by Rob Roper
Governor Peter Shumlin is about to embark on a four day, twenty-two town tour of Vermont for the anniversary of Hurricane Irene. It’s part of what he’s calling a “Commemorative Celebration” – a pretty odd choice of words for a natural disaster that caused so much pain and loss for so many Vermonters. Quite frankly, the whole thing is insulting on so many levels.
First of all, the triumph following Hurricane Irene – the magnificent way neighbors rallied to help their neighbors – belongs to the people of Vermont, not Peter Shumlin or any politician. It was ordinary citizens who slopped out the basements of folks they didn’t even know, delivered food and medicine by ATV, worked day and night to get the roads passable again. In fact, when I showed up in Waterbury along with hundreds of other people armed with little more than shovels, rubber gloves, and a desire to help, the only time the organizing and activity stopped was when Shumlin showed up and forced everybody drop what they were doing and listen to him make a speech.
One of the beautiful things about Vermonters’ initial response to Irene was how politics played no part in it. It was as if partisanship vaporized in the light of what was truly important. Even Shumlin himself recognized this when he appointed Neale Lunderville, Governor Dougals’ Secretary of Administration, to head the recovery effort. But today, with this craven attempt to politicize the first anniversary of Irene (and his clear belief that he can now get away with it) Shumlin is sending a cynical signal that he thinks the true non-partisan, apolitical spirit of “Vermont Strong” is actually dead.
The other defining characteristics of the Irene recovery are selflessness and charity. Ordinary people opened their wallets (in some cases their homes), they donated their time and talents in an awesome display of generosity. That Peter Shumlin is now exploiting Irene for purely selfish political purposes, and the fact that he is doing it on the taxpayers’ dime by dishonestly claiming this whole charade is not really a campaign event, is perhaps the most inappropriate way imaginable to “commemorate” the anniversary of the disaster. It would be laughable if it weren’t so outrageous.
Peter Shumlin will be handing out license plates during his tour that say, “I’m Vermont Strong.” (He apparently has some pretty clear ideas about who the “I” in that statement is.) But, if you get the chance, remind him that he’s got it wrong. Those license plates really should say, “WE’re Vermont Strong.”