By Guy Page
Why so little reaction from high-profile current or former Vermont State senators about the vandalism perpetrated at the State House Saturday morning?
It’s a campaign season, for pete’s sake. Normally you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting some candidate loudly expressing their devotion to the State of Vermont and its favorite public meeting house and museum, the Vermont State House on State Street in Montpelier.
Saturday morning, someone(s) scrawled graffiti critical of the Supreme Court overturning Roe V. Wade. Knowingly or not they defaced a section of 1859 granite that is both historically valuable as part of the 1859 construction of the “third” State House, and a bear to clean. Old granite is extremely porous. Hard to remove spray paint from a pitted surface. Unless Building and Grounds can work a miracle, people walking through the august front doors will first have to see scrawled graffiti or walk over a mat or (perhaps worst of all) a replacement piece of granite.
But that’s not the worst of the physical damage. Seven of the 10 windows on the front of the first floor were smashed. Most of the broken windows have been replaced.
On reflection, the worst of the shattering isn’t to the building, but to Vermonters’ faith in the Senate itself – the people, past and present, who sit in the 30 chairs in the Legislature’s upper chamber.
Vermont Daily Chronicle has been reading headlines and social media since Saturday, searching like Diogenes and his lamp for current or past state senators to strongly condemn this vandalism.
No-one. Zilch. Crickets. Pretty much tri-partisan silence.
Sometimes silence speaks louder than graffiti.
It’s not like former state senator Phil Scott is averse to commenting on inappropriate activity outside the State House. Two years ago, when an unknown person reportedly made a racist comment at a pro-police rally on the State House lawn, now-Gov. Scott was all over that, in sorrowful tones condemning it at a press conference.
How about former state senator (1991-92) and current U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, not typically slow on the verbal trigger to express his “outrage?” Alas, no Burn from the Bern. Ditto zilch from former Senate Pro Tem and now U.S. Rep. Peter Welch, now running for the U.S. Senate.
Condemning the SCOTUS decision in an op-ed in yesterday’s Vermont Daily Chronicle, Sen. Joe Benning (R-Caledonia) invoked the image of the upraised hand on the statue of Ethan Allen. And yet he said nothing in the op-ed about the graffiti scrawled just a yard away from the iconic statue on the State House portico. Thankfully the black spray paint missed the 1941 replica of Larkin Mead’s original 1861 statue of the Vermont founding father.
Update: to be fair to Benning, he DID make this post yesterday on his Facebook page: “I am very disheartened to hear that our statehouse has been vandalized, likely by someone upset with the US Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs that overturned Roe v. Wade. Violence by anyone (and I include in that definition destruction of property) is simply unacceptable. While I especially abhor targeting “The People’s House,” violence anywhere cannot be tolerated.”
The Chronicle missed this post in our social media scan. Although we still wonder why there was no mention of the incident in the op-ed. But in Sen. Benning’s case, anyway, we stand corrected.
Senate Pro Tem Becca Balint at least could be expected to speak out against the desecration of Senate committee rooms. She’s the sitting President of the Senate – so you’d think, right? But you’d be wrong. The progressive candidate for the Democratic nomination for the U.S. House was asked to comment by email. We’re still waiting.
Vermont Daily Chronicle did run into Sen. Andy Perchlik at the post office. When asked, he uttered a mild rebuke, saying the vandals apparently don’t understand that the Vermont Legislature has done more for ‘reproductive liberty’ than any other state assembly.
We welcome any comment an elected official cares to offer, however belated, of if we just haven’t seen it yet.
By contrast to others, Lt. Gov. and Democratic candidate for Congress Molly Gray issued this statement the same day the vandalism occurred:
“As Vermont Capitol Police reported this morning, the Vermont State House was vandalized last night. The unknown vandals broke seven windows across the front of the building, including my office window. They also spray-painted the front portico, stating, ‘if abortions aren’t safe, you’re not either.’ I am alarmed by these attacks on our State House – my workplace – and condemn them in the strongest possible terms. Vermonters are feeling deep anger and frustration in the wake of yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling. I share this frustration. However, threats of violence and destruction of property are absolutely unacceptable and never the solution.”
Gray is a strong supporter of abortion rights. But for some reason, she has risked the wrath of the Woke Wing of the Democratic and not remained silent. Perhaps, despite her youth, she knows that someone has to be the grown-up in the room. Or maybe, it’s because (as she noted) it was her window that got broken. No vandals walked around the building and broke Becca Balint’s first-floor office window. Nor did they toss a rock up to the second-story windows of Gov. Scott’s ceremonial or working office.
Or maybe some former senators are too busy thinking about elections to pause and publicly defend the State House environs, which like stepping stones everywhere are forgotten once their usefulness is over.