Sitting Vermont Sen. Dick Sears Has Died | Politics | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Sitting Vermont Sen. Dick Sears Has Died

By and

Published June 2, 2024 at 10:43 a.m.

Sen. Dick Sears (D-Bennington) - FILE: KEVIN MCCALLUM ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • File: Kevin McCallum ©️ Seven Days
  • Sen. Dick Sears (D-Bennington)
Longtime Vermont Sen. Dick Sears (D-Bennington) has died after a cascading series of health issues. He was 81.

Sears served in the state Senate for 32 years and was remembered as a fierce advocate for the less fortunate, including at-risk teenagers. Over the years, he led many criminal justice reforms and served on powerful committees, including Judiciary — which he chaired — and Appropriations.

Sears, a moderate Democrat, served during the just-completed legislative session and had registered with the state to run for reelection this November.

His death could have immediate political implications. Later this month, the legislature will reconvene to try and override multiple vetoes from Gov. Phil Scott. Overrides need the approval of two-thirds of the senators present at the special session, which is scheduled for June 17.

Sears' death was confirmed on Sunday in a statement from Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Baruth (D/P-Chittenden-Central), who wrote that "Dick's legacy is all but incalculable."

"Recognized nationally as one of America's 'most productive' legislators, he made judicial and corrections reform his personal mission," Baruth wrote. "He was a tireless advocate, and a fearsome negotiator ... although in some ways we were unlikely friends and allies, I came to love him like a father and I will miss him like family."
Sears' seatmate in Bennington County, Democratic Sen. Brian Campion, added that Sears "was one of the most effective leaders in the Senate and will be sorely missed."

Sears' death comes just a week after his longtime former colleague, Dick Mazza, died at the age of 84. While Mazza had resigned in April amid medical treatment for cancer, Sears was still a sitting senator.

Other longtime senators have announced they planned to retire, including
Sen. Jane Kitchel (D-Caledonia), 78; Sen. Bobby Starr (D-Orleans), 81; and Sen. Dick McCormack (D-Windsor), 76.
Sears' legislative interests were inspired by his own upbringing. In a 2014 cover story on the senator, Seven Days reported that he was born inside a Massachusetts prison to a mother he never knew.

He spent the first nine months of his life in three foster homes before a couple adopted and raised him as their only child. He empathized with kids like him, he said then: "I'm lucky. I'm extremely lucky. Who knows what would have happened to me if the Sears didn't take me?"

He later served as a foster parent to five teenagers.

Sears had suffered from skin cancer, the treatment of which left large visible scars on his scalp, and in recent months, he'd taken to wearing a cap in public and during Senate sessions.

After one heated floor debate toward the end of this past legislative session, he left the Senate chamber out of breath and was taken to the hospital.

"It's a tremendous shock and deeply saddening," Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman told Seven Days. "It's hugely impactful that another hugely knowledgeable individual won't be in the Senate anymore."

The most immediate implication of his death will be on the upcoming veto override session. It's unlikely his seat will be filled before then, and the Senate's ability to override some vetos, including on the bill to allow overdose-prevention centers, may have rested on his support, Zuckerman said. 

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