When “Nanny State Instincts” Overwhelm a Senator's “Libertarian Streak”

Senator Christopher A. PearsonOn May 21, Sen. Chris Pearson (P-Chittenden) testified about H.157 on the Senate floor. H.157 would require that residential contractors register with the state of Vermont, and pay a fee for the privilege for doing so.

Pearson began with this remarkable statement, "I have a sort of "libertarian streak" senators have sometimes seen….”

Taking a quick detour into the Oxford English Dictionary’s definition of a libertarian: “an advocate or supporter of a political philosophy that advocates only minimal state intervention in the free market and the private lives of citizens.” Continuing with Pearson’s floor testimony:

“…I have worked alongside contractors (and) I have friends who are contractors. And frankly, I hesitated to support this bill, and then go to a barbecue with my contractor friends and be endlessly ribbed for my nanny state instincts… but what really tipped the scales for me, is the fact that there's an intersection here with the important work we have to do in the climate sphere. We are investing and helping Vermonters invest with incentives in things. Like swap-outs for high-efficiency wood stoves incentives, for heat pump incentives, we want people to better insulate their homes. We are constantly having small tweaks to code and the joke in the residential sphere is, code is voluntary. It's not voluntary. It’s not voluntary!”

A cynic might see Pearson’s testimony as evidence he got so annoyed at his “contractor friends” and their jokes about housing codes being “voluntary,” that he decided to vote to make his friends pay a registration fee so they would treat Vermont’s codes with more reverence.

I for one, have yet to see any evidence of Sen. Pearson’s “libertarian streak” on any legislative vote or in any committee meeting. Libertarianism is a philosophy of voluntary action being morally superior to coercive action. When it comes time to vote on just about any issue, Pearson has chosen coercion over liberty just about every time, as you can see from his Roll Call Profile. His insistence on codes being “not voluntary” is just the latest case in a long-standing trend.

But perhaps that cynical explanation should give way to a more understanding one: Sen. Pearson has libertarian instincts which get overwhelmed by his “nanny state instincts” whenever the “climate sphere” comes up.

Only problem is, the climate sphere is ever-expanding with Vermont’s ongoing quest to reduce Vermont’s miniscule carbon emissions. If you buy into the need to prevent immanent climate disaster, it might make some amount of sense that the Legislature is preparing to severely curtail the element of choice in home heating, through tax and through fiat.

But regulating residential contractors? Oh right. Because contractors need to become 'agents of the state' for ensuring that customers can only 'choose' whatever costly energy efficiency 'upgrades' legislators in Montpelier have concocted. Or else these contractors become prohibited from legally working on construction projects. There are few limits to Pearson’s “nanny state instincts” if the only exception to his libertarianism happens to be ‘saving the planet.’

One wonders if some of Pearson’s contractor friends will invite Senator Pearson back to their barbeques after he pulls this on them. It should come as no surprise that finding Pearson’s libertarian streak is a bit like chasing the elusive Bigfoot.

To watch Pearson’s testimony, click here.

David Flemming is a policy analyst at the Ethan Allen Institute


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