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Leadership Changes In Vermont Legislature Expected In Upcoming Session

Vermont Statehouse
Pat Bradley/WAMC
Vermont Statehouse (file)

There will be a number of changes in the leadership of the Vermont Legislature if election results stand.
All 150 seats in the Vermont House were up for election this year.  In the Grand Isle-Chittenden District, Democrat Mitzi Johnson, the current House Speaker, trails two Republicans in the two-seat district.  Twenty votes separate her from second place and 169 from first.  Middlebury College Professor Emeritus of Political Science Eric Davis notes Johnson has had several close races in recent election cycles.   “I believe she never won by more than about 100 votes in the last three election cycles. So it was not a surprise that she came in third in the two person district. She’s been hard-pressed by Republicans in that that district for several cycles now.”

Johnson has called for a recount. But Davis doubts it will change the outcome.  “She admitted that herself. Now that all the ballots are counted by an automatic scanner recounts typically change no more than a handful of votes. So I expect that the result will be confirmed by the recount. But it’s within her right to ask for it.  Under state law if you’re within one half of one percent of the next highest finisher you can request a recount and she’s clearly within that margin.”

The Vermont Progressive Party holds major party status in the state. House caucus chair Robin Chesnut-Tangerman was defeated in his re-election bid.  The losses to Vermont Republicans, who picked up three House seats, keep the Democrats and Progressives just under the 100 votes needed to override any veto by Republican Governor Phil Scott, who won a third term.  Again Eric Davis:  “What the Republicans did this year is they realized they would not be able to pick up a huge number of seats.  What they tried to do was target key Democrats and they targeted the Speaker and they targeted the leader of the Progressive caucus in the House. And both of them were defeated.”

Shifts in leadership were expected in the Vermont Senate as Lieutenant Governor David Zuckerman decided to run for governor and Pro Tem Tim Ashe ran for Lieutenant Governor.  Both Democrat/Progressives lost their races. Middlebury College Professor of Political Science Bert Johnson says it’s been three years since there was new leadership in both the House and Senate.  “But in 2017 when that was the case there was a new governor as well so all branches of government were sort of led by different and new people. This time around we’ve got new leadership in the Senate and probably the House but the governor is experienced. So I would expect that that tilts the field a little bit in the Governor’s favor. Now I think the issues and the priorities are going to be dominated by what I would call the 2 C’s which is COVID and Congress. The on-going COVID crisis is going to continue to have to be dealt with. And then whatever Congress does in terms of aid to the states is going to reverberate down to the state level. So no matter who’s in charge in the Legislature those are the main issues.”

The Vermont Legislature begins its new session on January 6th.


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