Although today the state of Vermont is quite possibly the most liberal state in New England, there was a time in which it was without doubt the most reliable Republican state. I have covered Vermont’s change from Coolidge politics to Sanders politics, but today I will cover the first Democrat to crack the Republican reign of dominance in the state’s politics.
1958 was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad election year for Republicans: they lost 48 seats in the House and a whopping 12 seats in the Senate. This election truly signified the start of New England’s shift to the Democratic Party as Republicans lost big in the region they had previously dominated. Republican incumbent senators in Connecticut and Maine lost reelection, all the Republican representatives from Connecticut lost reelection, and Massachusetts and Maine had seats go Democrat. But the real shocker? Vermont’s only Congressional district being won by Democrat William H. Meyer.
Before this sole interruption in the state’s Republican status on the congressional level since 1857 had been the election of a member of the Greenback Party to the House for a single term in 1878. Meyer was a staunch progressive who supported recognition of Communist China, called for an end to nuclear testing, and stood for nuclear disarmament. He had won because Vermonters didn’t want staunchly conservative Harold J. Arthur but in 1960 Governor Robert Stafford, a moderate Republican, ran and defeated him by over 14 points. Meyer’s stances on the Cold War were just too much for the Eisenhower Republicans of 1960. Meyer never returned to Congress but he was one of the founders of the pacifist and socialist Liberty Union Party in 1970, which a young Bernie Sanders joined and ran for office several times on their ticket. Meyer died in 1983, but he did live to see Sanders elected as Burlington’s mayor in 1980. I’ll bet, however, that he never thought that in the future someone from his party would not only be one of Vermont’s senators but also a serious contender for the Democratic nomination for president.
Although Meyer was a one-hit wonder, he opened the door for Sanders and ultimately to the rise of the Democrats in Vermont.