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January 24, 2011

WTF Update: Gubernatorial Spouses Don't Want Gov's Mansion

Mississippi-governors-mansion-jackson-ms003 Last week, I wrote a piece for our WTF column about why Vermont doesn't have a governor's mansion. If you read the story, you'll know that we're one of only five states in the nation that does not house our supreme leaders in laps of luxury. Instead, we ask them to rent rickety tenement squats in Barre. Kidding. 

The main reason for the lack of a gov manse, according to state curator David Schutz, is the fact that, as a state, we're cheap as hell (I'm paraphrasing). Or rather, we don't need fancy things. We're happy with a tumbledown barn, one flannel shirt and a half a pair of socks. A governor's mansion might seem ostentatious. And no Vermont gov wants to give off that vibe.

But, says Arthur Kunin, ex-husband of former governor Madeleine Kunin, there's one other important reason why we don't have gube digs. Mr. Kunin called to say that when he was the state's first First Man (not First Dude, FYI Todd Palin), he had a conversation with Barbara Snelling, wife of former governor Richard Snelling, about why there was no official residence. 

Snelling told him that over the years, many people had offered up stately homes around Montpelier for use as a governor's mansion. And every time a property was pitched, the first wives lobbied against them. They didn't want to have to manage such a building, nor did they want lawmakers and staffers in their house all the time. Plus, they didn't want to have to take their kids out of their home schools. The spouses, Kunin said, viewed the possibility of an official residence as a burden rather than a perk.

Over the years, Kunin recalled, he posed the question of whether Vermont should have a governor's mansion to other First Spouses, including Hillary Clinton and Kitty Dukakis, and all of them had the same response — don't do it. Apparently, they told him, it's not worth the hassle. It's not your own house and when things break, you have to wait for someone from the state's building crew to get around to fixing it.  Plus, it becomes one more thing to manage. 

So it's not just that we're cheap; it's that we're sensible. And we're not swayed by glittery baubles dangled in front of our faces. Well, some of us, anyway.


While there is no reason to provide our chief executive with a mansion, it does seem reasonable to provide him or her with a modest residence in Montpelier.

Nothing fancy - certainly no staff of maids, cooks and butlers. No pressure to entertain lawmakers and dignitaries with fancy dinners. Nothing that will be a burden to occupy. Just a humble little place in the village for the Gov to call home so that s/he isn't driving 3 hours a day to get home and back (which isn't exactly free when you consider the cost of running the vehicle and paying the troopers to drive it). It would be a residence for the convenience of the governor and the governor's family.

A modest home in Montpelier wouldn't cost all that much, in the overall scheme of things – and could be partially offset by eliminating the Gov’s meal allowance, reducing the miles put on the state car and slightly reducing the Governor’s salary … which is the highest in New England.

It would certainly make the transfer of power from one Gov to the next easier if the new guy didn't need to scramble to find a house to rent in the capital city.

It's a reasonable thing for the state to provide the governor with.

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