Interesting points in different January issues of Seven Days: Gov. Peter Shumlin devotes his entire State of the State address to the opiate "crisis," and the problem gets worse ["Death by Drugs," January 25]. In ["Afford-Ability," January 11], a pie chart shows the shrinking middle class that U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders has been fighting to save for upwards of 30 years. All we need now is an article and a pie chart showing the shrinking number of family farms that U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy has been fighting to save for upwards of 40 years. I'm seeing a pattern here and can only hope liberal politicians stop trying to save us.
Exhibit Encourages Empathy
I applaud the "I Am Vermont Too" exhibition [Live Culture: "'I Am Vermont Too' Exhibition Opens at the Statehouse," February 9]. We have a duty to celebrate inclusion in our great mosaic society. The exhibit offers a unique look at some of the more marginalized members of our community. It creates an atmosphere of tolerance and openness that welcomes minorities — a vital undertaking, considering Vermont has too frequently overlooked diversity. We need to ensure that we overcome some of the more regrettable instances of injustices in our state, such as the recent University of Vermont study that found disparities in how police treat minority drivers.
In light of current struggles with race, this exhibit proves to be an essential way to confront our biases and our closed-mindedness through one of the most powerful forums: art. The visual experience engages the viewer to examine another person's experiences and struggles.
Something for Everyone?
[Re "Peculiar Bills Address Shallow Graves, Nudity and the Tampon Tax," January 25]: Why did Representatives Clem Bissonnette (D-Winooski) and Cindy Weed (P-Enosburg Falls) introduce legislation that had no chance of passing and would not benefit most of their constituents? It seems they wasted valuable time and resources pandering to the whimsies of two individuals. The worst part is that they did not support their own legislation.
If legislators are not willing to face a constituent and say, "No, I am not going to support this; I respectfully disagree with you," how can we expect them to make a stand when hundreds or thousands of constituents want legislation that may be shortsighted or hurtful? If a legislator struggles with unpopular and difficult decisions locally, how can we expect moral courage on the grand stage of Capitol Hill?
Congressmen have to be worried about being reelected so they can gain seniority and then make an impact. What if there were term limits? Who would have seniority in the Senate and House then? What would be the benefit of voting your party lines if you were only going to be around for a term or two? What benefit would a legislator gain by pledging blind allegiance to a political party instead of voting across political lines? The only party politicians should be voting for is the American public, no matter how difficult, unpopular or short-lived this causes their time in office to be.
Bike Bill Explained
[Re "Peculiar Bills Address Shallow Graves, Nudity and the Tampon Tax," January 25]: I submitted a bill that proposes to require bicycles to be registered in Vermont because several of my constituents asked me to do it. To clarify: I submitted a "by-request" piece of legislation, which means that I am not actually in favor of the bill. As a state representative, I am the link between my constituents and state government, and as their representative, my job is to make sure that all of my constituents are heard and their input is acted upon. All proposed bills — by request and not — are directed to a committee to undergo a process whereby they receive testimony both pro and con. The bills that are chosen to be acted upon must pass out of committees in both the House and Senate and then be signed by the governor to become law. The bills not taken up simply "die on the wall" at the end of the session. This process starts over each biennium.
Thank you for providing an opportunity for me to educate your newspaper and Vermonters about the legislative process.
Weed is a Progressive representative from Enosburg Falls.
Money for Wages, Not Marketing
I thank John Walters for his Fair Game column ["Chasing Trump," February 1]. While the subhead — "Polite Critics No Match for the Donald" — is undeniable, there was a subsection titled "Unprovable Case" that is also undeniable. This was about $750,000 going from the governor's office to the Agency of Commerce and Community Development to help "market Vermont as a tourist destination."
Commerce Secretary Michael Schirling expressed that "he would happily accept the money" and that it would address a "need for enhanced marketing efforts." This is all wonderful, but I wish that this and other monies would be spent where they would accomplish more good.
In case luminaries such as Schirling do not know this, these enhanced efforts are already occurring daily on the front lines of Vermont's tourism industry, via the hotel clerks, ski lift operators, bartenders, chefs and servers, retail workers, state park attendants, and all the others who interact with the multitudes of visitors that come to Vermont. Many do all this for little more than starvation wages. Their jobs are often called "temporary," "unskilled." Turnover is very high.
This $750,000 gift would accomplish much more if it found ways to enhance the wages of these enhanced marketers and recognize their integral and skilled part in making Vermont the unique destination it is for people the world over. Until this happens, it will only enrich those in the bubble who call for these studies.
High Time to Legalize
[Re Off Message: "Scott Administration Opposes Vermont Marijuana Legalization Bill," February 9]: Gov. Phil Scott's remarks on marijuana are a prime example of baseless fearmongering, which aims to subvert the facts. Specifically, the use of children as a way to instill alarm is a misconstruction of the realities surrounding legalization. To clarify, a study completed by Colorado's Department of Public Health & Environment has found that marijuana consumption by Colorado high school students has dipped slightly since the state first permitted recreational cannabis. This is because legalization helps to keep marijuana out of children's hands through state regulation. As a result, there will no longer be a dealer who is willing to reach out to any age group. If Scott truly examined how best to protect and benefit our children, he would realize that legalization would not only protect our children, but also help to fund and expand our state's public education system. Yet, indicated in recent budget plans, Scott seems less than keen on supporting it.
