Kunin: be informed citizens


Ian Major

Former Vermont Governor Madeleine Kunin

Former Vermont Governor, Madeleine Kunin visited Johnson State College on Nov. 16, leaving her audience with a admonition to be informed and be involved.

Kunin was at JSC visiting Professor and State Senator Bill Doyle’s Vermont Politics class. She was a part of Doyle’s Vermont Politics Speaker Series being held this fall at the college.
Vermont’s first and so far only woman chief executive, Kunin, a Democrat, was Vermont’s 77th Governor, serving three terms from 1985 until 1991.

Kunin also served as United States ambassador to Switzerland from 1996 to 1999.

She studied journalism at the Columbia School of Journalism, and ended up in Vermont when she was offered a job at the Burlington Free Press as a reporter in 1957. Kunin first got involved in politics when she ran for the Vermont legislature in 1972. “One influence that got me into politics was the women’s movement in the 1960s, which basically said women could do anything and contribute to society and work,” said Kunin.

To Kunin, the biggest thing that’s currently concerning in Vermont is the economy. “I think climate change is also a great issue even though Vermont doesn’t tend to pollute as much as our country might,” said Kunin. “I think a broad solution for these issues is education, I think changing the way we finance higher education might be a good start to try to get more people to enroll in higher education.”
When asked about her stance on Vermont possibly taking in Syrian refugees, she indicated that she would try to take them in. “I would rely on the national security apparatus that the federal government has to screen everyone,” says Kunin. “The terrorist situation in Paris has scared people, and I think that it will make it much harder for these refugees to be accepted anywhere.”

Kunin thinks that everyone needs to be humane in these situations. “I know if I was Governor I would get criticism for it, so I would do it carefully and try to prepare communities to accept refugees.”
As far as the current presidential election goes, Kunin says she supports Hillary Clinton. “I am a democrat and I want a democrat to win, and I favor Clinton,” says Kunin. “I’m appreciative and recognize that Bernie has raised some good issues and made the race livelier on its focus of income and equality.”

Kunin noted that Bernie Sanders once ran against her during her running for her second term as governor. “I had him on one side and a Republican on the other, when the three of us were in a tiny hot radio studio they sucked up all the oxygen in the room, but I still won,” said Kunin. “Sanders has definitely surprised most of us, but I cannot picture him as president.”

She said that she sees Clinton as having more qualifications for the job. “I think Clinton might have different priorities near the top of her list,” said Kunin. “I do want to live to see a woman raise her hand and take her oath for office, it’s overdue.”

For Vermont’s current governor race, Kunin says she supports Sue Minter. “She is qualified and I have a lot of admiration towards her,” said Kunin. Along with this, Kunin thinks that Vermont should adopt a four-year governor term.

Looking back on her time in the Vermont Legislature, the former governor said that her time on the appropriations committee proved pivotal in shaping the rest of her political life. “The budget from the state is presented by the governor to the legislature, and the legislature can change it,” said Kunin. “On the committee you hear testimony to everyone involved in state government, it’s like getting a Ph.D in government without going to college.”

Kunin has served on the state, federal and international levels of politics throughout her life. Following her time in the Legislature, she served two terms as Vermont’s lieutenant governor. She then ran for governor in 1982, and lost a close election. She ran again for the following term and won, starting her three consecutive terms in 1985.

Following her three terms, she got involved with the Clinton administration. “I was also chosen to be in a group that got to recommend who the vice president should be at the time,” said Kunin. “I was then appointed by Bill Clinton to be the deputy secretary of education and then later as the United States ambassador to Switzerland.”

Kunin also helped design a program called Reach Up that enables single parents to get the qualifications to have a decent job. Along with this she helped with creating the healthcare program called Dr. Dinosaur.

Recalling her most memorable moments as governor, Kunin said that swearing in Vermont’s first female Supreme Court of Justice was one of her greatest memories as Vermont’s governor, along with herself being sworn in. “I thought I was making history, and I was thinking of my family background,” says Kunin. “I wasn’t born in the United States. I came over from Switzerland because of WWII with my mother and brother.”

Following Kunin’s time as a United States ambassador, she landed back in Vermont and spent time at Middlebury College and UVM. “I’ve always liked being involved in the academic world, it’s still a world of ideas,” said Kunin. “I’ve written several books, and I’m at UVM as a professor, and I’m currently writing another book.”

Kunin’s take-home thoughts for the class were for everyone to force themselves to be informed citizens. “Do your best to read a newspaper every once in a while, and formulate opinions,” said Kunin. “I believe in the old fashioned idea of having the right to vote to influence your life, voting is a right, people died for their rights to vote.”