After 15 years, Butch Shaw bids farewell to the Statehouse


PITTSFORD—Community service is part of Vermont culture: everyone pitches in however they can to make this brave little state work. Few embody this as fully as Charles “Butch” Shaw, who has decided after 15 years as a State Representative to pass the legislative torch. Mr. Shaw announced to the Pittsford Selectboard at its last meeting that he will not be seeking re-election in November. Rep. Shaw sat with this reporter last week for a wide-ranging discussion of his life and career in light of his announcement.

Shaw, now 76, attributes the decision to a desire to spend more time with his wife, Mary, who “has been a wonderful partner and given up a lot” over the 15 years Shaw traveled back and forth to Montpelier from their home in Pittsford.

“One morning you wake up and say, ‘It’s time to go home and give someone younger with more energy a chance.’”

STATE REP. BUTCH Shaw addressing the Vermont legislature. After 15 years of public service, Rep. Shaw will not seek re-election in November, choosing to pass the torch to the next generation of legislators. He has represented Pittsford since 2010, and at various times Brandon, Proctor, and Sudbury as well.

Shaw began his career in the Statehouse back in 2009, when Republican Peg Flory resigned from her seat in the Vermont House of Representatives, representing Pittsford and Sudbury. Flory had one year left in her term—she left to become a State Senator for Rutland County—and recommended Shaw to then-Governor Jim Douglas as her replacement.

“I had an interview with Governor Douglas during a heavy snowstorm,” recalled Shaw. “I was waiting at his office and he arrived late because he had been pushing the plunger on the demolition of the old Champlain Bridge.”

There were other candidates under consideration, but Douglas took Flory’s recommendation and called Shaw in in early 2010 to tell him he’d won the appointment. He’s held the seat ever since.

There have been changes to the district, however. Shaw started off representing Pittsford-Sudbury, then in 2011 he began representing Brandon-Pittsford-Sudbury, and ultimately in 2022 he became the representative for Pittsford-Proctor, which is his current district.

The constant in all of this has been Pittsford, a community he’s called home since 1968. Originally from Middlebury, he moved to Pittsford after training courses in Boston to take a job as a draftsman with a local electrical engineering firm. He later started his own company specializing in traffic lights, doing significant contract work with the state. 

Montpelier wasn’t in his sights until Flory convinced him he could do it.

“I was pretty nervous at first,” Shaw admitted with the confidence of someone who has since proven himself. “It’s a lot of responsibility representing constituents. I’ve always wanted to handle the position with dignity and respect. But I had no legislative experience and was the very last member sworn in that term.”

He had a lot to learn. And, fortunately, he was able to find mentors, like Rep. Linda Myers of Essex Junction, who took him under their wings. 

“People were genuinely interested in helping me get into the groove,” he said. 

One aspect of statehouse culture that particularly impressed the new legislator was the formality of the legislative chamber. 

“Decorum was really important. It was very formal in those days, how you comported yourself on the floor. People respected the institution. The rules kept debates civil and on topic. It took a lot of party politics out of it,” Shaw said. “In Montpelier, I’ll debate until the cows come home and still go to dinner with no hard feelings. Someone you disagree with today can be your ally in something else tomorrow.”

That willingness to work with people to find solutions to Vermont’s problems became one of Shaw’s trademarks.

“’Let’s have a cup of coffee’ was one of Butch’s go-to methods,” said Brandon Town Manager Seth Hopkins in an email to The Reporter. Hopkins worked with Shaw when Hopkins was Chair of the Brandon Selectboard. “It was his way of de-escalating situations that were headed for, or were already in, a state of public conflict. Butch has solved more problems by getting two or three people together over coffee than all the social media posts have created.”

Those interpersonal skills have been important throughout Shaw’s legislative career. He’s always been a networker, committed to his principles but open to compromise when warranted. And he’s certainly capable of changing his mind. His 11 years on the Committee on Corrections and Institutions certainly helped reshape his views on criminal justice, for example.

“I was a ‘lock ‘em up and throw away the key’ kind of guy when I started,” he said. But over time he came to see that the situation was more complex than that. “I learned how rehab can and cannot work. There are a lot of people in prison with mental-health and drug problems. We need prevention.”

“Our courts are backlogged and our prisons are still full. But we’re sending fewer prisoners to serve time out of state. And we offer rehab services we did have 15 years ago. We have a high school in prison now. If we can educate people, we might be able to change their behavior.”

But Shaw has acknowledged that many of Vermont’s problems stem from Vermont’s relatively small tax base and the state’s limited coffers.

“It’s a huge chess game,” he said, referring to the state’s maneuvers to finance its infrastructure without further damaging its credit rating, which was downgraded a few years back because of the state’s large debt load.

This year’s budget strife across the state also seemed to him a case of “chickens coming home to roost” after years of neglect by the legislature. When asked why education-finance reform hasn’t happened already, his reply was simple: “It’s hard.”

And part of that difficulty, in Republican Shaw’s view, is that the Democrats’ supermajority has all but shut down debate and compromise between Democrats and Republicans, up to and including Republican Governor Phil Scott.

