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Vermont House Vote on the U.S. Capitol Riot Was Anonymous

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Rep. Jill Krowinski - FILE: JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR
  • File: Jeb Wallace-brodeur
  • Rep. Jill Krowinski

The day after a mob stormed the U.S. Capitol seeking to overturn the results of the presidential election, outraged Vermont lawmakers weighed in on the historic moment. Rep. Jill Krowinski (D-Burlington), the new speaker of the House of Representatives, stood at the rostrum in the nearly empty chamber, a portrait of George Washington towering over her, and asked the clerk to read the hastily drafted declaration.

It condemned the violence as a "direct attack upon our democracy" that was "instigated by President Donald Trump" to "overturn the results of a fair and free election that he lost in order to keep himself in power." As Gov. Phil Scott had done the previous day, it called on Trump to resign or be removed from office.

Krowinski asked the 149 other representatives, visible to her on a large computer screen, if they were "ready for the question."

"I paused. And I asked the question, 'Shall we adopt JHR 1?' And there was silence," Krowinski (D-Burlington) recalled last week.

Then, on just the second day of the legislative session, Vermont's elected representatives, without a peep of debate, approved the measure by a vote of 130 to 16, with four members not voting.

The lack of debate on a subject of such intense public interest surprised many, but not Krowinski — she had helped orchestrate it.

Earlier that morning, the speaker had reached an understanding with Rep. Pattie McCoy (R-Poultney), the leader of the divided Republican caucus, and Rep. Selene Colburn (P-Burlington), the new head of a small band of Progressives, for the vote to go forward without a divisive debate and lengthy roll call vote. The goal, Krowinski and others said, was to send a swift message of unequivocal condemnation, unity and resolve.

The agreement, however, also obscured from the public how members — including the 16 opponents — had voted on an issue of intense interest. The vote was taken using the electronic platform Everbridge, which is being utilized for remote voting during the pandemic. Under current House rules, the process is anonymous.

A representative could still have objected and forced a roll call vote over Zoom. All members would then have had to publicly say yea or nay, and they could have made short speeches to explain their votes. But Krowinski encouraged party leaders to urge their members to forgo such a drawn-out process that might have further stoked division.

Krowinski's chief of staff, Conor Kennedy, likened the electronic voting process employed that day to the "voice vote" procedure used routinely in the chamber, which creates no record of who voted how. While the Everbridge system informs the House clerk about the votes cast, that information may be incomplete because legislators can also vote by phone. Legislative attorneys take the position that "transitory" records of these votes are exempt from the state's public records law, Kennedy said.

Seven Days has filed a request under the state Public Records Act for any documents related to the vote.

Democratic and Progressive leaders say the public has a right to know how their representatives vote on any matter.

"It's up to us to be open and transparent with the media and with our constituents, and if someone chooses not to do that, then it's up to their constituents on how they want to support or not support that member moving forward," Krowinski said.

The House process, however, makes it difficult to determine who the 16 who voted no are.

That's in contrast to the Senate. That 30-member body also voted by voice, passing the same resolution 29-1. But on Zoom, each of the senators is visible on viewers' screens when voting, and it was apparent that first-term Sen. Russ Ingalls (R-Essex/Orleans) voted no. He later issued a lengthy explanation of his stand.

Seven Days has identified 14 House members who indicated that they planned to vote against the resolution or acknowledged that they had. That leaves two who voted against it but have not publicly disclosed it — and four who, for whatever reason, did not vote.

"I can definitely understand Vermonters who are frustrated and want more transparency around how their representatives voted on this," Colburn said.

A House resolution introduced by Rep. Charlie Kimbell (D-Woodstock) would provide that transparency. H.R.6 would require that future votes taken on Everbridge be made public.

Past efforts to institute electronic voting in the legislature have gone nowhere out of respect for tradition and concern about the cost of rewiring the House and Senate chambers to make such voting possible, Kimbell said. But taking votes on Everbridge and keeping the names secret is out of line with the increased transparency that remote legislating otherwise provides and that the public has come to expect, he said,

"We already have the technology in place," Kimbell said. "We should just be making those votes public."

House leaders worked hard to avoid starting their session with a contentious debate. Rep. Mike McCarthy (D-St. Albans), the new Democratic whip, said Democrats had been messaging him "furiously" in advance, asking how the vote should be conducted. He counseled against an "undignified debate" that could have set an acrimonious tone so early in the session, but still wanted to pass the strongest resolution possible.

"A frequent phrase I was using to individual members in my communications with them was, 'I don't think this is a good opportunity to dunk on Republicans,'" McCarthy said.

The resolution, he and other caucus leaders told members, should speak for itself, and the best way to express support was by cosponsoring it. In the end, 121 of 150 representatives did so, including nearly all Democrats, all Progressives and 19 Republicans. That enabled lawmakers to register their support without a potentially contentious debate.

After McCoy spoke with Krowinski and Colburn the morning of the vote, she tried to reassure anxious GOP caucus members. Many lawmakers were worried about being put on the record.

"Everyone's had caucuses, and everyone knows exactly what is happening," McCoy told Republicans in their publicly broadcast caucus meeting. "So, in order to move this thing along, there will not be a roll call vote."

McCoy did not respond to requests for comment.

Not everyone in her caucus was convinced. First-term Rep. Sally Achey (R-Middletown Springs) expressed concern that if someone did ask for a roll call, because they are conducted alphabetically, she'd be the first one on the spot. Every member has the right to request a roll call; if five others agree, that is how the vote takes place.

