A state senator reflects on 20 years of progress
Randolph T. Holhut/Commons file photo
Jeanette White

A state senator reflects on 20 years of progress

‘Each of these issues required working with others — often those with whom I disagreed — to come to the best solutions’

PUTNEY — On Jan. 4, I saw our new Windham County senators sworn in. We will be well served by Sen. Wendy Harrison and Sen. Nader Hashim.

It was a bittersweet day for me. For the first time in 20 years, I will not be serving in seat 16.

Although it always sounds a bit trite, it has truly been an honor and a humbling experience to have had the faith of Windham County for two decades. Thank you.

When I first decided not to run, my friend, Sen. Tim Ashe, suggested I look over the past years to review the issues that I worked hard on — those that might not have happened without me or that might have happened in a very different way.

As I was doing so, what struck me most was that each of these issues required working with others — often those with whom I disagreed — to come to the best solutions.

This realization reaffirmed my belief that there is a huge difference between being an advocate/activist and a policymaker. As an advocate/activist, you know you are right — your position is the one that should be adopted. As a policymaker, you need to realize that there are advocates on all sides of any issue who know they are right and that your job is to listen to all those perspectives and do the best thing — the right thing — for Vermont and Vermonters.

This means compromise (not a dirty word), respecting others, and admitting you don’t know everything.

The other important thing for policy makers to remember is that everything is always changing.

Very few issues are ever resolved; mostly, they are addressed, readdressed, and re-readdressed. This sounds like kicking the can down the road. Actually, incremental change is almost always better than dramatic change or no change. And each change makes us aware of unintended consequences and new challenges to address — after all, nothing is static.

* * *

So, in the spirit of nostalgia, here are a few of the things on my list.

• Elections reform, including Election Day registration, online registration, and mail-out ballots

• Municipal government reform, acknowledging our municipalities are the real seats of democracy

• Patient choice at end of life

• Establishing the Office of Racial Equity

• Putting light on the issue of burn pits in the military

• Establishing emergency measures to keep government working during Covid

• Setting up medical marijuana dispensaries

• Decriminalizing and, ultimately, legalizing cannabis

• Addressing campaign finance regulations

• Addressing gender issues in the National Guard

• Establishing the Ethics Commission

• Working with law enforcement for positive changes, including changes to the Criminal Justice Council

• Offering more support and making changes to our emergency medical services system

• Making changes to save our teachers’ and state employees’ pension system

And then, of course, there are all the issues we addressed that I was not intimately involved in but supported. I will not even begin to go there.

* * *

As I end this chapter, I again want to say what an honor it has been. Simply being in the State House and the Senate Chamber is exciting — it’s almost as if you can feel the ghosts of those who have served before swirling around there.

Over those 20 years I was blessed to serve with great people from Windham County and across the state. I learned from each of them.

Upon leaving the Senate, I gave these four pieces of advice to all the new senators.

1. Don’t take yourself too seriously — you are never as smart as you think you are.

2. Everyone in this chamber is special — you are no more special than anyone else.

3. Build relationships, especially with those with whom you disagree.

4. Respect the institution itself — it is the embodiment of our democracy.

Thank you, Windham County, and on to the next chapter.

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