As Legislature Convenes, Snelling Drops Pro Tem Bid; Campbell Reelected | Off Message

As Legislature Convenes, Snelling Drops Pro Tem Bid; Campbell Reelected

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In the opening moments of the 2013 legislative session, Sen. Diane Snelling (R-Chittenden) dropped her long-shot bid for Senate President Pro Tem, choosing instead to nominate her would-be opponent: Sen. John Campbell (D-Windsor).

"This may seem surprising to some. However, I have been promised nothing more and nothing less than a fair and normal process, and a focused and productive Senate," Snelling (pictured at right) said from the Senate floor. "Many positive changes are in place to create the predictability that will ensure that. And I'm grateful that we can begin our work today with a clear understanding of our responsibilities."

Snelling's move cleared the way for Campbell, who was first elected president pro tem two years ago, to unanimously win reelection.

In brief remarks to the chamber, he compared Vermont's collegial legislature favorably to the U.S. Congress, arguing that in Montpelier — unlike Washington — elected representatives refuse to let partisanship get in the way.

"What matters is that we do the job — do something that's right for Vermonters," Campbell said. "More importantly, that we keep in mind that we have to look out for our most vulnerable of our population: the elderly, the disabled, the children. And I can say that in my 12 years here we have done that."

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In closing, Campbell (pictured at left) joked, "When we leave here in two weeks, I'll [hope to] say we did a good job."

In November, Snelling became the second senator to declare a challenge to Campbell's rule, citing the disorganized manner in which the Senate was run last session. Campbell easily defeated Sen. Ann Cummings (D-Washington) later that month for the Democratic nomination to the post.

Outside the Senate chamber, Snelling said she'd decided only on Tuesday to drop her challenge.

"I never call anyone for a vote. I had a point to make," she said."I had discussions with every single senator. I had many discussions with Sen. Campbell."

Snelling said the pro tem was receptive to her concerns and assured her he would improve the Senate's day-to-day operation.

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"A lot of the dilemmas we've had in the past were simply about not following the rules," Snelling said. "They weren't differences of opinions on significant issues. The whole point of the process is to be able to talk about difficult things in a civil fashion — and to be accountable to the people."

The Senate's non-election capped off an altogether uneventful first day back in the Statehouse for most legislators.

Speaker Shap Smith (D-Morrisville) also won unanimous reelection to lead the Vermont House. Rep. Paul Poirer (I-Barre) last month dropped his challenge to Smith, a bid he said was motivated by a sense that many House members were routinely shut out of debate.

Like Campbell, Smith too invoked the differences between Montpelier and Washington during remarks to a crowded House chamber, saying, "I believe that we can set a better example in Vermont."

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Smith made clear that a top priority this session would be to improve Vermont's education system.

"Too few of our high school students seek a college degree," he said. "Many employers tell us how challenging it is to find qualified workers to fill job vacancies. And most alarming is that educational achievement is still lagging behind for those on the lower end of the economic ladder."

While Vermont has laid the groundwork for educational improvements, Smith said, plenty remains to be done.

"Our students should and must be the best prepared in the country," he said. That is the goal that we must work toward."

Photos by Paul Heintz

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