On the first Tuesday in March, the citizens of Vermont come together. It's perhaps democracy's finest hour.
In the tiny town of Kirby, the Town Hall is filled to capacity for Town Meeting Day. They're electing a town lister and planning commissioners, and voting on school budgets. For 50 years, John McClaughry has been the moderator.
"Nothing to me compares to the welcome and the confidence that my townspeople have shown me where free men and free women govern their affairs," John said.
John came to Kirby in 1963 and bought 205 acres; land was cheap. Some of the local folks couldn't understand where he came from. He was a country boy from Southern Illinois with a distinct accent. The first year he was moderator he overheard an old-timer at the meeting.
"He says, 'He ain't from around here, but he's a hick from somewhere.' And that's a solidarity vote that I've always cherished," John said.
But he walked into town with some serious credentials: a degree in mathematics and a master's in both nuclear engineering and political science. He's made a living working for the late Sen. Winston Prouty of Vermont and even as an adviser to President Ronald Reagan.
"One important thing is I've never taken a position on any issue," John said. "It's hard for me... but not in this hall."
Outside of town meeting, it's another story. John has been elected in both the Vermont House and Senate, and even ran as a Republican against Howard Dean for governor, but lost.
He has a dim view of socialism, but admires Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, for one thing.
"He's been true to himself. And even though I not a fan of his, I've got to give him credit for being true to himself and being believable in what he says," John said.
John's critics call him bombastic, but in the town of Kirby he is loved. During a break at town meeting, a proclamation in his honor was read. And with his family close by, a portrait of John was presented to the 78-year-old.
"I want to thank all of you and all of you who have gone before," John said. "Now, to the business of the town."
The meeting goes almost two hours and with all the business of the town completed...
John McClaughry: If not, I will entertain a motion to adjourn. All in favor say 'aye.'
John McClaughry: Town meeting is adjourned.
John prides himself on having a short town meeting. That one went almost two hours; no one seemed to mind.
PO Box 4508