Achey did not reply to Seven Days' multiple requests for comment.

Rep. Anne Donahue (R-Northfield), who supported the resolution and has called for Trump-supporting leadership of the Vermont GOP to resign, stressed to her colleagues that McCoy could not guarantee there would be no roll call.

"You can bet Cina will call one!" predicted Rep. Marcia Martel (R-Waterford), referring to Rep. Brian Cina, a passionate Progressive/Democrat from Burlington.

"There will be a roll call," predicted another Republican lawmaker.

Supporters of the resolution worried that lawmakers incensed by Trump's role in inciting the mob would defy leadership and try to put everyone's vote on the record.

"I was holding my breath," Rep. Laura Sibilia (I-Dover), one of the resolutions' main sponsors, later told Seven Days.

She heard from colleagues "across the political rainbow" who were "really, really upset" and wanted a roll call. Some wanted to call out those who continued to support Trump, while others hoped to reveal who didn't, Sibilia said.

While she sympathized with both those views, she worked to make sure the resolution struck a resounding note of unity while sidestepping a debate that might detract from the overwhelming support the measure enjoyed.

"I think we were able to persuade enough people that the message that 'the Vermont legislature condemns this' was more important than 'We don't all agree,'" she said.

It wasn't just political spin and messaging, however, McCarthy said. House leaders recognized the importance of preserving the chance that the three parties would be able to work together to address huge issues facing Vermonters. Leaders considered keeping a lid on the discussion key to keeping that possibility alive.

"If there had been a huge fight on the floor and long debates and animosity right from the first thing that we did," McCarthy said, "then we wouldn't have had the ability to move forward in a tri-partisan way on a whole host of things."

The Sixteen: Who Voted Against Condemning the Capitol Riot?

COURTESY
  • Courtesy

Sixteen representatives voted against the resolution calling for President Donald Trump to resign or be removed from office. Who were they?

In an attempt to answer that question, Seven Days assumed all 121 representatives who cosponsored the resolution voted in favor. That left 29 lawmakers.

Of those, 14 acknowledged either to the GOP caucus, Seven Days or constituents that they voted against the measure.

Not all were Republicans. Reps. Kristi Morris (D-Springfield) and Terry Norris (I-Shoreham) said they couldn't back the measure, either.

First-term Rep. Samantha LeFebvre (R-Orange) took the novel position that she was under no obligation to tell the media, including Seven Days, how she voted, but would tell constituents.

She's not the only lawmaker who wouldn't publicly acknowledge their position. Some wouldn't even talk to Seven Days.

Here's what we learned.

Confirmed 'no' votes

1. Rep. Terri Williams (R-Granby): "I believe President Trump asked for the support but not the violence. I believe that came from elsewhere." 

2. Rep. Kristi Morris (D-Springfield): "Even though we may agree with [the resolution], it seemed to me that it was a further ploy to try to divide the two parties. I would have preferred to see an extension of the hand for collaborative legislation that can move this country forward."

3. Rep. Art Peterson (R-Clarendon): "I did not sign on to the resolution because it condemned our President, not the violence. I would gladly sign a resolution condemning ALL violence against our government, our institutions, and private citizens."

4. Rep. Bob Helm (R-Fair Haven): "Our country is absolutely divided, and I think that now is the time to put everything to rest and to try to heal our country."

5. Rep. Terry Norris (I-Shoreham): "I find these kinds of resolutions political ways to divide the legislature and [they] have no real impact to the people they were meant for."

6. Rep. Tom Terenzini (R-Rutland): "I would just like to see the president quietly leave office without all this other nonsense about impeachment and removal from office."

Announced opposition in GOP caucus

7. Rep. Patrick Brennan (R-Colchester): "I just don't like being put in a box."

8. Rep. Lisa Hango (R-Berkshire): "I feel like the language that [the resolution is] using is reactionary, inflammatory and politically motivated."

9. Rep. Brian Smith (R-Derby): "We're condemning 100,000 people for the acts of a couple hundred. It's not right. It's too harsh."

10. Rep. Carl Rosenquist (R-Georgia): "Demanding that the president step down or be removed from office just goes over the top for me."

11. Rep. Lynn Batchelor (R-Derby Line): "I don't like what happened. However, it's not much different than what happened in [Portland] or Seattle ... which nobody said a word about — no press, no nothing."

12. Rep. Rodney Graham (R-Williamstown): "I don't agree with what Trump did. The governor has made a statement saying that, including stating that the president needs to be removed. I think it should be left there, and let us get to our business of helping out Vermonters."

13. Rep. Mark Higley (R-Lowell): "I completely agree with [resolution sponsor Rep. Heidi Scheuermann (R-Stowe)] about what happened down there, but I'm not willing to sign on to their political agenda."

Reportedly voted no

14. Rep. Samantha LeFebvre (R-Orange) said she would tell constituents how she voted, so Seven Days found a constituent who asked her. "She told me she absolutely voted no," Kerry DeWolfe of Corinth said.

Wouldn't say how they voted

Rep. Sally Achey (R-Middletown Springs)

Rep. Bill Canfield (R-Fair Haven)

Rep. Leland Morgan (R-Milton)

Rep. Michael Morgan (R-Milton)

Rep. Brian Savage (R-Swanton)

Rep. Joe Parsons (R-Newbury)

Rep. John Palasik (R-Milton)

The original print version of this article was headlined "Nothing to Siege Here | Vermont House vote on the U.S. Capitol riot was anonymous"