This Monday is Storytime

So, back in 1998 a multi-millionaire from Massachusetts realized that buying a congressional seat in Massachusetts was really expensive, but it would be much cheaper if he went someplace more rural, so his money could go much further. Heck, if he went to a small enough state, he could even afford a senate seat. he looked around and decided to claim his summer home in Vermont as a residence and put his name in the hat for the as the Republican candiate for the U.S. Senate.

From his perspective, it was pretty perfect. Vermont was a very Republican state on paper, and the standing Senator was a long-standing democratic incumbent, and democratic incumbents had not been doing great for the past few years. Plus, this senator had given up chairmanship of the agriculture committee [1], which the hicks from Vermont might have seen some use in, in favor of the Judiciary committee. The Senator had done silly things like appear in all the Batman movies[2]. Clearly, they needed a professional, and by happenstance there was no strong local Republican contender for the Senate seat, so the writing was on the wall, so to speak.

Now, it’s not that Vermont lacked in contentious Republicans, but rather that everyone was pretty happy with the sitting Senator, or at least smart enough to know that running against him was basically suicide. But the Carpetbagger failed to grasp this, no doubt confused by the rural ways of these strange mountain people.

So a little bit after he threw his hat in the ring, the Republicans in the state kind of looked at each other. This was embarrassing – all politics aside, no one likes a carpetbagger. But running against him for the nomination was suicide, since whoever took the nomination would definitely get trounced in the popular election. So what to do?

Into the gap stepped Fred Tuttle. Fred was an 89 year old dairy farmer from Tunbridge (which is, yes, the ass end of nowhere) with an accent so thick as to be nearly unintelligible and a tiny sliver of local fame for his starring role in the independent movie “A Man With a Plan”. The campaign that followed was magnificent to behold, with the high point revolving around the televised debate where the carpetbagger demonstrated that he did not know how to pronounce the names of many Vermont towns.[3]

Tuttle crushed the carpetbagger[4] and the campaign that followed continued to be a blast, as he and the incumbent would go to events together to talk to kids and stuff, and Tuttle made it clear he didn’t want to win because he didn’t want to have to move to DC.

Fred Tuttle, rest his soul, passed away in 2003, buried in his overalls with a can of moxie. I only got to meet him in passing, but I give him credit for being the engine behind one of the events in my life that really makes me believe in democracy, right down to my toes.

Anyway, this was on my mind as I watch events unfold in New York’s 23rd[5] district. I know most people think they know New York, but the 23rd is not what they think it is. Upstate New York is wild country, and it shares a border (and a lake) with Vermont, so there is something of the same character to it. Of course, when both areas were founded, the rich lived on the New York side of the lake and the troublemakers lived on Vermont’s side. I’m always curious at how much of a divide that lake really makes for.

A long time ago, one of those troublemakers, a gent named Ethan Allen (who is today most known as some sort of purveyor of furniture) was dealing with folks from out of state coming in and asserting that they were in charge. He told them “The gods of the hills are not the gods of the valleys” and ran them out of town. I can hear Fred Tuttle saying it, and in my heart I hope I can heard the 23rd saying it too.[6]

1 – Where he’d done a lot of hippie things like pushing through WIC. The years when the agriculture committee was not under the control of a Senator from an agribusiness state were really interesting in a really nerdy way.

2 – You know that bit in the Dark Knight where the one old guy at the party stands up to the Joke, and the joker puts his knife in his mouth? That’s him.

3 – He also did not know how many teats there are on a Holstein.

4 – This was helped in part by Vermont having open primaries, but that detail detracts from the greatness of the story.

5 – Short form: NY-23 is a republican district, and always will be, but like a lot of that part of the country, the republicans are not necessarily social conservatives. That meant that when the republican nominee ended up being someone who favors abortion rights and gay marriage, the GOP machine reacted by backing a “conservative” party candidate *cough*carpetbagger*cough* and throwing national support behind him. It got bad enough that the republican candidate stepped down days before the election (pretty clearly forced) but her name’s still on the ballot, and there’s no telling how it will all settle out.

6 – And lest you think this is partisan, I would like nothing more than to see the Republican candidate win. That’s who would have won if the latest incarnation of CREEP hadn’t gotten involved.

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