The race to replace Rep. Mitzi Johnson (D-South Hero) as speaker of the Vermont House has expanded.
Rep. Charlie Kimbell (D-Woodstock) said Monday that he's running in order to "bring a rural voice" to the office. A second-term moderate from the Upper Valley, he characterized himself as a more unifying — and less partisan — figure than two other declared candidates: Rep. Jill Krowinski (D-Burlington) and Rep. Sarah Copeland Hanzas (D-Bradford), respectively the current and former House majority leaders.
"The speaker's role is different than that of majority leader," Kimbell said. "The speaker's role is to be representative of all members of the House and to build consensus and coalitions with all the people who are there."
Kimbell, who has worked in banking, art licensing and manufacturing, currently serves as director of sales and marketing for MISys, a Woodstock-based software company. He first won election to the House in 2016 and serves as ranking member of the House Committee on Commerce and Economic Development.
Kimbell has charted a more centrist course in the House than Krowinski or Copeland Hanzas. In a May 2017 interview with Seven Days, he said,"Within the Democratic Party, I'm probably one of the most conservative."
Kimbell opposed two bills to raise the state's minimum wage, though he joined his Democratic and Progressive colleagues in overriding Gov. Phil Scott's veto of a more gradual wage increase. He supported the Global Warming Solutions Act, but he criticized the manner in which legislative leaders described it.
"Some of the legislation that was passed in the past four years didn't go over that well in rural Vermont," he said, adding that some inaccurately believed it would result in the banning of snowmobiles and ATVs. "So how do you control the message as speaker of the House?"
Yet another House member also expressed interest in the speakership over the weekend, though her odds of winning would appear to be long. Outgoing Rep. Cynthia Browning (D-Arlington), who lost her own reelection race last week, reminded colleagues in an email that there is no requirement that the speaker be a sitting member of the House. She said she was considering seeking the position but had not yet entered the race.
"I believe quite strongly that the other likely candidates for Speaker may not be the best people to lead the House during the current crisis conditions, in which the ability to face difficult economic realities and the ability to treat all members with respect will be even more important than ever," Browning wrote in an email to reporters.
Browning was stripped of her position on the House Ways and Means Committee last March after demanding that her colleagues vote in person at the Statehouse during an early peak of the coronavirus pandemic. She subsequently decided to run for reelection as an independent but lost.