A recount Friday confirmed that Vermont House Speaker Mitzi Johnson (D-South Hero) has lost the seat she’s held for 18 years to Republican Michael Morgan of Milton in the highest profile upset this election cycle.
The result heralds a new beginning for the House, as Majority Leader Jill Krowinski (D-Burlington) is poised to become the chamber’s next speaker. Johnson has held the speakership for the last four years.
Official election results for the two-seat Grand Isle-Chittenden district showed Johnson in third place, 20 votes short of Morgan’s 2,627 votes. Morgan's margin of victory increased by one vote after Friday's eight-hour recount at the North Hero Community Hall, according to results from Grand Isle County Clerk Susan Bohannon.
Morgan’s uncle, Rep. Leland Morgan (R-Milton), was the top vote-getter with 2,778 votes after the recount, an increase of two votes; Democrat Andy Julow earned 2,405, one vote more than before the recount.
Despite her loss, Johnson said this election’s record-breaking turnout earned her more votes than ever before. She said the coronavirus pandemic prevented her from running a typical campaign. For one, she didn’t knock on doors in the district, which usually afforded her the chance to hear from voters directly — and clear up any misconceptions about her record.
“Had I been able to do that, I easily could have flipped 12 votes,” she said. This year, she had to focus on leading the House through the pandemic.
“I was busy doing the job I was hired to do,” Johnson said. “That was a huge disadvantage.”
Morgan has attributed his win to the grassroots campaign he’s been waging in the Champlain Islands since he lost to Johnson in 2018. He was relieved to hear about the affirmed results Friday evening and said he looks forward to getting to work when the session begins in January.
“Certainly being a new guy, I’ll listen and learn some, but I don’t plan to just sit there and be a bump on the log, either,” Morgan said.
Morgan is one of six Republicans who flipped House seats this election, stripping Democrats and Progressives of the supermajority needed to overturn gubernatorial vetoes — a muscle they rarely flexed as moderate Democrats often declined to support their own party’s initiatives.
File: Jeb Wallace Brodeur
House Majority Leader Jill Krowinski, left, and House Speaker Mitzi Johnson
Democrats are now lined up to back Krowinski as their nominee for House speaker after two other candidates — Reps. Sarah Copeland Hanzas (D-Bradford) and Charlie Kimbell (D-Woodstock) — have exited the race and endorsed Krowinski.
Copeland Hanzas was the first to express interest in the post but dropped out earlier this week. Kimbell withdrew Friday after comparing notes with Krowinski and seeing she “had more than enough support to carry the caucus,” he said.
“[I’m] happy that Jill, with so much experience, is coming into the position to be able to get the caucus up and running without really missing a beat,” the two-term lawmaker said, referring to Krowinski’s four years as House majority leader. She first won election in 2012.
Krowinski said she's ready to lead the party during the coronavirus crisis.
"It's going to mean working together," she said. "I'm prepared to work together and to do everything we can to make sure no matter what your zip code is, you have a fair shot at a strong future and recovery."
Krowinski will be formally nominated at the party's caucus on December 5, and the full House will vote on her appointment when the chamber reconvenes on January 6. Johnson will continue in the speaker role until then. She congratulated Krowinski, calling the presumptive nominee smart, passionate and dedicated.
For her part, Johnson said she wouldn't rule out reentering politics in the future. She said she’s proud of the work the legislature accomplished in an unprecedented virtual session, including passing the Global Warming Solutions Act, raising the minimum wage and directing coronavirus relief funds to Vermonters in need.
“I walk away with nothing but gratitude for the community that entrusted me with this job for 18 years and to an incredible group of colleagues and legislative staff,” Johnson said. “I’m just really, incredibly proud of this chapter in my life.”