DOVER — If and when the Vermont House of Representatives chooses a new speaker, that leader should de-emphasize partisanship and focus on moderation and a solutions-driven approach, a four-person block of independent lawmakers, including two from Southern Vermont’s mountain towns, said Thursday.
The statement, sent to legislative leaders and media outlets, was signed by Reps. Laura Sibilia, I-Dover, Kelly Pajaia, I-Londonderry, Terry Norris, I-Shoreham, and Barbara Murphy, I-Fairfax.
It comes as the House contemplates the possibility that its current speaker, Rep. Mitzi Johnson, D-Grand Isle, will be replaced, and considers candidates for a successor.
As Johnson pursues a recount in the Grand Isle-Chittenden district, where she finished 18 votes out of the running, three House Democrats, Sarah Copeland-Hanzas of Bradford, Jill Krowinski of Burlington and Charles Kimbell of Woodstock, are positioning themselves to succeed Johnson if her recount falls short. The independent lawmakers said Johnson has paid close attention to their positions, despite their independent status. as she sought to build consensus in the House. They don’t want to lose that quality as the House potentially changes leaders, they said.
“We are concerned about losing such an inclusive, moderate, consensus-building leader in the House,” the statement said. “We encourage our partisan colleagues to search among their midst for a transparent consensus builder with the wisdom to recognize how important is for the legislature to focus deeply on the issues driving inequity in Vermont.”
Sibilia on Thursday said the statement should not be construed as an endorsement of any one candidate. It grew out of conversations the lawmakers had following the election, and their disappointment at Johnson’s apparent loss in her district.
“This is a pretty extraordinary time we find ourselves in,” Sibilia said. “I think that really led to a sense of urgency, trying to see if we had something we all agreed we wanted to say — what we hoped our colleagues would do in terms of bringing candidates forward.”
What it isn’t, Sibilia said, is an endorsement of any candidate. “It’s really intended to let our colleagues know what we think is important going into the session.”
The issues driving inequality in Vermont, they said, include education, job training, broadband access, and the demands of changing environmental regulations, among others.
“These issues are more difficult and costly to solve then simply raising the minimum wage or further increasing taxes on the wealthy – perennial policies that drive national agendas rather than driving solutions to the structural issues of inequity specific to Vermont,” the lawmakers said.
This month’s election results, the lawmakers said, show that Vermonters want moderate leaders — but also hinted at partisan divisions that could divide the state along geographic lines.
“In the Green Mountain State, Vermonters gave our moderate Republican Governor a definitive mandate to govern, sharply rejected the cruelty of the Trump Administration, and ever so slightly — yet meaningfully — clipped the wings of the super-majority,” the statement said. “National frustrations manifested themselves clearly in elections across Vermont’s geography and highlight the differing policy priorities of both the I-89 Chittenden/Washington County corridor and the Northeast Kingdom and Southern Vermont.”
Among the candidates for speaker, Krowinski declined comment, indicating that she’s still awaiting the results of Johnson’s recount to make public statements. Copeland-Hanzas did not respond to an email seeking comment by press time Thursday afternoon. Kimbell said he hoped the independent lawmakers could back him “as the best person to address the issues they raise and heal the divisions that we have in our state It is vitally important for the nominee from the Democratic party to have the support of the majority of the caucus, and I am working hard to secure that support.”