Dems and Progs Lose Supermajority in the Vermont House — By a Hair | Off Message

Dems and Progs Lose Supermajority in the Vermont House — By a Hair


The Vermont House of Representatives - FILE: TAYLOR DOBBS ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • File: Taylor Dobbs ©️ Seven Days
  • The Vermont House of Representatives
Republican Gov. Phil Scott had plenty to celebrate after Tuesday's election — and not just his massive victory over Progressive/Democratic Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman. The governor's party also managed to pick up a seat in the Vermont Senate and three in the House, according to unofficial results.

Among the apparent casualties was House Speaker Mitzi Johnson (D-South Hero), who trailed her nearest opponent by 18 votes. She was expected to request a recount.

Democrats and Progressives will still dominate the Senate, with a combined 23 of 30 seats. But in the House, they will no longer hold the supermajority required to overturn gubernatorial vetoes — two-thirds of the 150-member chamber — assuming the current results stand.

For the past two years, Democrats and Progressives have controlled 102 seats in the House, while Republicans have had 43 and independents five. In the next biennium, Democrats and Progressives are expected to control 99 seats, with Republicans taking 46 and independents holding steady at five.

"That's Vermonters showing they want the governor to have more support in the legislature," said Paul Dame, political director of the Vermont Republican Party.

To be sure, a supermajority on paper is rarely a supermajority in practice. Even with 102 members, Democrats failed — or didn't even try — to overturn a number of Scott's vetoes last biennium, including bills that would have created a paid family leave program, instituted a 24-hour waiting period before the purchase of handguns and forced polluters to pay for medical monitoring. They did manage to override Scott's vetoes of the Global Warming Solutions Act and a higher minimum wage.

To date, Scott has vetoed 20 bills, just shy of former governor Howard Dean's record of 21.
According to Josh Wronski, executive director of the Vermont Progressive Party, a veto-proof majority doesn't mean much when 15 to 20 moderate and conservative Democrats often decline to support their own party's proposals.

"There were a few things we got through, but until we're able to elect people who are actually willing to use the veto-proof majority to pass meaningful legislation, I'm not sure how meaningful that veto-proof majority was," he said.

House Majority Leader Jill Krowinski (D-Burlington) noted that her party always relied on others to advance its agenda.

"When we have had votes to override the governor's vetoes, they have been done with a coalition of Democrats, Progressives and independents," she said. "So I think that's a testament to the work that we do to come together and find common ground on policy decisions."

Of the 99 Democrats and Progressives expected to take office in January, 92 primarily identify as Democrats — down from 95 in the current biennium. Seven primarily identify as Progressives, the same as this year.

Despite those Democratic losses, Krowinski said, "The takeaway from election night is that Vermonters returned strong Democratic majorities to the House and the Senate. Period." She added, "This was a status quo election, frankly, and Vermonters went with the people that they know and trust and that they've been working through this pandemic with."
Like the Democrats, Progressives also lost their leader in the House: Rep. Robin Chesnut-Tangerman (P-Middletown Springs), who chairs the Progressive caucus. Three other members retired, but four new Progressives replaced them.

"We elected a historic number of new Progressives — all women — including the first trans woman ever elected to the legislature," Wronski said, referring to Taylor Small of Winooski. "So that's a really exciting thing for us."

According to representatives of all three parties and data collected by the Secretary of State's Office, the following seats are expected to change hands, barring recounts or unexpected developments:

Republican Pickups:

  • Grand Isle-Chittenden: Republican Michael Morgan of Milton defeated Rep. Mitzi Johnson (D-South Hero) in this two-member district.
  • Orange-1: Republican Samantha Lefebvre of Orange defeated Rep. Carl Demrow (D-Corinth) in this two-member district.
  • Franklin-5: Republican Paul Martin of Franklin defeated Rep. Charen Fegard (D-Berkshire) in this two-member district.
  • Rutland-2: Republican Arthur Peterson of Clarendon defeated Rep. Dave Potter (D-Clarendon) in this two-member district.
  • Orange-Caledonia: Republican Joe Parsons of Newbury replaced retiring Rep. Chip Conquest (D-Newbury).
  • Rutland-Bennington: Republican Sally Achey of Middletown Springs defeated Rep. Robin Chesnut-Tangerman (P-Middletown Springs).
Democratic Pickups:

  • Chittenden 8-3: Democrat Alyssa Black of Essex defeated Rep. Bob Bancroft (R-Essex) in this one-member district.
  • Orange-Washington-Addison: Democrat Larry Satcowitz of Randolph defeated Rep. Peter Reed (I-Braintree) in this two-member district.
  • Windsor-1: Democrat/Progressive Elizabeth Burrows of West Windsor replaced retiring Rep. Zach Ralph Watson (P-Hartland) in this two-member district.
  • Windsor-Rutland: Democrat/Progressive Kirk White of Bethel replaced retiring Rep. Sandy Haas (P-Rochester) in this one-member district.
Progressive Pickups:

  • Chittenden 6-2: Progressive Emma Mulvaney-Stanak of Burlington defeated Rep. Jean O'Sullivan (D-Burlington) in this one-member district during the August primary.
  • Windsor 4-1: Progressive/Democrat Heather Suprenant of Barnard replaced retiring Rep. Randall Szott (D/P-Barnard) in this one-member district.
  • Chittenden 8-1: Progressive/Democrat Tanya Vyhovsky of Essex replaced retiring Rep. Linda Meyers (R-Essex) in this two-member district.
Independent Pickups:

  • Essex-Caledonia-Orleans: Rep. Paul Lefebvre (R-Newark) chose to run this year as an independent in this one-member district.
The Senate next year is expected to welcome four new members, including Republican Joshua Terenzini of Rutland Town, who will join Rutland County's three-member delegation, as well as Democrats Thomas Chittenden of South Burlington and Kesha Ram of Burlington, who will join Chittenden County's six-member delegation.

But only one Senate seat changed hands from one party to another. Sen. John Rodgers (D-Essex/Orleans), who ran this year as an independent, will be replaced in his two-member district by Republican Russ Ingalls of Newport City.

Corrected Nov. 4, 2020, at 8:23 p.m.: An earlier version of this story misidentified the district Rep. Charen Fegard represents. It's the Franklin-5 district.