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Jack Zaleski, Published September 11 2011

Zaleski: ‘Rat’ not eager to share his cheese

South Royalton, Vt. – I’m in a large locally owned regional hardware store – picking up a few things to build shelves and a firewood box at my daughter’s home near Chelsea – when a couple of patrons notice the “North Dakota” on my shirt. “Visitin’,” one asks, “or you at the law school?” That’s Vermont Law School here in South Royalton, which attracts students from all over the nation.

“Well, kind of both,” I respond. “My daughter went to school there and now lives up at Chelsea. My wife and I get out here a lot.”

“You a lawya, then?” asks the other guy in that clipped Vermont accent that is lost in print.

“No, a journalist – editorial writer for the newspaper in Fargo.”

“Fargo,” says the first guy. “You know somethin’ ’bout floodin’, dontcha? Saw pictures on the TV last time you had a flood out there.”

Flooding has been topic No. 1 here since Tropical Storm Irene dumped up to 10 inches of rain on central Vermont. The aftereffects are visible from the parking lot of the hardware store. The mud line from high water in the nearby White River is just a few yards from the building. The raging river covered the highway at the height of the flood; receding floodwaters left 3 feet of mud, silt and rocks, and mountains of broken trees on the roadway. It was closed for days.

“Looks like folks are pulling together around here,” I offer. “Neighbors helping neighbors and all.”

“Yeah, we’re doin’ what we can,” one man says, “but this thing was big, real big.” He shakes his head, sadness and resignation in his voice.

“People we know lost their places,” his friend says. “Not just wet, I mean gone, washed away. That’s why we’re here – for plastic bins and disinfectant and such. Tryin’ to save somethin’, but we can’t do it all …”

I mention that FEMA and other federal and state agencies have been coming in, according to local newspapers. The men’s eyes harden.

“This state won’t get a damn bit of help if that rat from Virginia gets his way,” one man snaps. “That little *&#@ doesn’t give a rat’s ass about the people hurtin’ up here. That little *&#@!” His anger rises like floodwaters did a few days ago.

He’s talking about U.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., who said that any money to help the people of Vermont recover from Irene must be offset by cuts in other areas of federal spending. Vermonters know that Cantor’s way could delay aid for months, or scuttle it entirely. They know he’s using a natural disaster and the pain of thousands to advance his budget ideology. They also know that when Virginia suffered major storm damage a few years ago, Cantor was at the head of the line with his hand out for federal help. They understand hypocrisy.

“Who the hell does he think he is?” says one of my new friends. “He should get his rich, Southern ass up here and get a look at what we’re dealin’ with. It’s just too big … too much …”

The other man adds: “You seen his picture? This Cantor? Looks a lot like a weasel or a ferret or, like I said before, a rat.” He chuckles, but he’s not feeling funny.

Not having seen a photo of Cantor recently, I am unable to confirm the Vermonter’s assessment of the Virginian’s mug. But as I help the men load their pickup with supplies for their flood-damaged neighbors, this much is clear: These two Vermonters know a weasel when they see one.

Contact Editorial Page Editor Jack Zaleski at (701) 241-5521

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