Two bills spark talk of changing values

Rep. KATE WEBB

Two bills passed last week brought forth fascinating discussion into our values, our understanding of history, and the why we change our thinking and our laws.

H.207 responds to the City of Montpelier’s request to allow non-citizen legal residents to vote on city issues. S.68 seeks to rename Columbus Day “Indigenous People’s Day.”  I voted to support both of these bills. Here’s why:

Columbus Day was declared a national holiday at the behest of Roman Catholic Italian Americans in 1937, edging out Anglo-Saxon descendants who had lobbied for Leif Erikson Day.  Erikson appears to have arrived nearly 500 years before Columbus which begs the question, if we are celebrating who “discovered” America, have we forgotten anybody?

The answer appears to be ‘yes.’ The original inhabitants of America lived, labored and governed on this continent for thousands of years and their descendants are found throughout our nation. Yet even today, they largely remain nameless and faceless or are subsumed within generalizations about “Indians,” a name that underscores the misunderstanding of early European travelers. By renaming Columbus Day, will we forget about the early European arrival? Probably not. Perhaps what it does do is refocus our essential questions about history, including the stories we tell our children, and how we build the future knowing this history.

As Anne Donahue R- Northfield, noted, “Removing a holiday celebrating Columbus for discovering America is not changing history. It is correcting an error of history we were once taught.”

S.68 is on its way to the Governor’s desk.  If signed, Vermont will be the third state, joining New Mexico and South Dakota. in making this change.

H.207 extends non-citizen voting rights to Montpelier legal residents. Although this may seem unusual to us, non-citizen voting was actually the norm for much of U.S. history, with non-citizens voting in every presidential election until 1924. The rising tide of nationalism after World War I brought this practice to an end. The U.S. Constitution gives states the right to determine who votes in state and local elections. Vermont law requires changes to municipal charters, including voting laws, to be approved by the General Assembly. H.207 is that vehicle.

On Nov. 6, 2018, on a vote of 2,857 to 1,488, voters in Montpelier approved a city charter amendment to allow non-citizens who are legal residents to vote on city candidate and ballot measures. It is important to restate that this right is extended only to those who are legal, documented residents. These people can be found teaching in our schools and colleges. They are musicians, physicians, construction workers and hair dressers. They have children in our schools and pay taxes, taxes paid without representation. Many are the spouses of citizens and have lived here for decades. Voting would be restricted exclusively to Montpelier municipal issues and require a separate checklist. Municipalities in New York, Massachusetts and California have either passed or are considering similar measures.

The best way to reach me is via email: kwebb@leg.state.vt.us and let me know that you are a Shelburne resident. Once we have made contact, I will be happy to speak with you further on the phone or by appointment in Montpelier during the week, or locally on the weekend or Monday morning.

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