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Delaney: New Session

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http://www.vpr.net/audio/programs/56/2013/01/Delaney-0108-New Session.mp3

(Host) Commentator and former state senator Dennis Delaney considers the opening of a new legislative session to be the closest thing we have to a festival of democracy.

(Delaney) In just a few hours 180 Vermonters, culled by election a scant two months ago, will come spilling out of our hills, towns and villages, to converge on the state house in Montpelier. They will swear their oaths and take their seats. Make no mistake, the first days of a new legislative session are a genuine festival of democracy, brightening and warming the cold, dark days of winter.

As a state senator I participated in this auspicious moment many times, and if you ask me to describe the atmosphere of the first days of a session I would have to say, anticipation. For now, the harmony of those whom the people have chosen is as sure a presence as democracy can conjure up.

Sometimes a biennium - the Latin word for a two year legislative cycle - is gilded by the pomp and circumstance of a new governor taking office. The other day I ran into a lobbyist who plied his trade in the state house when I was a senator. We readily agreed that the inauguration of Madeleine Kunin, Vermont's first woman governor, was our best and most powerful memory. January skies are often cloudy like a pearl, but on Governor Kunin's first day a brilliant sun coaxed a million sparkles from a fresh snowfall as the governor-elect arrived at the state house in a horse drawn sleigh. I had brought my teenage daughter to the state house early that morning so she would have a good seat from which to see Governor-elect Kunin take the oath of office.

My memory of those days tells me as well that partisanship was less corrosive then. The state's business was conducted for the most part in a spirit of cooperation. It's a lesson our national legislators today could - and should - admire and emulate.

But the second year of a biennium is often a study in contrasts with the first - and not always a happy one, as legislators realize that many of the high hopes of a year ago have not been realized. Many bills have never been called to debate, much less to a roll call. And to top it off, it's another election year.It's time for legislative report cards, and citizens will be handing out those cards at the polls. Reality is trumping optimism.

If I could offer legislators just one piece of advice, it would be not to forget the majority of Vermonters who may not have a cause or a special need. Joe and Mary Citizen, off in a fishing shanty on the lake have plenty to worry about - like how to get a job or hold on to one - and not just where the fish are biting.