by Robert Maynard
The Ethan Allen Institute, Vermont’s free market think tank, celebrated 20 years of history in Vermont this Wednesday, June 19th, with a dinner honoring — and roasting — founder John McClaughry. Speakers included John M. Mitchell, EAI’s founding Chairman of the Board, Governor Thomas Salmon, Governor Jim Douglas, John McClaughry (gotta give the guy an opportunity to defend himself), and Rusty Dewees, “The Logger.” This marked Dewees’ first appearance before a policy oriented audience since announcing on WCAX that he is considering a run for congress in 2014.
The roasting was a bit light and McClaughry gave as good as he got. Mitchell reminisced about the history of the Ethan Allen Instittue since its founding, while former Governor Salmon speculated as to why he was invited to speak, as McClaughry had emerged as his strongest critic when he got elected Governor in 1972. After a mild bit of good natured fun poking, he proclaimed that he had become a fiscal conservative while he was in office in spite of himself. He also declared that he agrees with McClaughry’s critique of the current health care reform proposal, which he described as “fiscally irresponsible, dangerously misunderstood and out-of-line with free-market principles.”
Former Governor Douglas noted that McClaughry was a critic of his as well. He looked back on his failure to unseat Senator Leahy and McClaughry’s failure to unseat former Governor Dean as an experience the two had in common. He joked about how they both were looking forward to positions in the incumbents Republican President’s cabinet, but that did not turn out as planned. (George H.W. Bush was defeated in his re-election bid in 1992)
When McClaughry took the stage, he referred to Governor Salmon as the most fiscally conservative Vermont Governor of his 50 years in public life. He then proceeded to roast both Douglas and Salmon by introducing two binders that he had put together over the years. The first was entitled “The mistakes of Tom Salmon” and the second was entitled “The mistakes of Jim Douglas.” He then took the opportunity to go after current Governor Peter Shumlin by noting that he was currently working on putting together a binder called “Some mistakes of Peter Shumlin.” Though Shumlin has only been in office for three years, this binder is already three to four times the combined size of the two that he brought with him. “The section on buying land in East Montpelier is already four inches thick”, noted McClaughry.
On a serious note, McClaughry offered an optimistic appraisal of the Ethan Allen Institute’s potential going forward. He noted that the Institute has put itself in a position of offer alternatives to the failed big government agenda that is currently being pursued, once that agenda fails. He assured the audience of supporters that the current big government schemes will fail and the Institute will be there to pick up the pieces when they do.
When Dewees took the stage, his first order of business was to move the podium out of the way. His favorite target for roasting was flatlanders, but members of the audience were targeted as well. Former Governor Douglas was a specific target for leaving early. Dewees kept up a lively conversation with women in the front row and chided the media for their interest in his intention to run for office.