Leonine Public Affairs The blue wave that swept through the country was amplified in Vermont. While Senator Sanders and Congressman Welch were assured victory, Vermonters were still clearly motivated to voice their opinion of Trump’s presidency. Vermont had the highest turnout for a mid-term election in the state’s history and with no tightly contested statewide race it’s difficult to attribute the historical turnout to anything but the current national mood. Typically, in such a high turnout one would expect a fair number of unexpected outcomes to occur but that wasn’t really the case.
All incumbents for the statewide offices won handily. Republican Governor Phil Scott will be leading Vermont for another two years and voters voiced their support for him in overwhelming fashion. Preliminary results have him beating Democratic Challenger Christine Hallquist by 15 points. Progressive Lieutenant Governor David Zuckerman won even more convincingly.
It was also no surprise that the Democrats gained a number of seats in the House. While it was slightly surprising that Democrats also gained a seat in the Senate, they already had a supermajority in that chamber.
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That said, there are a number of procedural and political nuances created by an increase in Democratic control in the House that will impact the dynamic between Democratic leaders and Republican Governor Phil Scott. These changes include the following:
- An increase in the ability of House Democrats to override a veto. This can be accomplished if Democratic leadership gets support from the Progressive caucus and/or support from some Independents.
- Rule suspensions require a three-quarter majority vote in the House. Every year, particularly in the final hours of the session, the ability of the majority to suspend rules (or not) dictates the fate of multiple bills, from controversial policy bills to the budget. The Democrats have not passed this threshold but Republicans absences will need to be managed closely.
- The margin of error for the Democrats has increased in the House. Democrats netted 12 seats in the 2018 election, giving Speaker Mitzi Johnson and majority leadership more flexibility to pass legislation without having to maintain full caucus support.
It’s not likely that the current dynamics will change any time soon. With President Trump back on the ballot in 2020, we should expect even higher Democratic turnout for that election.
House Democrats picked up a number of seats while House Republicans lost seats. The vote counts are still being finalized but the initial count shows the following breakdown with 100 votes needed to override a gubernatorial veto:
- Democrats - 95
- Republicans - 43
- Progressives - 7
- Independents - 5
So for example, if all 7 Progressives vote with the Democrats there are 102 votes to override a veto in the House.
The Progressives that won according to unofficial results are: Mollie Burke, Robin Chestnut-Tangerman, Brian Cina, Selene Colburn, Diana Gonzalez, Sandy Hass and Zachariah Ralph.
The Independents are: Terry Norris, Barbara Murphy, Ben Jickling, Laura Sibilia and Kelly Pajala. Many of these members lean to the middle or Republican.
Rep. Clem Bissonnette, D-Winooski, resigned his seat after winning the Democratic primary in August because he plans to move out of his district. However, Bissonnette’s name remained on the ballot and he was re-elected. As a result he announced yesterday that he would resume serving for at least the 2019 legislative session.
House Speaker Mitzi Johnson won her reelection bid and will return as Speaker. Of the incumbents in leadership, Speaker Johnson’s race was considered to be the most competitive because it is a moderate district and she was heavily challenged by Republicans on issues like gun safety and minimum wage. In the end the race was close but the Speaker won by a greater margin than in previous elections.
The preliminary count shows there will be 40 new house members in 2019. These new members replace representatives who left for the following reasons:
- 12 ran for reelection and lost their seats to members of another party (3 Democrats, 6 Republicans, 2 independents, 1 Progressive).
- 25 retired (15 Democrats, 10 Republicans)
- One death
- 3 ran for higher office (all Republicans)
None of the incumbent Senators seeking re-election lost their seat. All of the changes in the Senate involved open seats. The post election makeup of the Senate is 24 Democrats (six of whom are Democrat/Progressive) and six Republicans. Senate Democrats picked up one seat when former member of the House and Senate – Cheryl Hooker of Rutland – won a seat formerly held by a Republican.
In addition to Cheryl Hooker, there are four new Senators:
- Sen. Claire Ayer, who did not seek re-election, was replaced by Ruth Hardy, the Executive Director of Emerge Vermont, an organization that recruits, trains and provides a network for Democratic women who want to run for office.
- Corey Parent, a two-term House member who represents the city of St. Albans replaced Sen. Carolyn Branagan-R, who did not seek re-election.
- Andrew Perchlik, a state employee who manages the Clean Energy Development Fund, replaced Washington County Senator Francis Brooks-D, who retired.
- Former House member James McNeil, R-Rutland, won a seat in Rutland.
Source: Leonine Public Affairs, Montpelier, Election Review. November 2018. leoninepublicaffairs.com. Through a special arrangement with Leonine, Vermont Business Magazine republishes Leonine's legislative report on vermontbiz.com.