Compromise or Veto Overrides? Vermont Dems Have New Leverage Over Scott | Off Message

Compromise or Veto Overrides? Vermont Dems Have New Leverage Over Scott


House Majority Leader Jill Krowinski (D-Burlington) - FILE: JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR
  • File: Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
  • House Majority Leader Jill Krowinski (D-Burlington)
Democrats and Progressives in the Vermont Statehouse now have the numbers to override a veto, giving them greater leverage over Republican Gov. Phil Scott. Whether they'll successfully wield that power to advance a progressive agenda remains to be seen.

On multiple occasions during Scott’s first term, the 53 House Republicans blocked Democrats and Progs from overriding his vetoes, which requires a two-thirds majority in the 150-member House. That bulwark blew up Tuesday night.

After reviewing unofficial election results from the Secretary of State’s Office, Seven Days has confirmed that Democrats gained 12 seats in the House while Progressives held onto their seven, bringing the total number of left-leaning lawmakers to 102. Meanwhile, Republicans lost 10 seats to leave them with 43 members, while independents lost two seats and now hold just five.

In the 30-member Senate, Democrats, who already had a two-thirds majority, picked up another seat, leaving Republicans with only six.

Democratic legislators, who have criticized Scott for being unwilling to work collaboratively, say he’ll no longer have that option. “The governor is gonna need to do more than just issue veto threats,” said Rep. Sam Young (D-Glover).

“I think it sends the message that [voters] want us to work together,” said House Majority Leader Jill Krowinski (D-Burlington). “They want the governor to come and join us at the table.”

Senate Minority Leader Joe Benning (R-Caledonia) predicted that Democratic leaders will “take a turn to the left and will be presenting virtually everything on their wish list.” Referring to Scott, he said, “he’ll have to carefully pick and choose his battles.”
The governor seemed to acknowledge the new reality during his victory speech Tuesday night.

"By electing a governor of one party and a legislature by another, the message Vermonters have sent to us tonight is clear: Work together," Scott told his supporters. "Vermonters are saying they want us to work for them, not against each other, they are saying we need to listen to one another and prove to the rest of the nation that in Vermont, we can and will rise above partisan politics."

“The governor has acknowledged there’s no doubt the dynamic has changed,” his communications director, Rebecca Kelley, said Wednesday. “He and the administration will have to adapt to that.”

Kelley disputed Democrats’ assertion that Scott hasn’t worked well with them, but she said, “there’s certainly a recognition that we may need to compromise more.” Asked about legislation such as the paid family leave bill and the $15 minimum wage, both of which Scott vetoed last session, she said, "those things may go through without his approval."
The election results seem to have hardly chastened Scott, who won by a comfortable 15-point margin over Democrat Christine Hallquist. In his victory speech Tuesday, the governor vowed to push ahead with his political agenda, which centers on affordability and economic growth. And there's no guarantee that a coalition of the left will, in fact, coalesce around key legislation.

Within the group of 102, “there’s a pretty wide spectrum,” Young said, and hitting that threshold, “doesn’t mean that we’re just going to be able to override vetoes.”

Party Shifts in Vermont House Districts

District 2017-2018 2018-2019
Addison-3 Warren Van Wyck (R) Matt Birong (D)
Addison-3 Diane Lanpher (D) Diane Lanpher (D)
Addison-4 Fred Baser (R) Caleb Elder (D)
Addison-4 Dave Sharpe (D) Mari Cordes (D/P)
Bennington-4 Brian Keefe (R) Kathleen James (D)
Bennington-4 Cynthia Browning (D) Cynthia Browning (D)
Caledonia-3 Janssen Willhoit (R) Scott Campbell (D)
Caledonia-3 Scott Beck (R) Scott Beck (R)
Chittenden 6-1 Kurt Wright (R) Bob Hooper (D)
Chittenden 6-1 Carol Ode (D) Carol Ode (D)
Franklin-5 Steve Beyor (R) Charen Fegard (D)
Franklin-5 Albert Pearce (R) Joshua Aldrich (R)
Franklin-6 Daniel Connor (D) James Gregoire (R)
Franklin-7 Cindy Weed (P) Felisha Leffler (R)
Grand Isle Ben Joseph (D) Leland Morgan (R)
Grand Isle Mitzi Johnson (D) Mitzi Johnson (D)
Lamoille-3 Bernie Juskiewicz (R) Lucy Rogers (D)
Gary Nolan (R) Avram Patt (D)
David Yacavone (D) David Yacavone (D)
Orange-1 Bob Frenier (R) Carl Demrow (D)
Orange-1 Rodney Graham (R) Rodney Graham (R)
Rutland 5-4 Doug Gage (R) William Notte (D)
Rutland-Windsor-2 Dennis Devereux (R) Logan Nicoll (D/P)
Washington-3 Paul Poirer (I) Peter Anthony (D)
Washington-3 Tommy Walz (D) Tommy Walz (D)
Washington-7 Ed Read (I) Kari Dolan (D)
Washington-7 Maxine Grad (D) Maxine Grad (D)
Windham-1 Mike Hebert (R) Sara Coffey (D)
Windsor-1 Paul Belaski (D) Zachariah Ralph (P/D)
Windsor-1 John Bartholomew (D) John Bartholomew (D)
Windsor-Orange-1 David Ainsworth (R) John O'Brien (D)

Source: Vermont Secretary of State • Table: Andrea Suozzo

Young is a case in point. He broke ranks with the majority to vote against raising the minimum wage to $15, but he cosponsored the paid family leave bill. The Democrats are likely to take up both measures again.

House Speaker Mitzi Johnson (D-South Hero) has so far proven more reluctant than some of her predecessors to exhort members of her caucus to vote in lockstep.

Senate President Pro Tempore Tim Ashe (D/P-Chittenden) isn’t counting on uniformity in the House. The idea that the 102 members will act as a monolith is “an insult to each member, and it’s just not how it goes,” Ashe said.

The Scott administration knows that, too. “One interesting thing is, this does put a lot of legislative power into a small number of fiscally conservative Democrats and independents,” Kelley said. To sustain a veto, Republicans would need only seven lawmakers to join them, she noted.

For the time being, both Scott and legislative leaders are expressing optimism that Tuesday's results will lead to a better working relationship. “The goal is not to have veto showdowns,” Ashe said. Paul Heintz contributed reporting.

Correction, November 8, 2018: An earlier version of this story included a table that omitted a Democratic pickup in the Franklin-5 district. Additionally, Charen Fegard's name was misspelled in an earlier version of that table.

Disclosure: Tim Ashe is the domestic partner of
Seven Days publisher and coeditor Paula Routly. Find our conflict-of-interest policy here: