The U.S. House and Senate get back to work Tuesday following their August recesses, and there may be a lesson for lawmakers in a busy vacation destination in northwestern Vermont.
On scenic Lake Champlain in North Hero, Hero’s Welcome is a business landmark, where folks come to tie up their boat, shop, eat, and relax, far from the noise and conflict of the rest of the world.
But even in such a peaceful place, something as simple as picking a seat may mean choosing sides.
“It’s kind of representative of the division within our country,” Jim Durand of Buckeye, Arizona said, looking at two old benches that sit outside the business’s entrance.
The store has one bench painted red and labeled “Republicans,” and another that’s blue and labeled “Democrats.”
“I’m registered one, I’ve been voting another,” said Jim Ramsay of Concord, New Hampshire. “But I don’t really care when I’m voting whether I’m a Republican or a Democrat, I’m an American.”
“People take pictures of it all the time,” said Bob Camp, one of the owners of Hero’s Welcome, and a self-described moderate Republican.
Camp explained the benches have been outside the business for a long time, but seem to have drawn many more comments, photos, and jokes in the time since the November 2016 election than ever before.
He suggested the benches could be seen as a gentle way of reminding people that while they may be from different parties, it’d be foolish to not sit down together and talk about ideas.
Camp said he believes answers are usually not on the right or the left, but somewhere in the middle.
“Just sitting down on a bench with a different position or color underneath your seat and having a cup of coffee is the beginning of the type of discussion we need to have,” Camp told necn. “It’s long overdue.”
Rep. Ben Joseph, D-North Hero, represents the Champlain Islands and a sliver of the Chittenden County town of Milton in the Vermont legislature.
He said, while sitting on the blue Democrats’ bench, that with so much uncertainty in the federal budget for communities like his, now’s the time for Washington to put people over politics.
“I’ve been contacted by constituents who’ve never voted,” Joseph said, describing their concern over major issues such as health care, threatened budget cuts, immigration, and more. “I think people are taking a more serious interest now. And that’s one of the reasons I’m hopeful.”
At Hero’s Welcome, a Republican and a Democrat could sit side by side, and for once, share the same view—at least, literally.