Joint Meeting Of The Vermont Legislature And The State’s Other Top Leaders Surprise Senator Leahy With A Tribute To His Years Of Service To Vermont
MONTPELIER -- On Wednesday, April 20, both houses of the Vermont General Assembly all gathered together in the House Chamber with Governor Phil Scott (R) and Lt. Governor Molly Gray (D), for the first such assembly since before the pandemic, to surprise U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) with an official resolution and to warmly express recognition of all he has done for Vermont during his 48 years of service in the U.S. Senate. Leahy late last year announced that this will be his last term, which ends next January.
During his tenure, he may often have been physically in the Nation’s Capital, but “his heart was in Vermont,” said Scott, addressing the joint assembly.
Scott’s remarks followed the unanimous adoption by the Vermont House of a resolution in Leahy’s honor. A standing ovation followed the vote. It was the first of many.
Scott was followed to the podium by Gray, Vermont Senate President Pro Tem Becca Balint and House Speaker Jill Krowinski. They spoke of Leahy’s many accomplishments for the state, but also his kindness and compassion.
Listing just some of the areas in which Vermont’s senior U.S. Senator has created programs that have benefited Vermont or brought needed funding to the state, including agriculture, clean water and transportation, Scott said, “The list of ways he has improved the state just goes on and on.”
During the drafting of federal COVID-19 relief legislation, Leahy added a small state minimum that is bringing $2.5 billion dollars to the state, one billion of which is still to come. This has allowed the state to not only provide unprecedented assistance to Vermonters during the crisis, but also to make once in a generation investments in the state’s future.
“It’s thanks to him we’re in a position to come out of this pandemic stronger than before,” Scott said.
Scott, a Republican, said the greatly appreciates his friendship with Leahy, a Democrat, and mentioned their frequent conversations during the height of the pandemic.
“Vermont would not be anywhere near what we are here today without Senator Leahy,” Scott said.
Gray, who once interned for Leahy, spoke of his small acts of kindness and great acts of leadership.
“He’s been there when we needed him most,” she said, pointing to the days and months following 9-11, Tropical Storm Irene and the pandemic. “My fellow Vermonters, where would we be today without the small-state minimum? Where would we be without $2.7 billion in federal funding? Where would we be today without Senator Leahy?”
“The arms of the Leahy family reach not only across the state and country, but around the world,” Gray said, calling the Senator a global leader on human rights.
Balint said that one of the Senator’s most important contributions is that “Senator Leahy really sees us as Vermonters and what we do and how we struggle.”
When her wife was diagnosed with a form of cancer similar to what Leahy’s wife, Marcelle, has experienced, Balint said the Senator called to offer his support and share his experience.
Leahy has sent thousands of personal notes to Vermonters over the years and called countless Vermonters experiencing grief or hardship.
During discussion of immigration reform, Leahy pushed for recognition of same sex couples and allowing partners of gay and lesbian immigrants to join them in the U.S. “That means a lot, Senator,” Balint said. “That means a lot.”
“Time and time again, Senator Leahy has seen us and stood up for us,” she said.
Speaker Krowinski mentioned a little known part of Leahy’s public service, his time as an aide to a legislative draftsman for the General Assembly in 1965.
Since then, she told the Senator, “You have blazed a trail.”
That trail, she said, included restored buildings and revitalized downtowns.
But he also showed Vermonters how to lead. “It’s about building relationships and being true to your values,” she said. “Senator Leahy always shows up when it really matters.”
Krowinski also noted that Leahy’s work on behalf of Vermont would not have been possible without the support of Marcelle, long one of the state’s most beloved figures, bringing the assembly to its feet in recognition of her work on Vermont’s behalf.
Taking the podium, Leahy spoke first of Marcelle, who knew of the planned event but kept it secret from him. They will celebrate their sixtieth anniversary later this year, and, he said, have few secrets from one another, but “she kept this one.”
Having grown up in Montpelier he has a long connection to the State House itself. “Marcelle and I had our first date right across the street,” he said.
As a youngster he would play in the State House, and he and a friend once careened into the governor’s office, where the governor gave them candy and sent them on their way.
“I think of Vermont as a place where you can develop your conscience. I think of the Senate as a place that should be the conscience of the nation and sometimes is,” Leahy said. “I followed my conscience.”
Even when that conscience led him to oppose the war in Vietnam, which at the time still had broad support in Vermont. Leahy voted against funding for the war in the House Armed Services Committee, trusting, he said, his fellow Vermonters.
Visibly moved by the events of the day, Leahy’s voice broke as he concluded his remarks, saying, “This is one of the greatest thrills of my life. Thank you.”
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