Douglas’ Memoir Discusses Gay Marriage
FILE - In this June 25, 2013 file photo, former Vermont Gov. Jim Douglas speaks during a meeting of the State Budget Crisis Task Force at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia. Douglas' memoir, "The Vermont Way: A Republican Governor leads America's Most Liberal State," is set for release Wednesday, Sept. 3, 2014. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)
Montpelier — Former Gov. Jim Douglas says he was acting on conscience in 2009 when he vetoed a gay marriage law that had been passed by the state Legislature.
In a frank new memoir being released Wednesday, the 63-year-old Douglas said that he had no objection to same-sex couples forming relationships and that he and his wife Dorothy have gay friends.
“I believe, however, that the institution of marriage is worth preserving in its traditional form,” Douglas wrote in The Vermont Way: A Republican Governor Leads America’s Most Liberal State.
Almost four years after he left office and after a string of federal court decisions legalizing gay marriage, Douglas said last week that when he vetoed the gay marriage bill, he was acting on information he had at the time. He said he couldn’t speculate about what he would do now if faced with the same decision.
“Initially, I thought I wouldn’t write about that at all, but then I thought people would say, ‘He’s running away from that,’” Douglas said.
In the book, Douglas runs away from little, taking readers from his boyhood in Massachusetts — where as a 13-year-old he stuffed envelopes for 1964 presidential candidate Barry Goldwater — his time as a student at Middlebury College, his election to the Vermont Legislature at 21, his eight years as governor from 2003 to 2011 and his reflections on the current state of politics.
He also writes about how in 2009 the administration of President Obama, a Democrat, offered the Vermont Republican an ambassadorship in a “friendly, well-known established” democracy. Another position that carried the title of ambassador would have been to lead an American effort to combat disease around the world.
After much thought, Douglas declined.
“We’ll never know what motivated the president’s team to provide me with such an opportunity,” he wrote. “I choose to believe it was for virtuous reasons: an effort to be inclusive, to continue to try to reach across the aisle, to be a president of all the people.”
Retired Middlebury College political science professor Eric Davis said he plans to attend an event with Douglas at the University of Vermont and get a copy of the book.
“I’m looking forward to reading it,” Davis said.
Over the course of a political career that spanned 40 years, Douglas only lost one election — his 1992 run for the U.S. Senate against Democrat Patrick Leahy, the veteran politician who still holds the seat.
In the chapter “Don Quixote,” Douglas said he knew beating Leahy would be tough and noted he didn’t launch his campaign until May. He said he was hamstrung by promising to only take campaign donations from within Vermont while Leahy got most of his contributions from out of state.
Fast forward to 2009, when Douglas vetoed the gay marriage bill. The Legislature overrode his veto, and Vermont, the state that in 2000 was the first to recognize civil unions for same-sex couples, enacted a gay marriage law the same year as New Hampshire and Iowa.
Douglas also tells of his decision not to seek election to a fifth term because he felt public officials frequently stay one term too long, and he calls for a return to civility in politics.
“Government works best at any level when there is a balance. Domination by a single political party stifles the robust debate that is essential to progress,” he wrote. “It’s not as tidy, but the struggle to find common ground often results in a better outcome.”