Keelan: five decades in D.C. too long?

by Don Keelan

Recently, a newspaper reported on California’s population, now pegged at about 39 million and declining. I could not help but compare that huge number to Vermont’s population of about 645,000. The publicity directed at Vermont’s U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy’s retirement made me think of the lopsided representation in the U.S. Senate. 

Senator Alex Padilla (D.Ca) has been a member of the U.S. Senate for two years, representing 39 million constituents from his home state of California. Senator Padilla has very little, if any, influence over what takes place in the U.S. Senate, even though he represents better than 10% of the U.S. population. 

Conversely, Senator Leahy, representing a fraction of the U.S. population, had outsize influence over the Senate as one of the longest-serving members (48 years). He was only out serviced by the late Senators Robert Byrd of West Virginia and Daniel Inouye of Hawaii, 51 years and 49 years. Per capita representation in the U.S. Senate is a topic for another day; however, it is longevity today.  

Before I am accused of heresy by commenting negatively on a Vermont icon, allow me to note that I have a great deal of respect for Senator Leahy.

The Senator’s support and active participation in the 2007 U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree event was just one example of my interfacing with the Senator. I cherish his support of moving a 60-foot Balsam tree from the Green Mountain National Forest to the U.S. Capitol. 

The Senator would be the first to admit that not everyone agrees with what he says and does. Serving for 48 years in the U.S. Senate is not something I condone; it is too long and can be corrupting if not counter-productive.

Many will consider me a fool for even questioning the longevity benefit of our Washington Senators (Senator Sanders is now in his 16th year in addition to 16 more years in the House of Representatives.) By having our two Senators in such powerful positions, tens of millions of dollars, if not hundreds of millions, have made their way to the Vermont treasury. We in Vermont far outstrip on a per capita basis what is shelled out to other states; this is the true reward and benefit of longevity.

The flow of funds into the State from Washington is why there will never be anything negative spoken by the Vermont Legislature or Administration, Democrat  or Republican, towards our two U.S. Senators. When those entities are made aware that $50 million could be coming to Vermont, only a buffoon would cast any negative aspersions. 

An example of silence was the height of the EB-5 Northeast Kingdom financial scandal. Never a word was raised about what role was played by Senators Leahy or Sanders in their relationship with the convicted culprits, Ariel Quiros and Bill Stanger. 

Nor was any inquiry ever opened when the Burlington College financial collapse became public and the $7 million loan from a Burlington bank, backed by the State, came into question. In both cases, Montpelier was closemouthed for a good reason: you don’t poke a gift horse in the eye.

Getting elected to Washington from Vermont is a free pass to do anything one pleases as long as the funds keep coming in our direction. How else can one explain the lack of questioning when Senator Sanders, working as Vermont’s U.S. Senator, diverted his time on two occasions to run for president and campaign for dozens of other out-of-state candidates? 

Vermont needs to secure hundreds of millions of dollars annually to carry out infrastructure, social, education, and other projects for which it no longer has the financial ability to undertake. 

It is too late to replace our aging U.S. Senators, Welch, and Sanders.  In the next senatorial election, we can elect two thirty-year-olds and continue to send them back every six years. Therefore, in time, Vermont will regain its Senate longevity. We need the money from Washington, not so much personal political philosophy.    

The author is a U.S. Marine (retired), CPA, and columnist living in Arlington, VT.

Categories: Commentary

17 replies »

  1. A commentator recently opined any elected person entering DC does not exit the same. Regardless of their good intentions, the DC swamp ensures and demands conformity or else. The same holds true for a number of State Capitols, City Halls, and Town Halls. The problem is integrity and ethics is a dirty word in the halls and behind the walls of government. When foreign money and entrenched corruption dictates how the United States operates, how Vermont operates, how the local councils and boards operate, it is obvious voting will not fix what is broken. Vermont is a DC pork-fed welfare State for a reason and will stay that way until the system collapses into itself – which is happening now.

