The new campaign to take back Vermont should not be confused with the 2000 campaign to repeal civil unions. This one is about the growing problem of heroin addiction in the Green Mountain State.
Long visible at the street level in towns and cities across the country, the extent of the opiate scourge in rural Vermont burst into the national consciousness last month, when Gov. Peter Shumlin devoted his entire State of the State message to what he said was a “full-blown heroin crisis.” Much of New England is now also reporting record overdoses and deaths.
For some communities just starting to reckon with drugs, Mr. Shumlin’s words were a call to arms; for Rutland, they offered a sense of solidarity as this city of 17,000 moves ahead with efforts to help reclaim its neighborhoods and its young people, not to mention its reputation.
As Gina Tron explains,
Vermont draws lots of out-of-staters who move there thinking it’s some sort of promised land of maple syrup and covered bridges.
Vermont is beautiful—the view from our house was breathtaking, with rolling hills stretching for miles, full of grazing deer in the morning and howling coyotes at night. But the state is also more complicated than its reputation.
“I was expecting more overalls,” one family friend remarked during a visit a few years after we arrived. Another asked if my classmates wore clogs and pigtails to school. They dismissed my Vermont friends as hicks, and saw the state as a wholesome joke. “What kinda crime do they have up there? Someone stole a block of Cabot cheese?”
It’s not just out-of-staters who see Vermont this way—plenty of locals like to claim the state is immune to “big city problems.” But it’s not that there’s less dysfunction in Vermont. It just takes a different, often less visible, form.
That’s why it’s downright dangerous for liberals like Matthew Yglesias to claim that Vermont really is prospering. A low unemployment rate (in a state with a small percentage of formal-sector jobs) and a high median income (in a state that has refashioned itself as a tourist destination and land of second homes) signify very little. Vermont is also a state of impoverished cities and rural areas, where meth labs and sales of cheaper heroin prosper alongside sugar shacks and covered bridges.