Lt. Gov. Phil Scott, Gov. Peter Shumlin, House Speaker Shap Smith and Senate President Pro Tem John Campbell early Saturday morning as the legislature adjourned
At 12:18 a.m. Saturday, Speaker Shap Smith (D-Morristown) gaveled out the Vermont House for the last time in his eight-year tenure. A moment later, Lt. Gov. Phil Scott adjourned the Vermont Senate just down the hall, bringing to a close his six years as its presiding officer.
Thus ended a night of farewells from the many lawmakers who have chosen not to seek reelection — including, most significantly, the four men who have run the Statehouse together since January 2011: Gov. Peter Shumlin, Senate President Pro Tempore John Campbell (D-Windsor), Scott and Smith.
“We’ve done a lot — an awful lot — and we’ve done it together, as a family,” Shumlin told a joint assembly of the House and Senate shortly before adjournment of the 2016 legislative session. “I’m acutely aware of this tonight as myself and many of you are moving on from our current roles in public service. Like all families, we’ve had our spats, but we’ve always come together, in the end, to do what’s best for Vermont.”
There were, in fact, fewer end-of-session spats than usual Friday as legislators raced for the exits. Though disagreement over a renewable energy siting bill briefly threatened to extend the session, legislative leaders agreed during a 5 p.m. meeting in the speaker’s office that they could adjourn a day earlier than many anticipated.
For some, the end couldn’t come soon enough.
“This was probably the roughest session I’ve been in,” veteran Sen. Dick Sears (D-Bennington) said Friday afternoon, attributing the turmoil to the “unprecedented” leadership changes he said had “created some vacuums.”
Sen. Dick Mazza applauds Lt. Gov. Phil Scott Friday night at the Statehouse.
While legislators typically play it safe during the second year of the biennium — with an eye to their looming reelection campaigns — this session was notable for its inaction. Throughout the building Friday, legislators struggled to identify many concrete accomplishments.
Shumlin himself alluded to the session’s frustrations in his closing remarks early Saturday morning.
“I know this isn’t the year for ticker tape parades for public service and endless thank-you tributes from your constituents. That’s why we’ve gotta give them to ourselves,” he said, drawing laughter from legislators. “But you should be proud of the fact that the work you’ve accomplished together is extraordinary. It will have a lasting impact on generations of Vermonters to come.”
In each of their own final speeches, Campbell, Scott and Smith spoke with nostalgia about their time in office and urged their colleagues to preserve what they said was unique about the Vermont legislature.
Senate President Pro Tem John Campbell speaks Friday night at the Statehouse.
“There’s a tremendous amount of dedication, but more importantly a tremendous amount of respect for each other,” said Campbell, who is leaving the Senate after 16 years for a job as executive director of the Department of State’s Attorneys and Sheriffs. “We definitely have our differences. There’s no question about that ... But no matter what party you’re in, I think all of us here really care about the people we represent.”
Scott, a Republican who served 10 years in the Senate before his six as lieutenant governor, recalled that it was a Democrat, Sen. Dick Mazza (D-Grand Isle), who took him under his wing when he was first elected.
Lt. Gov. Phil Scott speaks Friday night at the Statehouse.
“From day one, I knew that bipartisanship was possible. And it makes all of us better when we find ways to help each other, listen to each other and respect each other, in spite of our differences,” the LG said. “I truly believe in our citizen legislature: People from all walks of life with different skill sets and personalities come together for a common cause.”
Unlike Shumlin and Campbell, Scott may return to the building next year — but in a very different role: He is running for governor.
“As we all know, next year will be different. There will be a new governor, a new lieutenant governor, a new speaker, a new pro tem, new senators, new representatives,” he said. “But even though we feel so protective of this building and these seats, we must remember we are just caretakers here — carrying on the work of those who came before us and laying the groundwork for those who will come next.”
Speaking later in the House, Smith reflected on just how much of his life he had spent in the Vermont Statehouse. When he was first elected, he and his wife had a 1-year-old child. Now they have an 11- and 14-year-old.
House Speaker Shap Smith speaks Friday night at the Statehouse.
Like Scott, Smith may also return to a new role. Though he has said he will not seek reelection to the House, he has suggested in recent weeks that he may run for lieutenant governor.
“You know, when I came here 14 years ago I didn’t know what I would find,” Smith said, his eyes welling up. “But as I leave today, I know what I found: I found family. You will always be with me. God bless. Godspeed.”