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Moats: Red, Blue And Green

05/30/12 7:55AM By David Moats
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(Host) Commentator David Moats is an author and Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial writer at the Rutland Herald whose summer reading list includes a book about political change in Vermont.

(Moats) One of the questions raised by the new book about Phil Hoff is how change happens.

The book is called "Philip Hoff: How Red Turned Blue in the Green Mountain State" by Sam Hand, Tony Marro and Steve Terry. It tells the story of how, in 1962, Hoff became the first Democratic governor elected in Vermont since before the Civil War.

Hoff, who is now 87 years old, served three terms as governor that in many ways were the most pivotal in Vermont's 20th century history.

The authors detail his accomplishments: He guided the state through reapportionment. He supported judicial reform, modernizing our state court system. He oversaw a quadrupling of state aid to education. He backed the banning of billboards, the end of the death penalty and the poll tax. He helped establish the state welfare system instead of leaving care for the indigent to local overseers of the poor. He transformed the three state colleges into a unified and much stronger state college system. He was an ardent supporter of civil rights and created a civil rights commission here in Vermont. All in six years.

Other changes were put into effect by his successors that got rolling under Hoff, including the reorganization of state government and the creation of land-use regulations. This wasn't the doing of one man. Somehow the times were ready for Hoff.

But what do we mean when we say "the times"? Certainly, his election could easily have not happened. He won by the narrowest of margins, at least the first time. But the state and nation had reached a point of generational change. As John F. Kennedy had said, the torch had been passed to a new generation.

The forces arrayed against the status quo were strong, but many things lined up to bring about change: personalities, political calculation, the experience of recent history, chance. Hoff seized the moment with great vigor, but the moment had to be there, and he had to see it. All of which brings us to the present moment and the yearning for change felt by many millions of people. When the Occupy Wall Street movement got under way last fall there was a palpable hope that a new Sixties moment was at hand, that something new would happen and we could take on the problems of corruption, inequality and climate and energy.

Well, it's not the 1960s. It's a different moment with many different contending forces.

How it plays out is anyone's guess, but the forces for change are mounting. Back then, the civil rights movement, combined with the impatience and new thinking of the World War II generation, created a new moment. Phil Hoff was there to take the torch and carry it forward, showing us,
above all, that change is sometimes possible, sometimes even irresistible.

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