Debate crowd comes to see Bernie, and more
By ANDY CLARK
STAFF WRITER | November 15, 2015
Chris Graff opened an evening of politics at the Paramount Theatre on Saturday night, acknowledging that the Democratic presidential debate would be very different “than if it had been held 36 hours ago.”
Graff, former longtime Vermont bureau chief for The Associated Press, said CBS changed the debate rules Saturday to emphasize foreign policy after terrorist attacks killed more than 120 people Friday in Paris.
“It would be interesting for us to see how the transition to foreign policy questions would affect Sen. Bernie Sanders,” said Graff, author of “Dateline Vermont,” a memoir of his 30 years in journalism.
“We as Vermonters can learn much from how Bernie Sanders is being treated by the press, much like Sen. Jim Jeffords and Gov. Howard Dean,” he said. “They speak authentically, which we take for granted here. The nation embraced them, because they all spoke directly and honestly and exude authenticity.”
The debate’s 9 p.m. start time was too late for press deadline, but people arriving for the event were interviewed.
Among those in attendance was Maria Davis of Rutland, an independent whose reason for attending was “I love Bernie.” Likewise, her friend Caitlyn Frazier of Rutland, who favored Sanders, said, “I’m anxious to see how Sanders approaches the crisis we witnessed last night in Paris.”
Danielle Payton of Shoreham, a student working toward a bachelor’s degree in social work at Castleton University, had a lament: “I wish Castleton students would be more interested in politics.”
That’s what the Project 240 program, which aired the debate Saturday night, is intended to address.
Payton came with fellow Castleton student Matthew Smela, a philosophy major. “I’m for Bernie, but I want to hear from (Hillary) Clinton and much more from (Martin) O’Malley,” Smela said. “In the last debate, he kept saying how he rescued Baltimore.”
Payton agreed and added she had seen some of O’Malley’s ideas on the web, which “were awesome.”
Marsha McLean, a management consultant from Pawlet, was collecting Vermont primary signatures for Clinton. She said she worked for Clinton, then the secretary of state, at the Department of State from 2009 to 2011.
The crowd in attendance — about 125 — attended the event for a range of reasons. Some had no cable television, some came for the discussions, and a few representatives of Sanders and Clinton came with signature petitions in hand for the Vermont primary.
The Paramount Theatre and Castleton University sponsored the event as part of a collaboration, Project 240, designed to elevate public discourse around the 2016 general election while bringing the community together for a series of events in celebration of the nation’s 240th birthday next year.
Bruce Bouchard, executive director of the Paramount, said Saturday night’s airing was the first such event in a grand theater in the country.
Graff’s role in the event was twofold — to deliver formal remarks and to engage the audience in discussions before and after the televised debate. He prepared his audience to think about differences between Washington, D.C., and Vermont.
Next up in the Project 240 series is “The American Experience,” hosted by Ken Burns, at 7 p.m. Nov. 21. Tickets are available from the Paramount Theatre box office for $35.
The next televised debates at the Paramount are Jan. 17 for the Democrats and Feb. 6 for the Republicans. Both are free of charge.
Barbara Snelling embodied the kind of civic virtues that have underpinned the building of Vermont and the nation. She died on Monday, and her passing marks the passing of an era with many lessons for the Vermont of today.
Snelling served two terms as Vermont’s lieutenant governor and might well have become governor if her health had permitted. Those who knew her from her political involvements knew her as a woman who was both strong and gracious. In fact, each of those two qualities nourished the other: She was strong enough to be gracious, and her grace made her stronger.
She might have been overshadowed by the powerful figure of her husband, Richard Snelling, who was elected governor five times and loomed large for many years over the politics of Vermont. He was a man of strong opinions and abundant energy who did not suffer fools gladly and was willing to argue his point with great conviction. Barbara Snelling had a particular kind of strength in holding her own as his partner. Indeed, their son, Mark, spoke with admiration about the competitiveness between the two of them. It was something that spurred them on.
The list of civic contributions by Barbara Snelling is astonishing to contemplate. She was chairwoman of the Shelburne School Board and the first chairwoman of the Champlain Valley Union High School Board. She was a founding trustee of the Vermont Community Foundation, a philanthropic organization that has had a profound impact on numerous organizations throughout the state. She was chairwoman of Chittenden County United Way, which plays a vital role in funneling support to worthy organizations serving the community. She was a trustee of Champlain and Radcliffe colleges and of the Shelburne Museum.
But there is more. She was a vice president of the University of Vermont, and she had her own business, Snelling and Kolb, a fundraising consulting firm.
A commitment to education is the river that runs through this long list of commitments. But politics was part of her life as well, owing at first to the career of Richard Snelling, who was first elected governor in 1976. She and he practiced the kind of moderate Republican politics that still prevails in Vermont but which is almost extinct elsewhere, characterized by a commitment to tolerance, fairness and fiscal common sense.
After recession led to a serious budget crisis during the third term of Gov. Madeleine Kunin, Richard Snelling decided he would run for governor again. He had already served four terms — from 1977 to 1985 — and after his election in 1990 to a fifth term, he pushed through an emergency budget plan.
His untimely death in August 1991 soon prompted the question: Would Barbara Snelling enter politics to carry on his legacy, or rather the legacy that the two of them had shaped as partners together? Soon, she answered that question, winning election as lieutenant governor in 1992. It was a competitive race against David Wolk, now president of Castleton University and then a Democratic senator from Rutland County.
The competitive spirit that made Barbara and Richard Snelling a dynamic pair continued to motivate her, and in 1996, she decided to challenge the incumbent governor, Howard Dean, who had been lieutenant governor when Richard Snelling died. It might have been Dean’s toughest challenge, but Snelling suffered a cerebral hemorrhage and had to bow out of the race. Later she served two terms in the Vermont Senate.
Mark Snelling said that among his mother’s achievements one about which the family is most proud is her role as founder of Friends of the Vermont State House, the organization that has been instrumental in the refurbishment of a building that is both a grand historic site and a working seat of government.
She was a woman dedicated to education, and the State House itself is an education in the state’s civic values, a living monument to Vermont’s democracy. Barbara Snelling and her family have given much to keep those values alive.