Nearly a year ago, we reported on an impressive number of Wes alums elected to congressional and gubernatorial office in the midterm elections of 2010. Among the notables was Peter Shumlin ’79, a former Vermont state senator from Putney who attended Wesleyan in the same class year as President Roth and later helped found Vermont’s Landmark College, one of only two colleges in the country designed for students with learning disabilities. Shumlin, a 55-year-old Democrat, had won the Democratic nomination for Lieutenant Governor back in 2002, but that didn’t quite work out.
In 2010, Shumlin sought the highest office in Vermont and won, receiving 117,561 votes to Brian Dubies’ 113,227. The governor’s priorities in the first months of his term remain largely faithful to his campaign promises: reforming Vermont’s health care system and seeking to close the state’s Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant.
Until last week, that is. Hurricane Irene ravaged through southern and central Vermont last weekend, destroying homes, killing at least three, and leaving a startling number of towns without electricity, phones, or adequate food supplies. Thrust suddenly into the national spotlight while dealing with Vermont’s worst national disaster in over 80 years, the freshman governor has proven himself an inspired leader in a state with relatively little experience in disaster management.
From the New York Times comes one portrait of the wizened Vermonter as he visits the state’s most alarming wreckage, “doling out hugs and reminding residents that ‘Vermonters are tough.'” Shumlin has begun a massive recovery effort that “could well be the defining issue of his governorship,” writes NYT reporter Abby Goodnough:
Dozens of homes were destroyed or badly damaged across the state on Sunday by the flash flooding, which also closed a state office complex and left roads and bridges in tatters.[ . . . ]
Mr. Shumlin has used the rare national spotlight to call attention to another of his priorities: preparing for climate change, which he said was a factor in the torrential rains that dropped as much as nine inches of rain on parts of Vermont as the remnants of Hurricane Irene moved through.
He has proven an agile communicator in the early days since the storm, posting frequent updates on Twitter and sending agency heads to answer questions from callers on radio shows. And he has traveled to many of the most damaged towns, asking people what they need and saying, time and again, how proud he is of their resilience.
Perhaps most astonishingly, in the wake of Irene, Shumlin has promised not to leave his long-term campaign goals behind.
“I’m the kind of person, the more balls I have in the air, generally the more I can land,” the governor promised, from a helicopter en route to Rochester, VT. “We’ll just work longer hours and longer days. We can multitask, absolutely.”
Mostly, though, Shumlin’s all about the traditional Vermont spirit: resilient, self-sufficient, and tough as nails. “We’re used to storms,” the governor insisted last week. We know how to tough it out here. You’re not going to talk a Vermonter out of their house.”
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