“I don’t think Republicans will regain the majority in November,” he said. “We’d have to flip too many seats. But the majority should be listening more to the minority. Years ago, Democratic Speaker of the House Mitzi Johnson gave a speech where she said, ‘It’s the job of the majority to steer the ship but it’s the job of the minority to point out the rocks.’ Today, a lot of the majority isn’t even worried about the rocks.”

REP. SHAW STANDS beside the Veterans Memorial at the Pittsford town offices. Mr. Shaw was instrumental in obtaining funding for the memorial. It was just one of the many projects he helped realize for his constituents over the 15 years of his tenure in the statehouse.

Shaw has worked with three different governors in his 15 years in Montpelier: Jim Douglas, Peter Shumlin, and Phil Scott. 

His overlap with Douglas was brief. But Shaw was in office for the duration of Gov. Shumlin’s tenure.

“I always got along with him personally,” he said, even when he disagreed with the Democrat’s policies. “I always respected the office of the governor, regardless of who was in it.” He gave the closure of the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant in 2014 as an example of something that could’ve been handled better under Shumlin. 

Shaw has known incumbent Gov. Phil Scott for decades, going back to their days in the construction industry. 

“Phil has always been a fierce competitor but he’s honest and thoughtful and genuinely wants to make Vermont more affordable,” he said.

Shaw said that when Irene hit in 2011, much of the focus was initially on the hard-hit mountain towns, leaving many devastated communities in Rutland County feeling neglected. Shaw was able to get then-Lt. Gov. Scott to tour the region to see the damage and register the need for massive aid in this neck of the woods as well.

“The southern half of Vermont is often overlooked in favor of Chittenden County,” said Shaw. In response, he’s felt the need to stand up even more vigorously for the communities he’s represented, whether it was his home district or Vermont as a whole.

He recently helped pass a bill to help firefighters suffering from work-related cancers, for example. It’s an issue close to his heart, as he’s been a volunteer in the Pittsford Fire Department for 56 years, even acting as Assistant Chief for 31 of them.

“I think it’s an important bill,” he said. 

Shaw is also proud of several projects he helped effectuate in his district:

  • He helped shepherd Brandon through its Segment 6 project, which massively revamped the downtown. 
  • He helped structure a no-interest loan plan to help Pittsford residents who had to dig private wells when their access to the Chittenden reservoir was cut off by the town. That program became the model for a statewide fund for residents in similar situations.
  • He helped improve Route 73 in Sudbury to avoid the constant flooding from Otter Creek that often shut it down and cut Sudbury residents off from the quickest route to Brandon. Now, the roadway floods only during the most extreme rain events.
  • He helped push through the state-funding program that closed the gap between the 75% that FEMA covered for property buyouts and the fair-market values of the afflicted properties. He made a personal appeal to Gov. Scott to get the program started.
  • He helped secure funding for the Pittsford Veterans Memorial, the Pittsford Rec Department, the roof of the Brandon Methodist Church, the playground on Seminary Street in Brandon, the renovation of Brandon Town Hall, and the baseball field at Otter Valley, among other projects.
  • He recently helped secure forgiveness for monies owed by Proctor to the Agency of Transportation for a $100K sidewalk project that didn’t work out as planned as was ultimately shelved. He saved the town tens of thousands of dollars at the very least.

“It’s just what legislators do,” he said. “Never taking no for an answer. The whole thing is about the constituents.”

And that commitment to his constituents and to his office has engendered much respect from those he’s worked with.

“Butch has been a great advocate for and friend to Brandon,” said Seth Hopkins. “His legislative tenure has been characterized by quiet and effective service. No matter the issue, Butch treated people on all side with respect and courtesy. We should all try to extend Butch’s legacy of lowering our voices and talking with each other as human beings.”

Democratic Rep. Stephanie Jerome was Shaw’s district mate in Brandon-Pittsford-Sudbury from 2018 until Brandon became its own district in 2022. She wrote about Shaw, “It’s been a pleasure to work with Butch over the past six years. He’s always been kind, approachable, and helpful on whatever bill we’re working on, and always has his constituents’ best interests at heart. He will be deeply missed in the Statehouse, not only by me but by all legislators!”

But perhaps no Vermont legislator has gotten to know Shaw as well as State Sen. Brian Collamore of Rutland County, a fellow Republican who shared an apartment with Shaw in Montpelier for 10 years.

“I was fortunate to room with Butch,” said Collamore in a phone conversation. “He was a great roommate, a great cook, and a tremendous guy. He served his districts extremely well. He could always find or suggest a solution to a problem. He took time to listen. He was honest, full of integrity, and had a lot of common sense. I thank him so much for his leadership and for teaching me. He had great patience with me. I couldn’t imagine a better teacher.”

Reflecting on his time in Montpelier, Shaw said, “I didn’t leave a lot on the table.” He has few regrets, even when bills he authored withered in committee. “I didn’t propose many bills I didn’t think could get passed.”

“I’ve got a clear conscience and an open heart,” he continued. “I’ve done my job to the best of my ability.”

And the many people he’s helped over the years would agree with him.

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