McClaughry: Johnstown Flood of bills will sweep through Vermont State House

Scene from 1889 Johnstown Flood

by John McClaughry

Searching for an arresting metaphor for the approaching legislative session, I found a compelling example, as described by contemporaneous reports.

In the afternoon of May 31, 1889, 14 miles above Johnstown, Pennsylvania, the South Fork Dam gave way. In less than forty-five minutes, twenty million tons of water poured into the valley below. Roaring down the narrow path of the Little Conemaugh River, a seventy-foot wall of water, filled with huge chunks of dam, boulders and whole trees, smashed into the small towns of Mineral Point and Woodvale and swept away all traces of their existence.

 Scouring its way towards Johnstown, the flood picked up several hundred boxcars, a dozen locomotives, more than a hundred houses and a growing number of corpses.

The residents of Johnstown heard the speeding wall of death, a roar like thunder. Next they saw the dark cloud and mist and spray that preceded it, and were assaulted by a wind that blew down small buildings. Next came the great wall of water that smashed into the city, crushing houses like eggshells and snapping trees like toothpicks. It was all over in ten minutes. But there was more yet to come.

After dark, the thirty acres of debris, at places forty feet high, that had piled up behind the Pennsylvania Railroad’s Stone Bridge caught fire and burned through the night, blanketing the ravaged town in a dark cloud of acrid smoke. The flood had killed 2,209 people and leveled four acres of downtown Johnstown.

What has this to do with the 2023 Vermont legislature? Consider.

As a result of the 2022 election, Republican Governor Phil Scott won reelection with seventy percent of the vote. But his popularity did not provide much help to other Republicans. They elected seven Senators, as before, but their House delegation dropped from 43 to 38. The Democratic House leadership will make absolutely sure that there won’t be any unexcused defections on key votes by its 104 members.

The Democrat-led House and Senate now have, and will enthusiastically use, the power to drive through any measure its leaders, spurred on by their clamoring interest groups, decide upon. The Governor may get a respectful hearing on practical questions of implementation, but he will have no power to stop this coming Johnstown Flood.

In 2020 the legislature passed, over Scott’s veto, the Global Warming Solutions Act. This sweeping measure mandated millions of metric tons reduction of CO2 emissions from heating, transportation and other fuel uses; created a legislatively-controlled  23-member “government within the government” to direct agency regulators to advance the program; and authorized “any person” to sue the State to act more urgently to achieve the mandated reductions.

A year ago the Climate Council released its Initial Climate Action Plan containing a long list of legislative and regulatory proposals. Its leading proposal was the Clean Heat Standard. This is a clever “stealth tax” to force customers of fuel oil distributors to pay for CO2-reducing ideas favored by the unaccountable Public Utility Commission. Scott vetoed it, and the House sustained the veto by a single vote.

The Democratic leadership was stunned, and furious, at losing this “crown jewel” of its endless war against the Menace of Climate Change. Next spring they’ll send an updated version of the Clean Heat Standard back to the Governor, who can sign it, let it pass without his signature, or veto it and watch as his veto is quickly overridden.

That’s just the most prominent example of what to expect. The Senate president pro tem-elect, Sen. Phil Baruth, has already announced the coming death of the Sportsmen’s Bill of Rights. This law prohibits cities and towns from passing restrictive firearms laws, leaving any regulation to action by the legislature.  It was passed by the House 128-5 in 1988 and signed by Gov. Madeleine Kunin. Lt. Gov. Howard Dean later boasted that “I got it passed.” No matter. It will be gone.

Single payer health care, abandoned as unaffordable by Gov. Shumlin in 2014, will be back. The Vermont-NEA teachers’ union will demand that the legislative majority, which it owns on any educational issue, target parental choice in education for extinction. Even Sen. Chris Bray’s constitutional amendment to abolish private property in favor of “common property of all the people” is likely to reappear.

With the disappearance of the Federal billions that the state will soon have spent, millions of new tax dollars will have to be raised to cover the cost of this endless cavalcade of liberal spending. New regulations will issue to implement the Green Police State. (Full details to follow in January.)

