Commentary: Return of the Johnstown Flood

Searching for an arresting metaphor for the approaching legislative session, I found a compelling example, as described by contemporaneous reports.

In the afternoon of May 31, 1889, 14 miles above Johnstown, Pennsylvania, the South Fork Dam gave way. In less than forty-five minutes, twenty million tons of water poured into the valley below. Roaring down the narrow path of the Little Conemaugh River, a seventy-foot wall of water, filled with huge chunks of dam, boulders and whole trees, smashed into the small towns of Mineral Point and Woodvale and swept away all traces of their existence. Scouring its way towards Johnstown, the flood picked up several hundred boxcars, a dozen locomotives, more than a hundred houses and a growing number of corpses.

The residents of Johnstown heard the speeding wall of death, a roar like thunder. Next they saw the dark cloud and mist and spray that preceded it, and were assaulted by a wind that blew down small buildings. Next came the great wall of water that smashed into the city, crushing houses like eggshells and snapping trees like toothpicks. It was all over in ten minutes. But there was more yet to come.

After dark, the thirty acres of debris, at places forty feet high, that had piled up behind the Pennsylvania Railroad’s Stone Bridge caught fire and burned through the night, blanketing the ravaged town in a dark cloud of acrid smoke. The flood had killed 2,209 people and leveled four acres of downtown Johnstown.

What has this to do with the 2023 Vermont legislature? Consider.

As a result of the 2022 election, Republican Governor Phil Scott won reelection with seventy percent of the vote. But his popularity did not provide much help to other Republicans. They elected seven Senators, as before, but their House delegation dropped from 43 to 38. The Democratic House leadership will make absolutely sure that there won’t be any unexcused defections on key votes by its 104 members.

The Democrat-led House and Senate now have, and will enthusiastically use, the power to drive through any measure its leaders, spurred on by their clamoring interest groups, decide upon. The Governor may get a respectful hearing on practical questions of implementation, but he will have no power to stop this coming Johnstown Flood.

In 2020 the legislature passed, over Scott’s veto, the Global Warming Solutions Act. This sweeping measure mandated millions of metric tons reduction of CO2 emissions from heating, transportation and other fuel uses; created a legislatively-controlled 23-member “government within the government” to direct agency regulators to advance the program; and authorized “any person” to sue the State to act more urgently to achieve the mandated reductions.

A year ago the Climate Council released its Initial Climate Action Plan containing a long list of legislative and regulatory proposals. Its leading proposal was the Clean Heat Standard. This is a clever “stealth tax” to force customers of fuel oil distributors to pay for CO2-reducing ideas favored by the unaccountable Public Utility Commission. Scott vetoed it, and the House sustained the veto by a single vote.

The Democratic leadership was stunned, and furious, at losing this “crown jewel” of its endless war against the Menace of Climate Change. Next spring they’ll send an updated version of the Clean Heat Standard back to the Governor, who can sign it, let it pass without his signature, or veto it and watch as his veto is quickly overridden.

That’s just the most prominent example of what to expect. The Senate president pro tem-elect, Sen. Phil Baruth, has already announced the coming death of the Sportsmen’s Bill of Rights. This law prohibits cities and towns from passing restrictive firearms laws, leaving any regulation to action by the legislature. It was passed by the House 128-5 in 1988 and signed by Gov. Madeleine Kunin. Lt. Gov. Howard Dean later boasted that “I got it passed.” No matter. It will be gone.

Single payer health care, abandoned as unaffordable by Gov. Shumlin in 2014, will be back. The Vermont-NEA teachers’ union will demand that the legislative majority, which it owns on any educational issue, target parental choice in education for extinction. Even Sen. Chris Bray’s constitutional amendment to abolish private property in favor of “common property of all the people” is likely to reappear.

With the disappearance of the Federal billions that the state will soon have spent, millions of new tax dollars will have to be raised to cover the cost of this endless cavalcade of liberal spending. New regulations will issue to implement the Green Police State. (Full details to follow in January.)

Remember the Johnstown Flood metaphor. You’re about to see its like flooding out from beneath the Golden Dome.

– John McClaughry is vice president of the Ethan Allen Institute.


Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.

Enter Comment Here: