The End of the Line

With this column I am concluding my biweekly commentaries for the Ethan Allen Institute, that stretch back to 1993.  

Years ago I learned that I had some marketable abilities in understanding issues, analyzing implications, and explaining things clearly and I hoped persuasively. Accordingly I embarked on a career that I half-jokingly referred to as “brain rental”.

In 1988, after a tour in the Reagan campaign and White House, I was elected to the Vermont Senate, and reelected with 82% of the vote. But after those often frustrating four years,  I concluded that maybe I could make a more valuable contribution  by launching a nonpartisan think tank to promote  “Ideas for Vermont’s Future” built upon the liberal principles of Vermont’s brilliant 1777 Constitution.

So in 1993 Republican leader Anne Haugsrud Webb, industry leader John M. Mitchell, and I launched the Ethan Allen Institute.  Its Mission was to influence public policy in Vermont by helping its people to better understand and put into practice the fundamentals of a free society: individual liberty, private property, competitive free enterprise, limited and frugal government, strong local communities, personal responsibility, and expanded opportunity for human endeavor. Soon to follow was the first of my more than 800 biweekly commentaries, almost all on timely Vermont-related public issues.

We planned to offer “Ideas for Vermont’s Future” in EAI’s reports, conferences, and publications. But as the years went by and little Vermont grew bluer and bluer, it became clear that even well thought out and timely proposals in fiscal, legal, education, energy, and health care (to name five) aroused little interest within the progressive juggernaut determined to use its growing legislative majorities to reshape Vermont into the Perfect Little Blue State, no matter what the cost.

So writing commentaries became my best opportunity to pull debate back toward a responsible center.  Looking back through those columns, here were some of my favorite themes:

Fidelity to our Constitution: It is the indispensable agreement among the people about how we shall be governed, and which rights of the people must remain inviolate.

Accountability: Our constitution declares that government, with its power to confiscate and coerce, must always remain accountable. For 30 years I have exposed and denounced politicians working to get what they want through intricate schemes too complicated for their citizens to comprehend. A disgraceful example is the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2020, passed over Gov. Scott’s veto, that empowered unaccountable bureaucrats to enact rules that no legislator would ever vote on. That’s why I labelled it “the worst democracy-shredding legislation in the past fifty years” (and quite likely, ever.)

I also, unsuccessfully, promoted a Regulatory Accountability Act, which allowed one fifth of the House or Senate to put a proposed bureaucratic rule on the calendar for an up or down approval vote. Earlier, when I introduced that bill in the Senate, my colleagues, unwilling to risk going on the record if they could avoid it, bolted for the exits.

Single Member Districts: The worst curse of our election structure is the multimember district, where candidates can improve their chances by avoiding any controversy on issues.

Fiscal Integrity: We must pay our bills as pledged, including our promises to retirees, and resist every temptation to embark on spending today that obligates our children and grandchildren to pay for decades hence.

Property Rights: Our Constitution is founded on cherished right of citizens to own, use, and exchange property. Government can limit those rights and can take them away in the public interest – but only by paying the owner just compensation. Otherwise government becomes a regime of piracy and tyranny.

Freedom of Political Speech: Laws prohibiting libel, defamation, false labeling and rank pornography may be enforced, but not laws to circumscribe and silence political speech or punish “wrongthink”.

Subsidiarity: This means resisting centralization of power to actors increasingly remote from local communities, while recognizing that some public issues, such as criminal justice and air and water pollution, must be managed on larger scales. Frank Bryan and my book The Vermont Papers: Recreating Democracy on a Human Scale (1989) sought to show how decentralization of power to some forty autonomous shires would reverse the anti-democratic domination of the centralized state and bring a new flowering of citizen responsibility and community essential to preserving a free society.

Last but far from least, a full throated defense of what should always be Vermont’s paramount guiding star, Liberty.

Now, with this last of my 800+ commentaries, I take leave of the Ethan Allen Institute, and of my 30 years of biweekly efforts to defend and advance the principles that over the years have made our little state strong, proud and free. I hope and trust that others will now step up to continue that mission.


Former Representative and Senator John McClaughry of Kirby co-founded the Ethan Allen Institute, where he has labored for the past thirty years.


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  • John McClaughry
    published this page in EAI Commentary 2024-04-08 07:55:20 -0400