  2. Mr. Keelan’s bottom line in his apparent support of lengthy service in Washington by our Vermont representatives – “We need the money from Washington.” How cynical in the true sense – believing that people are motivated purely by self-interest. Where are the statesmen and those who might encourage statesmanship? As our Framers knew, we are in big trouble when the people only look at government power from the standpoint of “What’s in it for me?
    Mr. Keelan is correct that the longer one stays in power the more corrupt one becomes. We should change that by imposing federal term limits via a constitutional convention. And every American should read a book by Eric Metaxas, “If You Can Keep It.” And, read an article by John Zmirak on a related topic about the accumulation of power and the problems attendant that accumulation, at

  3. Leahy’s support & participation in the 2007 Capital Christmas Tree event is something to be “cherished”?? Sure, Keelan.

    And what was the second most cherished event? Was it any chance Leahy’s rabid advocacy for the depraved act of slaughtering unborn babies under the pretense of “protecting women’s health”? Or maybe it was his vote one year for the renovation of Capital restrooms that ought to make us Vermonters proud as hell?

    This column is often akin to reading soft porn, except it’s more like soft corn, i.e.: sheer nonsense and hokum.


  4. Thoughtful, well reasoned, on point…………which means the political caste will never embrace these ideas.
    Semper Fi.

  5. One decade for Pat Warbucks was too long for sure, maybe actually one half decade.

  6. I wasn’t alive back then, but I’m pretty sure the Founding Fathers who created the US Constitution never foresaw the possibility of “career politicians”. They figured someone would serve, do their (limited) time, and go back to real life. They were farmers, publishers, owners of general goods stores, tavern owners. And the list goes on. Whatever it was though, they expected to and did go back

    In fact though, the Founding Fathers did limit the office of President to 8 years, knowing what would happen if this one powerful man somehow declared himself king for life. They erred in not applying the same limits to House and Senate positions. As I said, who could foresee “career politicians”?

    It’s clear now that an error was made there. And we’ve heard about and hoped for term limits for most of my 65 years, but as long as one can get rich just by holding an office, nobody will do a damn thing about it.

    Regardless, the system is what it is and I don’t think it will change in my lifetime. And yes, Leahy has been in office far too long. But what’s the alternative? You know as well as I do that Chittenden County will make sure Leahy’s replacement is a Democrat. Is THAT what we really want?

    • Actually Franklin Roosevelt was elected President 4 times. Only thereafter was the Constitution amended limiting the presidency to two terms.

  7. I stand corrected. Regardless, this only proves my point more that the Founding Fathers never foresaw the rise of the “career politician”

  8. I’m an old hand, who spent a few years in Washington, and the whole government was opened up to me, to see, and review, under 41, and I can say that once these professional ruling class pols get elected, it is almost impossible to dislodge them, as they have tweaked the system, so a challenger has little chance against the power of incumbency.

    At taxpayer expense I may add.

    We are not the House of Lords that hold office for life.

    We are the United States of America!

    Our forefathers did not set up our government to let these power crazed pols have lifelong tenure and there is only one way to stop it.

    TERM LIMITS! Term Limits! Term Limits!

  9. 2 Terms and OUT why should sens and reps have more power than the President?

    • Lifetime tenure for the Supreme Court justices serves as a check on the executive and legislative branches. Once appointed, the justices can freely decide whether law or conduct by the other branches are constitutional. If Supreme Court justices were somehow beholden to the other branches for continued service the power dynamic would shift dramatically and, in my view, not for the good. We should keep lifetime appointments for judges. Congress is another matter. I think we would be better served by periodic fresh blood in Congress.

  10. ” I cherish his support of moving a 60-foot Balsam tree from the Green Mountain National Forest to the U.S. Capitol”.
    Pat Leahy knew how to win over a critic …. this one sold out cheap.

  11. May I add that in your quote that Nary a word was raised against these embedded pols during the EB-5 affair, I beg to differ as I raised many a word against, published in VT Digger, at that time, including questioning the lack of due diligence done, by they, and their staffs, regarding outside players, in that bent affair.

  12. periodic fresh blood………..guess that is why we have elections every two years.

  13. True, on the surface, but no fresh blood is elected. Only one president served more than two terms and when that happened Congress took swift action to change the Constitution. The fact is that incumbents are re-elected with such frequency, it’s close to being a sure thing. The big problem – Congress won’t take action to change the rules. We need a convention to do so. I think a two term presidency has worked out and I think we need a two or three term limit in our legislature also.