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Legislative Caucuses Prep For Session Choosing Leadership Positions

Vermont Statehouse
Pat Bradley/WAMC
Vermont Statehouse

Newly elected Vermont legislators have been participating in orientation sessions and parties are caucusing in Montpelier to choose their nominees to lead the House and Senate in the next session.  Over the weekend, House Democrats met and re-nominated the current Speaker for a second term.
Democrat Mitzi Johnson was elected Speaker of the House in the previous biennium. Now, House Democrats have unanimously nominated her for a second term. The legislators also nominated Jill Krowinski to return as House majority leader.  Both are out of town and did not return calls in time for broadcast. Senate Democrats met earlier and nominated Progressive/Democrat Tim Ashe to serve a second term as ProTem. He expects both chambers to revist a number of bills vetoed by the governor last session.  “That includes a minimum wage increase, a paid family leave bill, a bill to protect Vermonters who are polluted so that their medical bills are picked up by the polluter not themselves or the taxpayer, a bill to protect kids from children’s products that are contaminated by different chemicals. So those are some of the things that I know that we’ll both Senate and House be revisiting. And my hope is that the governor will approach those issues with a fresh set of eyes despite his vetoes last time.”

Middlebury College Professor of Political Science Bert Johnson is not surprised House Democrats unanimously voted to keep Johnson as their Speaker.  “I think it’s fairly routine for a caucus that has increased its membership and had some success in the election a few weeks ago. Success breeds continuity.  She’s got the victory pretty sealed in terms of being Speaker.”

Vermont Digger Political Columnist Jon Margolis says Johnson’s likely continuation as Speaker confirms the Democrats’ confidence in her leadership.  “It’s now a bigger Democratic majority. It was a big majority. It’s now if you add in the Progressive members it’s theoretically a veto-proof majority. It’s not necessarily going to work that way because as former Speaker Shap Smith said on election night when you have a bigger majority it’s a more diverse majority and harder to control everybody. But it is a confirmation that the members of the House are satisfied and I think even somewhat enthusiastic about their leadership. It’s a united, at this point, a united Democratic caucus in both houses.”

The leadership positions must be finalized by the full chambers when the Legislature convenes in January.  The Democrats have a veto-proof majority if the Vermont Progressives vote with them.  Progressive Party Executive Director Josh Wronski says their caucus is still determining whether they will put up a candidate for Speaker.   “We are a smaller caucus within the Legislature with 7 members so regardless of what we do we expect that Mitzi will be reelected Speaker and we look forward to kind of working with her on some of our key issues.”

Wronski says the governor will have to change the way he interacts with the legislature.  “The governor is no longer going to be able to govern by veto in the way he’s done in the past couple of years. So he’s going to have to work with the Legislature especially when it comes to the budget. Frankly I think Democrats are going to have to work with Progressives as well, more so than they have in the past, because they do need our caucus in order to achieve a veto-proof majority.”

Johnson says the legislature and the governor must communicate earlier and better.  “Two years ago  everybody was new to their position and so there was understandably a rocky start. That first year I think was something they won’t want to repeat. Year two things went a little bit more smoothly but again there was brinksmanship right at the end. And so I would expect that this year things will go more smoothly.”

The legislative session begins January 9th.

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