2002 Year in review

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(Host) The past year in Vermont will be remembered for its themes, as much as for its events. The state’s economic hardships, the rise of heroin and the struggle of dairy farmers were stories that recurred through the year. Along the way, Vermonters elected their first new governor in more than a decade, and celebrated the accomplishments of a few notable neighbors.

VPR’s Steve Zind has this look back at 2002.

(Sound from mock constitutional convention) “I’m asking you to put yourself in the mindset of a delegate to the 1777 Vermont Constitution.”

(Zind) Midway through the year, Vermonters gathered in Windsor to celebrate the 225th anniversary of the state’s constitution. Soon after, one little-used constitutional provision became a hot campaign issue. In the midst of a tight gubernatorial race, it appeared the Legislature might have the final say in who would be governor.

(Doug Racine) “I want to welcome you all to the fortieth and final debate. It’s been a very long campaign.” (Laughter and applause from crowd.)

(Zind) The suspense was short-lived. Democratic candidate Doug Racine, conceded to Republican Jim Douglas who received 45% of the vote. The Douglas victory was tempered by the legislative results. At the statehouse the GOP grip slipped.

(Jim Douglas) “People are voting for change, which is what I’ve been arguing is necessary, in terms of gubernatorial leadership. Indicating that my opponent is essentially part of the administration that’s been running the show for a long time. So it may be that voters are opting for change at all levels.”

(Zind) There was another constitutional provision that lit tempers this year. The once-a-decade reshuffling of house districts led to a partisan donnybrook in the Legislature.

(Rep. John LaBarge) “Hey – there’s one thing I have to say-“
(Sen. Dick Sears) “I’ve had enough. I’ve had enough. You guys, you guys want to hammer us with political tools, and crap like you just did?”

(Zind) If reapportionment seemed like a distant and arcane battle to some Vermonters, the budget debate hit closer to home. State revenues were falling. The Legislature and the governor were faced with tough choices.

(Howard Dean) “I don’t enjoy making all these cuts but the budget has to balanced. It must be balanced.”

(Zind) Governor Howard Dean wasn’t much in evidence during the session, a fact noted by his critics. Dean was in Iowa and New Hampshire, kindling his presidential bid.

(Sound of Dean at a restaurant gathering) “Good to see you, good luck. Let me know if I can help in any way.”

(Zind) Dean’s presidential fortunes are still uncertain. For others, this was a championship season.

(Grammy-winning song, “Man of Constant Sorrow”) West Rutland native Dan Tyminski was a Grammy winner. Vermonters Kelly Clark and Ross Powers won Olympic gold. And the state shared in a Super Bowl championship.

(Robert Kraft) “We want to say to all of you that this trophy belongs to you. Thank you so much for the support that you gave. Thank you!”

(Zind) There was little economic news to celebrate. Layoffs and plant closing plagued the state. In June, IBM pink-slipped nearly 1,000 workers in Essex Junction. It was one of the largest layoffs in Vermont history. The impact was felt around the state.

(Economist Jeffrey Carr) “The psychological effect, the concern, the understandable concern on the part of a lot of working Vermonters and their families that well, if it happens at IBM could it happen to me?”

(Zind) It did happen to other working Vermonters: at Ben & Jerry’s, at paper mills in the Northeast Kingdom and at machine tool plants in Springfield. Good jobs were getting harder to find.

(Worker) “People been all over 50 miles in any direction and there’s nothing there right now.”

(Zind) Out beyond the factories and towns, farmers were struggling. Congress replaced the Northeast Dairy Compact with a milk price support system some farmers considered just a little better than nothing. Then milk prices fell.

(Farmer) “There does come a point in time where a person says look, I can’t cut no more corners. I’m doing the best I can with what I’ve got to do with. And if I try to cut any more corners here, am I going to jeopardize my family? Am I going to jeopardize my animals? Am I going to jeopardize – what I am I going to jeopardize?”

(Zind) Vermonters also confronted agriculture’s changing face. A large dairy operation proposed in Charlotte would eventually house twenty-five hundred cows. Neighbors objected.

(Hinsdale neighbor) “This dam is designed to hold over 500,000 cubic feet of liquid manure, which contains various pesticides, chemicals.”

(Zind) The farms owners framed the debate as a battle between encroaching suburbs and the realities of farming.

(Farmer Clark Hinsdale) “I do understand that our farm application has become a rallying point for groups that take issue with traditional agriculture.”

(Zind) Many days in 2002 were not marked by newsworthy events as much as familiar seasonal rituals. Like spring sugaring.

(Sound of horses pulling a sled.) “It’s a good time of year to get out and get in the sunshine get ready for the springtime.”

(Zind) Getting in the hay.

(Farmer) “By golly, it’s surprising how much the neighbors come in to help get the hay in.”

(Zind) The annual county fairs. (Sound of PA system announcing 4-H contest results.) And an occasional earthshaking urprise.

(Steve Maleski) “Just before seven o’clock this morning, Vermonters awoke to the vibrations of an earthquake. Experts say the quake had a magnitude of 5.1.”

(Zind) In 2002, Vermonters put the finishing touches on plans for the preservation of more than one hundred and thirty thousand acres of Northeast Kingdom land formerly owned by the Champion Paper Company. Legislators struggled to balance competing interests.

(Legislator McCormack) “I would never have supported the purchase without the clear understanding that we would be protecting some of that acreage.”

(Zind) Environmental concerns also surfaced in South Burlington where business leaders said a stormwater decision by the Water Resources Board could effectively curb economic growth. The legislature stepped in to write new regulations. Groundwater extraction was an issue in Danby, where OMYA clashed with residents over plant to mine for marble.

(OMYA representative) “We think this quarry here would be pretty much representative of what an open quarry would look like in the Danby four-corners region.”

(Zind) The sale of the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant was debated for months against a backdrop of post September 11 safety and security concerns at the plant. In towns around Vernon, Vermont Yankee’s fate was debated on town meeting day.

(Speaker at meeting) “We have a civic responsibility. This is our plant. This is our state. This is our area. We built it. We run it. We own it. We’ll keep it safe. So I very much disagree with the idea of selling it to someone outside.”

(Zind) The sale to the Entergy Corporation of Mississippi unfolded like a fast paced novel. Only a last minute agreement over millions of dollars of decommissioning money kept it alive.

At the other end of the state, a financial scandal settled over another Vermont institution. State regulators had been misled about the cost of the huge Renaissance Project at Fletcher Allen Health Care. The hospital’s CEO stepped down. A bewildered board of directors searched for the truth.

(Chairman Philip Drumheller) “This is a situation where a train was going down the wrong track and it wasn’t stopped. In retrospect, there probably were red flags that the board might have picked up on and responded differently. Unfortunately, we missed those points.”

(Zind) While the hospital administration was in transition, nurses were organizing. In October, Fletcher Allen became the fourth unionized hospital in the state.

(Fletcher Allen nurse) “We want safe staffing. We want the equipment we need to safely do our jobs. We want ways to retain the nurses that we need – you know, benefits, wages, things like that.”

(Zind) On the campus that stretches out behind Fletcher Allen, there were also changes. The University of Vermont named Daniel Fogel its new President. For a moment, at least, financial issues, sticky union negotiations, and the University’s tarnished image fell away.

(Fogel) “It is wonderful to be here. Thank you for that warm, warm welcome.” (Sound of applause.)

There were moments remembered in 2002. The fortieth anniversary of the election of Democratic Governor Phil Hoff coincided with the release of tapes of phone conversations between Hoff and President Lyndon Johnson.

(Johnson) “Phil?”
(Hoff) “Hi.”
(Johnson) “By God, I wish you’d teach me how to run, you run like one of these Texas jackrabbits.”

(Zind) One problem spilled over into all the regions of the state: heroin.

(Recovering addict) “I said, ‘I’m a heroin addict and I’m seeking treatment.’ He said, ‘Frankly we’re not set up to help you here. We don’t have what you need. If you want to help yourself, move.'”

(Zind) Vermonters learned a lot about heroin in 2002. By the time the state’s first clinic for treatment of heroin addiction opened in Burlington this fall, many communities were being transformed by the drug.

Worries about Vermont’s young people extended beyond the heroin epidemic. Some saw an unsettling message about alienated youth in the story of two Chelsea boys who murdered a Hanover couple. In April, in a New Hampshire courtroom, the daughters of Half and Suzanne Zantop addressed their parents killers.

(Veronika Zantop) “There’s no statement in the entire world that can capture the absolute horror, disbelief, pain, sadness and anger that I, my sister and our family and friends have experienced since my parents were murdered. Nothing that can capture the magnitude and the grief.”

(Zind) There was tragedy, too, in West Brattleboro. Last December, thirty seven year old Robert Woodward was shot and killed by police when he wielded a knife in during a church service. In the spring, an investigation by Attorney General William Sorrell concluded that the police shooting was legally justified.

(Sorrell) “Mr. Woodward, standing in this location with the knife to his eye, brought the knife down with the blade pointing forward and proceeded, in the account of the officers, to rush or run in this direction. Officer Parker fired one shot.”

(Zind) Woodward’s friends and others faulted the attorney general’s report. His family filed a civil suit against the town.

The attorney general was involved in another high profile investigation. As revelations of sexual abuse by priests and a cover-up by church officials spread from Boston to other cities, Sorrell asked the Catholic Church in Vermont to turn over its records. At first the church resisted. Finally Bishop Kenneth Angell relented.

(Angell) “This coming week, I will submit to the Vermont attorney general information concerning credible allegations of sexual abuse of minors by priests, regardless of the date of the allegations.”

(Zind) Vermont caught the country’s attention in two court rulings this year. The Federal District Judge for Vermont ruled the death penalty unconstitutional, providing capitol punishment opponents with a new legal argument in their efforts. A circuit court of appeals upheld Vermont’s campaign finance laws, which are among the toughest in the country.

Vermonters also responded to the events of the outside world, commemorating the anniversary of the September 11 attacks. (Sound of bagpipes.) And marching for peace.

(Peace activist) “We’ve tried to have some educational programs and get our message out of nonviolence for a long time.”
Writer Karen Hesse and poet Ruth Stone received national recognition. Vermont Symphony Orchestra Chorus Director Robert DeCormier received the Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts.

(DeCormier) “Music is an important part of our lives. I know I couldn’t live without it, and I don’t think people can exist without music.”

(Zind) Finally, as the year drew to an end, Vermonters celebrated the work of poet Hayden Carruth. In Montpelier, Ellen Bryant Voigt finished an evening of readings with Carruth’s reflections on time’s passing, shared with the occupants of his henhouse.

(Voigt, reading Carruth) “Good night ladies in your hurtling house. The time of the mouse has come. The rain strums on your roof. Keep close and keep warm. Bless me if you are able. Commend me to the storm. Good night. Good night.” (Applause)

(Zind) For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind.

(Host) The production engineer for VPR’s Year-in-Review was Chris Albertine. The production associate was Patti Daniels.

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