Remember the Johnstown Flood metaphor. You’re about to see its like flooding out from beneath the Golden Dome.

John McClaughry is vice president of the Ethan Allen Institute (

Categories: Commentary

11 replies »

  1. I believe the time has come for Vermonters that own their own property to separate from the state. After all, if a man can “identify” as a woman, a property owner can identify as a sovereign state or part thereof. The anti-life hedonists don’t get to call the shots.

  2. Apparently driven by hubris and lobbyist dollars, this flood will- just as Irene did in 2011- alter Vermont permanently. The moderate senators, such as Mazza and Brock may get swept away in the socialist fervor. Moderate Representatives? soon to be a thing of the past. The only thing assuredly to come of this biennium is increased cost of living and taxation and a much lower quality of life in the formerly Green Mountains.

  3. Perhaps a better comparison would be Jonestown. Those who drink of the kool-ade concocted under the Golden Dome shall meet at the sweet by and by or somewhere South of there.

  4. Re: Sen. Chris Bray’s constitutional amendment to abolish private property in favor of “common property of all the people” is likely to reappear.

    John, are you referring to Sen. Bray’s Proposal 9? For those unfamiliar with this tyranny, Bray’s proposal is to regulate water use in Vermont, as detailed in his sponsorship of S.237 and its several precursors from earlier legislative sessions.

    If so, your admonition is not an exaggeration. Mr. Bray’s proposals will effectively regulate the ownership rights of any private property on which a constant flow of 3 ½ gallons per minute of water is used during a 24-hour period. That amount of water is roughly what one lawn sprinkler on a typical 5/8” garden hose uses when running constantly. According to the text of Wray’s proposal, any ‘water supply’ use exceeding the 24-hour use of that one lawn sprinkler, including but not limited to toilet flushing, bathing, dish washing, clothes washing, drinking (pets and humans), household cleaning, car washing, or any of the other myriad uses of water, would be regulated and require extensive permitting and metering data.

    Of course, there are a couple of ‘exceptions’. Fire suppression and snowmaking. And I wonder how much the ski industry lobbyists contributed to Mr. Bray’s election campaign.

    Wray’s S.237 is the epitome of an overly complicated piece of legislation. It will not only be rife with legal interpretation and restrict our property rights but create the largest bureaucracy in the history of our state government. And the point John is making is that there isn’t a damn thing the conservative third of Vermont’s population can do about it.

    One recourse, and this is important, is that the perpetrators of this tyranny must abide by it too. But already we’re seeing that while all of the people in Vermont’s ‘animal farm’ are equal, some, starting with the ski industry, are more equal than others.

    You know, Orwell never projected what happened after tyranny consumed his animal farm. Did the community thrive? Did it go bankrupt? I’m afraid we’re about to find out.

    “Man is the only creature that consumes without producing. He does not give milk, he does not lay eggs, he is too weak to pull the plough, he cannot run fast enough to catch rabbits. Yet he is lord of all the animals. He sets them to work, he gives back to them the bare minimum that will prevent them from starving, and the rest he keeps for himself.”

    • “The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.”

  5. One only needs to observe the flood of emigration out of Venezuela and the tents lining the sidewalks of Los Angeles and San Francisco to get a glimpse of what is in store for Vermont with the socialists in charge. Actually, if you want a nearby preview, drive up Shelburne Road in the south end of Burlington to see roadside tent cities popping up. We voted for this.

  6. As long as Vermont allows the purchase of legislators by lobbyists with out of state pots of gold, the people will have no representation. Is it any wonder why nothing gets done to ease the lives of those paying the bills? If each and every one of us could buy our own legislator or two or three, maybe the people would be recognized by them. As it stands, with election laws, mail in ballots, election month instead of day, Dominion counting machines, social justice non-profit orgs. and the worst governor Vermont has ever had, that we the people are not represented. What did this republican governor do to help his party? Why should any thinking person stay here. The scenery is wonderful but the quality of life and the stress on regular people is too much to bear. My exit plan starts now!

  7. Born in 1944, I have lived thru some of the best of the unitted States of America.
    In the high part of the my 70’s. I am seeing My America melting down,flowing into the sea, stripped of it’s energy and business success

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