Secondly, Scott contradicts himself by saying he wants to focus on economic issues — a central promise in his campaign. Legalization is without a doubt an economic issue. For example, Colorado's weed industry is approaching a billion dollars annually this year. I believe Vermont should follow suit and pursue legalization to help spur growth and jobs.
It's high time to remove the unnecessary stigma from marijuana. I urge my fellow Vermonters to call the governor's office to support commonsense legalization.
One for the 'I-Do' List
Ah, it's that time of year when articles appear with information and lists for couples moving from "Will you marry me?" to "I do" ["How to Get Hitched," February 8].
The two things that make a marriage legal — license and officiant — are usually relegated to bullet points. (Dare I mention that these are also often small percentages of a wedding's budget?) The license is usually a simple logistical matter. But finding and working with an officiant can be more complicated, especially if a couple wants to use a minister even if they otherwise have no ties to a faith community. (Reasons I've heard include: "It's so pretty/historical"; "We have to keep Grandma happy.") For them, a little advanced guidance can help.
First, don't wait until the four- to six-week mark to start looking for a minister or religious space (if that's what "finalize details" means in the list). No, make contact ASAP; most ministers have full calendars weeks and months out.
Then, ask about faith-tradition and congregational practices. Some let you rent space and bring in your own officiant; others expect the resident minister to officiate and/or have oversight. Are there policies about decorations and music? Cutting out "God talk" may not be an option. There may be expectations for premarital counseling sessions in addition to planning the service.
I have been privileged to be part of some lovely weddings. I also have my share of horror stories. A little more attention to working with churches and ministers in otherwise commercially oriented articles might spare misunderstandings and conflicts.
Larson is a retired Lutheran pastor.
While perusing the ad insert from Hunger Mountain Coop contained in the January 18 issue, another insert fell onto the floor. I picked it up. I looked at it. I looked again, because surely my eyes had deceived me the first two times. A third time, and my stomach lurched; I felt physically ill. It was a glossy, deceptive insert from Right to Life. The fact that you chose to accept advertising money from an organization whose sole purpose is to attempt to intimidate and deceive is shocking.
I imagine you'll respond with the standard line about how you don't editorialize regarding advertisers, etc. If so, let this Nasty Woman interrupt. That excuse is irrelevant, outdated and dangerous.
I expect much more insight and sensitivity when I read Seven Days.
Higher Wage to Fix 'Affordability'
Thanks for the "Afford-Ability" article [January 11]. It brought to light that the problem with affordability in Vermont is a problem with low wages and high living costs. Gov. Phil Scott limits his focus to "onerous" taxes and low population growth, but Auditor Doug Hoffer, the Public Assets Institute, Rights & Democracy, and Sen. Tim Ashe show that starving the government is not the solution for struggling low- and moderate-income people.
It reminds me of when we organized a union at the Burlington Free Press in 1990 and showed that workers were being underpaid, especially compared to what the company was making, and company managers responded: "What does what we make have to do with what we pay you?" Until Vermonters fully share in the wealth they create and are paid fair wages, we'll always have an affordability problem. We can start with raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, as U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders has proposed. We can consider Portland, Ore.'s approach to limit the difference between the highest and lowest paid workers in a company. And we can take to heart what Franklin D. Roosevelt said in support of the minimum wage: "No business which depends for existence on paying less than living wages to its workers has any right to continue in this country ... By living wages, I mean more than the bare subsistence level — I mean the wages of a decent living." Let's start by raising the minimum wage.
Confessions of a Former User
Thank you for your coverage of opioid addiction and its victims ["Death by Drugs," January 25]. I moved here four years ago as a way to escape the vice grip of heroin in Connecticut, and I have been clean ever since. I love this area, and I love that its people care enough to want to attack this issue.
I spent a great deal of my twenties lying to everyone, and I can say that the old adage "Honesty is the best policy" simply couldn't be truer. It's hard, because to be honest as an addict often means giving up those last shreds of pride and dignity you are holding tightly. But don't allow your shame to hinder your recovery. Use your support systems and be honest with them and with yourself. I promise that you will feel a weight lift. At the end of the day, your loved ones and those working in professional capacities just want to see you get better.
Think about the things you want to do in life, and do them. Don't allow yourself to wallow in recovery. Activity and success are great deterrents of relapse, as is honesty.
To those who know people who are struggling, the previous advice holds for you. Honesty — embrace it. Turning a blind eye because it's uncomfortable solves nothing. Keep at it, be direct and let the person who is struggling know you are there for them.
I hope everyone struggling right now finds their peace.