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Vermont Senate Democrats Tap Baruth to Lead the Chamber


Published November 13, 2022 at 8:48 p.m.

  • File: Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
  • Sen. Phil Baruth
The 23 newly elected Democratic members of the Vermont Senate on Sunday picked Sen. Phil Baruth (D/P-Chittenden) to lead the Senate in the upcoming biennium.

When the 30-member Senate convenes in January, it will formally elect a Senate president pro tem, but the majority's pick is all but certain to get the post. The longtime University of Vermont English professor, author and former political commentator will succeed Sen. Becca Balint (D-Windham), who is Vermont’s U.S. House representative-elect.

Baruth, 60, was the only candidate to stand for the position.

“We have a new, younger, more diverse Senate and that's incredibly exciting,” he said, according to a copy of his prepared remarks. “We have a strong leadership team, and I will do my level best every single day to make you proud of the work you've done and the work we’ve done together for Vermont.”

He cautioned senators not to assume that the supermajority they won in last week's election allows them to do anything they want. He noted that without the votes of Sen. Mark McDonald (D-Orange), who recently had a stroke, or Tanya Vyhovsky, a Progressive/Democrat from Essex who just won a seat in the Senate's newly drawn Chittenden Central District, the majority becomes tenuous.

“When you hear the word 'supermajority,' I hope all of us will have a little humility,” he said. "Because we only have it when we're truly all together.”

The Burlington resident has been a steadfast advocate on gun control. He has criticized Gov. Phil Scott’s opposition to additional measures beyond the changes he signed into law in 2018, after the school shooting in Parkland, Fla., and the arrest of a teenager accused of plotting gun violence at a school in Fair Haven, Vt.

Baruth will likely press for further gun restrictions, including fully closing what is known as the “Charleston Loophole.”

The loophole allows someone to purchase a firearm if their federal background check is not completed in three days. That allowed the shooter in a 2015 massacre at a historically Black church in Charleston, S.C., to buy a gun.

Vermont lawmakers passed a bill to close the loophole in 2022, but Scott vetoed it, arguing that it unfairly restricted law-abiding citizens from obtaining firearms they might need, such as for self-protection. He instead made a counterproposal of extending the waiting period for the background check to seven days. Lawmakers grudgingly approved the change, and Scott signed the revised bill into law.

Fellow lawmakers expressed hope that the chamber would tackle issues such as climate change, housing and childcare, said Ashley Moore, Baruth's new chief of staff.

Baruth was first elected to the Senate in 2010. He’s been chair of the Education Committee, was majority leader from 2013 to 2017 and in 2016 considered running for pro tem but instead backed former Chittenden County senator Tim Ashe, who won the office.

Before getting into politics, Baruth was a political commentator on Vermont Public Radio and had a blog called "The Vermont Daily Briefing" that for several years was recognized as the best political blog in the state in the Seven Days Daysies awards.

He is also an accomplished novelist and short-story writer and author of a 2017 political biography on Patrick Leahy titled Senator Leahy: A Life in Scenes.

Also elected to leadership positions on Sunday were Sen. Alison Clarkson (D-Windsor), who was reelected majority leader; and Andrew Perchlik (P/D-Washington), who was named whip.

Corrections, November 14, 2022: An earlier version of this story reported the wrong year that Phil Baruth considered running for pro tem and also misstated Andrew Perchlik's political affiliation.