A Glance At Vermont's Gubernatorial History: It All Started With Thomas Chittenden

Nov 4, 2016

Vermont started electing governors even before it was a state. As Vermont gets ready to elect its 82nd governor, writer and author Mark Bushnell spoke with Vermont Edition about the high points of our gubernatorial history.

Thomas Chittenden was Vermont's first governor and served 19 of our first 20 gubernatorial terms. The only time he wasn't chosen to lead the state, he won the popular election – but a whiff of scandal gave the job to Moses Robinson.

Chittenden was "a shrewd, natural politician," Bushnell says, but one that didn't have the politician's polish of today.

"He was slack shouldered and droopy eyed," Bushnell explains, adding that Chittenden was described as a "low, vulgar man who was clownish."

But Chittenden stuck up for the common man. In the mid-1780s, when a rural debt crisis erupted and farmers faced losing their farms, Chittenden sided with the farmers and tried unsuccessfully to allow farmers to issue paper IOUs to forestall foreclosure.

From 1854 through 1962, Republicans dominated the office, winning 63 straight gubernatorial elections. The "mountain rule" was instituted to give different members of the party the opportunity to rule. The idea was to have the office alternate every two years between GOP members from east and west of the Green Mountains.

Democrat Phil Hoff ended the procession of Republican governors in 1962 – but just barely. The Democrats ran a political neophyte against popular Sen. George Aiken, which kept Aiken from spending much time campaigning in the state.

Hoff, a charismatic candidate who reminded some of President John F. Kennedy, squeaked by with 50.5 percent of the vote to 49.5 percent for incumbent F. Ray Keyser Jr.

Listen to the interview with Bushnell – which aired on Vermont Edition on Nov. 3, 2016 – above.