August 19th, 2019

Senate Report — Philip Hoff: Vermont’s governor who influenced the move to a two-party state

By Senator Bill Doyle

Philip Hoff was elected as Vermont’s governor in 1962. Hoff’s appeal was based upon more than his stands on political issues. He was an energetic leader who knew how to make people enthusiastic about their state and themselves. Elbert Moulton, a Republican, served under Hoff as his development commissioner, and held him in high regard. Hoff, he explained, fostered “a climate of stimulating courage, enthusiasm and faith, making people more self-confident.”

Hoff also attempted to reduce the number of school districts in Vermont. “With a population of 400,000 persons,” declared Hoff, “Vermont has 800 school directors, 246 road commissioners, and 246 overseers of the poor. It’s ludicrous, utter ridiculous and wasteful. It may be political suicide but I am determined to end this sort of provincialism.” Hoff suggested that the state have 12 school districts. He argued that the regionalization of highway and taxing districts would be less costly and avoid duplication.

Hoff was influential toward moving Vermont toward a two-party state. “I think we opened up the State of Vermont to new ideas, new ways of doing things, that hadn’t been heard in the state for a long, long time,” he said.

In his third term, Hoff turned to national issues. He came to oppose the Vietnam War and was the first Democratic governor to break with President Lyndon Johnson and support Senator Robert Kennedy for president. After Kennedy’s assassination, he supported Senator Eugene McCarthy. In 1970, Hoff ran for United States Senate, but it was not for him to break the Republican stranglehold. He lost to Winston Prouty in a hard-fought campaign.

Senator Bill Doyle serves on the Senate Education Committee and Senate Economic Affairs Committee, and is the Senate Assistant Minority Leader. He teaches government history at Johnson State College. He can be reached at 186 Murray Road, Montpelier, VT 05602; e-mail wdoyle@leg.state.vt.us; or call 223-2851.

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