Coffin: Deadlocked State Race

Dec 17, 2014

John Alden was a direct descendant of the Pilgrim father celebrated by Longfellow. I met him the summer of 1960, when a bellhop at the Woodstock Inn. John was in management, a bright ambitious Massachusetts transplant, crew cut and good looking. We hit it off, though his far right politics were the opposite of mine.

And did he love politics, reading the Congressional Record, seeming to know every congressman and senator’s voting record.

John soon got involved in politics and rose rapidly in the ranks of the Vermont Young Republicans. He was elected to the Vermont House from Woodstock, and in 1974 Windsor County sent him to the Senate - where his politics changed markedly.

In the Senate John did a complete about face, from conservative Republican to liberal Democrat. He took on people issues, and became an influential lawmaker. I watched this happen close up, as a Rutland Herald reporter.

In 1974, John ran for lieutenant governor and in the general election, he faced veteran Bennington County Senator T. Gary Buckley, a tough, good-natured lawyer and World War Two bomber pilot. Alden was leading, but he wasn’t perfect, and he had a major weakness for playing the horses. We’d been to the track. And in the midst of the campaign, a high-placed Republican tipped me that John was being investigated in a matter involving premiums of his insurance clients. I confronted John, then wrote the story.

John’s lead began to shrink, and on election day, due to a third party candidate, neither he nor Buckley surpassed the 50 percent of the vote required by the Vermont Constitution. On June 6, 1977, the election went to the Legislature.

That morning, John sat at the desk in the first floor southwest corner State House office of the lieutenant governor, expecting it to be his - since he’d gotten a thousand more votes than Buckley.

I was with him that chill sunny morning, and while legislators voted upstairs in the House of Representatives, we talked baseball. Then I heard a commotion in the hall, went out, and saw Reid Paine, state house sergeant at arms, descend the stairs. When he saw me Payne, a Democrat, shook his head. I walked back into the office, and did the same.

John slumped in his chair as if deflated. Then he rose, slowly, and walked out. After that, his life was all downhill. Two years later, at 47, he died in an automobile accident in Florida, where he’d reluctantly gone to live. Just days before, he’d told me by phone that he hoped soon to return to Vermont, to come home. How I wish he had.