MONTPELIER — Former Sen. Bill Doyle was honored on the Senate floor Tuesday by some of his closest colleagues from his 48-year tenure in the body.
Doyle, 90, ran for re-election in November for what would have been his 25th term in the Senate. He came in a close fourth-place, however, in the three-seat Washington County district, bringing to a close his illustrious political career that began when he first won in the 1968 election.
On Tuesday, Doyle, a Republican, was lauded by a bipartisan group of colleagues as much for his Senate career as he was for his tenure as a professor at Lyndon State College. Two of Doyle’s former students were in the Senate chamber Tuesday as members — and many more have served in the General Assembly during his decades as a professor of government.
The Senate began its business Tuesday by passing a resolution declaring Town Meeting day on March 7 as “Bill Doyle Town Meeting Day.” Doyle is known for distributing and tabulating for decades what is known as the “Doyle Poll,” an unscientific survey of Vermonters that has helped shape public policy in Vermont state government.
Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman, a Progressive and Democrat, hailed Doyle as “a mentor to so many, both in office and not in office, with respect to the institution of public service.” Zuckerman also noted the Doyle’s lengthy service, which when he left the Senate last week was tied with a lawmaker from Texas, according to the Associated Press.
“The senator we are honoring today has served in the Vermont Senate for a term longer than I have served as a human on this planet,” Zuckerman said. “The civility and public engagement that he has encouraged across this state, both in his class and through the infamous Doyle Poll are hallmarks that this state will never forget.”
Republican Gov. Phil Scott, who was sworn into office last week, previously served as a fellow senator from Washington County. Scott said Doyle went beyond his duties as a senator to serve his constituents.
“Sen. Doyle, you’ve served every day of your life in some capacity. You serve your constituents, you serve your students, you serve all of us who live in Vermont. For 48 years you brought your wisdom to this building in a way that few others could or can,” he said. “You know what it means to be an effective legislator. It isn’t about being the loudest person in the room, it is about being a legislator, not a politician.”
Scott signed the resolution immediately at the dais in the Senate Chamber, making the honor official.
“I thank you, Bill, for being a true, true public servant,” the governor said.
Jeb Spaulding, the chancellor of the Vermont State Colleges and a former state senator and state treasurer, said Doyle “took me under his wing and made me feel equal to these heavyweights that I definitely was not.”
“If I’m ever lucky enough to have grandkids I know they’re going to say, ‘My grandfather knew Sen. Doyle,’ and I’m proud of that,” Spaulding said.
Several more current and former senators also spoke Tuesday, offering their praise and humorous stories from Doyle’s tenure, including House Speaker Mitzi Johnson, D-South Hero, and a former student of Doyle’s, Republican Sen. Rich Westman of Lamoille County.
Doyle attended the ceremony Tuesday along with several members of his family. He offered brief remarks in which he thanked his family.
“I am grateful. I am honored today by many of my former colleagues,” he said. “I’d like to thank my family for all they did to support my career. Much of my work and length of my tenure would not have bene possible without a supportive family.”
While other states have worked to pass legislation that has a tendency to restrict voter participation, I am proud that in Vermont we have done the opposite. We have enacted laws that give a reasonable opportunity … to register to vote and otherwise participate in the electoral process.
Doyle used his remarks to praise the state’s citizen legislature and the tradition of Town Meeting Day.
“Legislators who interact directly with constituents are best able to understand their needs,” he said.
He also said the state’s policy to maintain Senate districts as closely as possible to county borders has “helped to maintain the political identifies of the state’s 14 counties and to avoid the mischief that takes place and the disenfranchisement that results in other states.”
Doyle closed his remarks by expressing his hope that his colleagues and constituents found his service to be valuable. There was no doubt that those in the Senate Tuesday agreed.
“I learned much from the seven governors and hundreds of legislators with whom I served, and those that took the time to call, write, email or attend public hearings on the issues of the day. In return, I hope I responded the best I could to those requests, needs and goals,” Doyle said. “I hope that members of the General Assembly and former constituents will allow that I did my best to help steer our government to meet the ever-changing needs of Vermont and the state we love. Thank you very much for the honor today.”