MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury state Rep. Betty Nuovo has never been one to be intimidated by numbers — whether they be state statistics, budget numbers or long odds.
So it should come as no surprise that the county’s longest-serving legislator is not in the least bit fazed by the number 80, which was the birthday she marked late last year.
“I feel great,” said Nuovo, a Democrat who has spent more than a quarter-century in the Vermont House and will be asking voters this fall to give her another two years.
“Yes, I am 80 years old, but I feel like I’m 60,” Nuovo said during an interview on Monday.
“I still have a lot of energy.”
Nuovo’s involvement in state and local politics dates back to 1962, during the Kennedy administration. She and her husband of 59 years, Victor, had just moved to Middlebury from New Brunswick, N.J., so that Victor could join the faculty of Middlebury College’s Philosophy Department.
Once in Middlebury, Betty Nuovo joined the Addison County League of Women Voters. She was particularly interested in advancing legislation and initiatives aimed at boosting women’s rights and ensuring equal pay in the workplace.
She found two local mentors — fellow League of Women Voters member Mildred Davis and former state Rep. Stan Lazarus of Middlebury — who taught her a lot about the reapportionment process in Vermont.
“I got more and more involved,” she said of her eventual affiliations that would include the Middlebury Democratic Committee, town selectboard, Addison County Regional Planning Commission, Middlebury charter committee, Middlebury Planning Commission, Addison County Chamber of Commerce board and Addison County Economic Development Corp. board.
Nuovo’s involvement in local Democratic activities earned her and 49 other Vermonters an invite to the White House on Nov. 17, 1979, to meet President Jimmy Carter.
“I couldn’t believe it,” she said of her trip to Washington, D.C. “I could barely speak as I tried to explain to my husband and children what had just happened.”
By this time, Nuovo had set up her own law firm on Middlebury’s Court Street. She worked mostly on real estate, corporate and nonprofit matters. Attorney Pam Marsh joined her at the practice during the mid-1980s.
RUN FOR THE HOUSE
In 1980, Nuovo decided to launch her first run for the Vermont Statehouse, winning one of Middlebury’s two House seats.
House leadership appointed Nuovo to the Judiciary Committee, a panel she chaired from 1985 to 1988.
She said the most important piece of legislation passed out of her committee was a constitutional amendment on equal rights for women. While the measure passed the House and Senate, it failed to receive the requisite support through public referendum.
“It was very disappointing,” she said.
While on Judiciary, Nuovo said she wrote — and saw passed — a child support law, the state’s first landlord-tenant bill, a condo bill, a time-share bill, a driving under the influence bill and a “complete re-write of many of the criminal laws.”
Nuovo joined the House Ways and Means Committee during the 1989-1990 biennium.
“I had a chance to learn about all the bills that dealt with taxes and fees,” Nuovo said.
While she enjoyed her work, Nuovo took a pass on re-election in 1990 in order to focus on her law practice.
“I had to come back and work,” Nuovo said. “Pam (Marsh) had been very good about keeping me in the running.”
Nuovo would sell her half of the law firm to Marsh in 1994, whereupon she returned to politics. It was a year during which she joined the Middlebury selectboard and made an unsuccessful bid for one of the Addison County and Brandon’s two state Senate seats.
But, in hindsight, Nuovo said that was OK; she preferred the House anyway. And that’s where she returned in 1997 and has remained ever since.
The past 15 years have seen Nuovo serve on several different House committees, including Agriculture, Ways and Means, Judiciary, and currently on Natural Resources and Energy. She has, during her latest stint, worked with three governors (Howard Dean, James Douglas and Peter Shumlin) and weighed in with her colleagues on some interesting initiatives, including civil unions and same-sex marriage (voting in favor) and the re-licensing of Vermont Yankee (she remains opposed). She has also seen the state begin to dig out from one of the deepest recessions in history.
“The important thing is that the Legislature write good laws that are clear and consistent and accomplish their purpose, which should always be the public good,” Nuovo said. “This is the part of the work I like the most and am most suited for because of my legal and legislative background.”
She confessed to being a stickler for details when it comes to the phrasing in specific bills.
Her colleagues can vouch for her thoroughness in that regard.
“She is on top of the details,” said Rep. Mike Fisher, D-Lincoln, who has set next to Nuovo in the House chamber for the past 12 years.
“It’s been a great pleasure and learning experience for me to serve with her,” Fisher said.
“She works really hard.”
Sen. Harold Giard, D-Bridport, echoed those sentiments.
“Betty is an institution up there,” Giard said. “She is a delightful person and knowledgeable. She has seen it all and done it all. And she has always stayed positive.”
Nuovo will soon begin campaigning and plans on knocking on at least 900 doors this summer and fall, whether she has competition or not. She enjoys the interaction with voters and still has plenty of stamina to continue her rounds.
“I will keep doing it as long as I have the energy,” Nuovo said.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected]