all take so seriously.

Each time I’ve been sworn in to my office, I’ve felt a stirring of pride, responsibility, and a deep love for my state and its people. I felt all these things again yesterday. But I also felt something else.

* * *

I witnessed my colleagues’ willingness to be part of something larger than personal gain, greater than party affiliation, and much more resplendent in glory than the office itself: a clear and public commitment to the rule of law, to the people, and to the ideals of this great state.

Our citizen legislature is a co-equal branch of government. It’s a critical part of the checks and balances built into our democratic system.

As elected officials, we come here as citizens, as neighbors, as Vermonters who care deeply about this state, its people, and its land. We come from all walks of life and bring our family histories and our experiences with us. We also carry with us the stories of our constituents from our villages, towns, and cities.

Each start to the legislative session, I like to view the time of the governor’s address as the beginning of a rich, complex conversation between the executive branch and the legislative branch — a conversation that we will carry on throughout the session.

This year, that conversation is more important than ever as we collectively work to fight the pandemic and support a strong recovery. Our shared work must prioritize Vermonters’ safety and well-being, build economic security, and advance equity and justice.

Our first work must be a continued response to the pandemic, reining in the spread of infection and overseeing effective vaccine distribution.

We must use federal stimulus money to continue to support Vermont’s economy, its workers, and its businesses, as well as the families who struggle with housing, food insecurity, and access to child care and broadband. And we must always be focused on prioritizing those who have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.

And our shared conversation must not lose sight of long-term opportunities to apply lessons learned from the pandemic and build better systems of care. We can continue to strengthen our health care system, having learned that public health is economic health.

We can continue to ensure the quality and affordability of our public education system, from early education to higher ed. We can grow our clean energy economy in ways that reduce costs for Vermonters while protecting the environment.

And in all this work we can keep justice and equity at the forefront by collecting better data, asking good questions, and inviting a diverse range of stories and experiences on the policies we consider.

* * *

We in the Senate, in partnership with the House and the governor, are ready to continue our work on behalf of all of you.

We share some policy goals and diverge on others. On some matters we agree on the end goal but not on how we’ll get there.

That’s all part of the lively, robust conversation that happens in a healthy democracy. And here in Vermont, we still have a healthy democracy. We can show the nation — and those who seek to undermine our ideals — just how the people’s work is done.

And in doing so we will be rebuilding and then sustaining trust in our beloved democracy.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #595 (Wednesday, January 13, 2021). This story appeared on page B4.

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