Former Gov. Douglas says memoir will intrigue’
By Kevin O’Connor
Staff Writer | August 31,2014
White House Photo
President Barack Obama and then-Vermont Gov. James Douglas move an Oval Office sofa after meeting with the press on Feb. 2, 2009.
Name the political opponent who, to the surprise of many, worked alongside President Barack Obama before retiring from public service to write a 376-page autobiography now rolling off the presses.
Hillary Rodham Clinton? The former Democratic primary challenger turned secretary of state is touring the country touting her new memoir, but it’s 656 pages. The correct answer is someone closer to the pulse of the blue-state Green Mountains: Former Gov. James Douglas.
The bespectacled, red-tie Republican with a sense of frugality seemingly unmatched since the days of native son Calvin Coolidge? Stepping down in 2011 after serving eight years as Vermont’s chief executive, Douglas ducked inside his aging Neon and drove from Montpelier to Middlebury wondering what he’d do after a four-decade political career.
“I thought I could spend a little time penning a memoir,” he recalls today. “A lot of people suggested it.”
Wall Street Journal readers may wonder why anyone would urge that after the newspaper summed up Douglas as “an admitted workaholic without hobbies,” just “a low-key manner.” But the 63-year-old has plenty of stories, including his election to the state House of Representatives upon graduating from Middlebury College in 1972, Vermont’s secretary of state in 1980, treasurer in 1994 and governor in 2002.
When Democratic state Sen. Christopher Bray — the founder of Addison County’s Common Ground Communications — read the manuscript, he knew it was the stuff of history. That’s why he’s teaming with Douglas to bring the book — “The Vermont Way: A Republican Governor Leads America’s Most Liberal State” — to the public this week.
The hardcover, obtained in advance by this newspaper, is embargoed until its official release Wednesday. But Bray teases it as “the best political memoir by a Vermont governor yet,” while Douglas promises readers at least one reason to keep turning the pages.
“I think there’s probably something in it that will intrigue people,” the author says.
A big revelation, such as his splurging on a full-price appliance?
“Heavens, no,” Douglas says. “My reputation for frugality is intact.”
The Associated Press is set to report Monday that the former governor reveals he doesn’t object to same-sex couples forming relationships but was acting on conscience when he vetoed a gay marriage law ultimately adopted in 2009 by the state Legislature.
“I believe,” the AP story will quote Douglas as writing in the book, “that the institution of marriage is worth preserving in its traditional form.”
But the biggest headline grabber is expected to be disclosure of an offer by the president that Douglas respectfully declined.
Bray will say only: “Probably the thing that will surprise people most is the Obama chapter.”
Douglas, for his part, confirms that the contents elaborate on a cross-party connection that began when he became the first governor to meet with the new commander in chief one-on-one — part of the autobiography’s larger message of how people of different philosophies can work together.
What’s known publicly: On Feb. 2, 2009, just two weeks after his inauguration, Obama invited Douglas, then vice chairman of the National Governors Association, to the Oval Office to thank him for being one of the few Republicans to support his economic stimulus plan.
“He was reaching across the aisle,” Douglas recalls, “trying to build and demonstrate bipartisan support.”
After the press left, the governor helped the president move two sofas to their original positions.
“They weren’t very heavy, actually,” Douglas says. “But maybe I had adrenaline.”
The publisher isn’t disclosing much more about the book in advance to increase interest.
“My hope,” Bray says, “is we have strong initial sales that create enough of a buzz that by the time Vermonters are shopping for the best gift book of the year, they’ll say this is an easy first choice.”
To see how it’s done, Douglas read such memoirs as the late U.S. Sen. George Aiken’s 1938 “Speaking from Vermont,” colleague Ralph Flanders’ 1961 “Senator from Vermont,” Consuelo Northrop Bailey’s 1976 “Leaves Before the Wind: The Autobiography of Vermont’s Own Daughter” (and first woman in the nation elected lieutenant governor) and former Gov. Deane C. Davis’ 1991 self-titled autobiography.
As a result, Douglas’ book says little about his “unremarkable” childhood and instead focuses on his political career.
“The question I got from Obama is, ‘How did you win in a blue state like Vermont?’” Douglas says in an interview. “I’m not sure there’s a magic formula. It’s just trying to work with folks.”
The book’s back cover features a photo of Douglas helping Obama move the Oval Office sofas and a quote from New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie: “There is nothing that is wrong with the Republican Party that can’t be fixed by an outstanding leader who puts service first. That’s what Douglas of Vermont teaches us. Read this book, and learn about a model for our future.”
The author says his collaboration with Bray is another way his autobiography shows how people from opposing parties can achieve results. It ends with an index — something, the contract says, “the author shall prepare.”
At first the Republican grimaced. Then he realized giving a Democrat the last word has its benefits.
“To people who ask, ‘Am I in it?’ I say, ‘I wrote about you, but the editor cut you out.’”
See for yourself
Former Gov. James Douglas will unveil his new book, “The Vermont Way: A Republican Governor Leads America’s Most Liberal State,” Wednesday at 2 p.m. at the University of Vermont in an event sponsored by the Center for Research on Vermont and the UVM Department of Political Science.
The publisher, Addison County’s Common Ground Communications, is distributing the autobiography to independent bookstores statewide.