Rep. Betty Nuovo confirms this is her final term in the Legislature
MIDDLEBURY — Like all first-year lawmakers, former Rep. Paul Ralston, D-Middlebury, had a steep learning curve to climb upon joining the Vermont House of Representatives in 2010. He credited his seatmate, fellow Democrat Betty Nuovo, for helping him — and many other freshly minted public servants — find their way around the Vermont Statehouse.
“Betty Nuovo is the godmother of Addison County Democrats,” Ralston said. “She helped many of us learn the political process. She taught me the importance of being prepared in committee and on the floor through careful reading of bills and amendments. She has always had a sharp mind and a good heart.”
Now at age 84 and with three decades of service in the House to her credit, the “Grande Dem” of the House is ready to see the next generation of lawmakers take over. Nuovo confirmed on Monday during an interview with the Independent that she will not seek another two-year term in the House this November. She wants to give prospective successors a lot of time to consider running for her position in the two-seat Addison-1 district.
“It’s important work, and it’s time to let someone else do the job,” Nuovo said with a smile.
She recalled 1980, when she became one of the new faces in the House. Former Middlebury Rep. Stan Lazarus was her mentor. It was indeed a different time in Vermont politics. Nuovo became the first representative from Addison County to be elected to the Vermont House as a Democrat, according to her records. Democrats now form a majority of the county’s legislative delegation and Addison-1 continues to be one of the bluest districts in the state.
Seeking to harness Nuovo’s experience as an attorney, House leadership at the time appointed her to the Judiciary Committee — a panel she chaired from 1985 to 1988. During her first stint in the House, from 1980 to 1990, Nuovo sponsored Vermont’s first hate crime bill and its first landlord-tenant bill, and successfully guided through both chambers a proposed constitutional amendment on equal rights for women. That measure, however, failed to receive the requisite support through public referendum.
Women’s issues have been a particular priority for Nuovo. Along with championing the Equal Rights Amendment, Nuovo cited — as one of her proudest moments — her participation in the March for Women’s Lives in Washington, D.C., on April 24, 2004. Participants advocated for such issues as equal pay for equal work, and equal access to jobs and educational opportunity. She was among the first 100 women to become lawyers in Vermont, and practiced in Middlebury from 1974 to 1996. She and Pam Marsh established the first all-women law firm in Vermont.
She’s also proud of the role she played in developing state groundwater quality and probate rules. And in 1985, she helped prepare a law to protect child victims of sexual offenses.
“Sexual abuse of a child is perhaps the most reprehensible of crimes, and also the most difficult to prove,” Nuovo said. “I don’t think there’s any other crime that is so likely to take place in secrecy with no witnesses, and where the victim is so likely to be a poor witness.”
Nuovo has served on a multitude of House committees during her tenure and has thus dealt with a variety of issues. After eight years on House Judiciary, she served one term on House Ways and Means. She left the House in 1990 to focus on her legal practice, then was re-elected in 1997. Her second stint in the House has seen her serve on the Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Ways and Means (again) committees. Appropriately, her legislative career has now come full circle, as she will exit the House serving on the committee on which she started: Judiciary.
Through her legislative career, Nuovo has earned a reputation for reading all of the legislation that comes before her, while making sure it is properly phrased and can withstand legal challenge.
“I can always count on Rep. Nuovo to catch the smallest of language flaws,” said Rep. Diane Lanpher, D-Vergennes, who for the past eight years has been seated next to Nuovo in the House chambers.
“She is truly amazing, and nothing gets by her.”
And Nuovo stressed she will not coast into her retirement from the Legislature. She vowed to approach her work with the same zeal as in her first term, and cited a tight state budget, education governance reforms and cleaning up the state’s waterways as just a few of the big issues lawmakers will have to address this year.
“I will still work hard, do the committee work and read all the bills,” she said.
And she will also continue an exercise regimen that would put most people half her age to shame. She does an hour of walking and other exercises beginning each day at 6 a.m. She lifts weights in her hotel room during the legislative session. She belongs to a fitness club and regularly walks around Middlebury with her husband of more than 60 years, Victor.
With that in mind, it’s safe to say Nuovo won’t have an idle retirement. Along with spending more time with Victor, she’d like to resume painting, and will continue to volunteer for various civic and nonprofit causes. Her résumé includes stints as a Middlebury selectwoman, local planning commission member and Addison County Regional Planning Commission delegate. She was also active with the Addison County chapter of the League of Women Voters.
While she won’t miss driving from Middlebury to Montpelier, Nuovo will miss the legislative work, her colleagues and — get this — campaigning.
“I’ll miss the people,” Nuovo said. “I loved knocking on doors during re-election campaigns. People would say, ‘Hello, glad to see you,’ and we would talk about bills.”
Past and present politicians said it will be different not to see Nuovo at caucuses, in committee rooms and at gatherings of the House.
Her current district seatmate, Rep. Amy Sheldon, D-Middlebury, said Nuovo’s contributions are many and deserved to be recognized.
“It has been an honor to work alongside Representative Nuovo during my first, and what we now know is her last, biennium,” Sheldon said. “Betty is intrepid and thorough and has represented Middlebury well for 30 years and has helped me learn the ropes in Montpelier. It is time for us to celebrate her contributions to our town and our state.”
“I had the privilege of working with Betty during my eight years as chair of the Addison County Democratic Committee,” said Paul Forlenza of Lincoln. “During this time, Betty was diligent in keeping our committee informed of the activities in the General Assembly. Many Monday nights she would meet with us and then drive to Montpelier in the dark so she could be at the Legislature early Tuesday morning for a full week of committee meetings. Betty well represented Middlebury in the Legislature for 28 years. With her retirement, the Legislature loses a significant amount of valuable institutional memory.”
Former Rep. Peg Martin, D-Middlebury, served with Nuovo during a portion of the 1990s.
“As a civil, constructive voice in the Legislature yea these many years, Betty has been both a sought after co-sponsor and a worthy opponent,” Martin said. “But most of all, Betty has been Middlebury’s champion.”
Rep. Lanpher called Nuovo a big influence on her political career.
“It was Rep. Nuovo who first asked me to consider running for office, and prior to her asking, I am not sure I would have ever considered it,” said Lanpher, currently a member of the House Appropriations Committee. “I have benefited immensely from her wisdom and knowledge. We have shared many ideas, thoughts and late-night treats in that little aisle space between us.”
Reporter John Flowers is at email@example.com.