A Love for Liberty in Vermont: The Liberty Convention of Ludlow

By Kevin Joseph Ryan

The past two weeks have been busy ones for Republicans of all stripes here in Vermont. In anticipation of the Fall Elections, the Tampa National Convention and the August 28 statewide primary, Republicans have been busy as farmers planting the spring seeds, hoping to harvest candidates and victories later this year. On Saturday May 12, TNR visited at the combined Convention of Vermonters for Liberty and Vermont Campaign for Liberty in Ludlow.

The enthusiastic group of sixty that arrived at Ludlow’s Black River Academy Museum had made no mistake in choosing the location for their fifth annual rally and get together. The 1888 historic structure had played host to it’s most distinguished graduate, Vermont Republican President of the United States, Calvin Coolidge. A sign graced the ground near the entryway, quoting Coolidge. “Perhaps one of the most important accomplishments of my Administration has been minding my own business.”

The business of the assembled liberty aficionados seemed to be simply to inspire Vermont lawmakers to follow in Coolidge’s footsteps, and make sure State government stays out of the business of the individual. The day began with Steven Howard, the Chairman of Vermonters for Liberty, laying out the day’s business. When it comes to government, said Howard, “I’m the boss, you’re the employee.”

Howard then introduced a series of speakers, which even included State Representative Tom Burditt (R- Rutland) and outgoing Representative Adam Howard (R- Cambridge), of whom the event’s host was no relation. Burditt set the tone for those to follow.

For Tom Burditt, “Its got to do with the rights of the American people,” he said, speaking of his service in Montpelier. “It was an honor to stand up for Vermonters and Americans.” Burditt spoke at length of the trying times he suffered under the Golden Dome, specifically on the issue of a bill which was requested by the Department of Public Safety which would allow them warrantless searches of the drug prescription database.

“Public safety came in, they wanted access to the prescription drug monitoring program. They’d never asked for a warrant to get in…in our bill, we put in you can get in, with a warrant…. That’s the law of the land…. That’s the law of our forefathers,” Burditt told the group. He went on to tell the tale of his committee being pressured by Governor Peter Shumlin to allow the searches without a warrant. “I had to bite my lower lip to stop from laughing at him. He was trying to shame us, he was degrading us, he was running us down, he was threatening us.” Burditt said the issue was too important for him to budge.

When interviewed by TNR later in the day, Burditt shared his feelings on other issues and expounded on his commitment to a more-free Vermont in the next legislative session. “Next year, hopefully, the bill that got shot down, to do with the prescription drug monitoring, hopefully we can get that through…. There were a lot of good things in the bill. There’s a process to go through when you want information, the process is good enough evidence, to get a warrant.” On the Democrat proposed “Cloud Services Tax”, Burditt’s concept was simple. “A new tax? No.”

Most speakers and attendees of the Liberty Convention seemed to share Burditt’s sentiments. For Representative Adam Howard, who has chosen to step down this year to concentrate on his publishing business, smaller government is also a priority, but he sees the need to build a bigger base in Vermont’s legislature for Republicans. “I’m used to getting beat,” he said. “We don’t get a lot of victories in Montpelier.” He did speak well of the current roster of the GOP, however. “I’ve never been pressured to vote a certain way. I’ve always voted my conscience…. I’ve voted against my party on plenty, I’ve never been pushed around. …I can guarantee you it’s not like that that’s not the way it is on the other side. It’s intimidation…. It’s manipulation…. It’s getting called into the Governor’s office.” Adam Howard did not indicate that being in the minority was deterring him from returning, however. “I never thought of what I did as being courageous, I just thought of it as doing what I believed in.”

A full roster of libertarian oriented groups were in attendance at the nearly daylong conference, ranging from Gun Owners of Vermont to Candidates for Liberty. Henry Lampman, in Ludlow representing the John Birch Society in Vermont, beamed about the gathering, “We are so happy to finally get fruit on the trees we once planted.”

A single dark cloud loomed on the horizon for the liberty-minded caucus assembled on the banks of the Black River. Many there planned to attended the Vermont Republican Delegate Convention the following weekend in Montpelier and most planned to support Congressman Ron Paul if elected. One delegate attendee told TNR, “I almost have to support him…. My name IS actually Ron Paul!”

The concern amongst the group seemed to be that the Vermont Republican Party would exhibit tactics used by other State Committees to ensure delegates were selected who would exclusively support former Governor Mitt Romney. Vermont for Liberty Chair Stephen Howard said, “There were Two assumptions I proposed that we needed to work from: 1. The media will not help us. 2. The Republican party was not going to help us.” In a future installment, soon to be released by True North Reports, we shall see how they fared. Let us only say for now, “The course of true love never did run smooth.”