This commentary is submitted by Rep. Laura Sibilia of Dover, Rep. Terry Norris of Shoreham, Rep. Kelly Pajala of Londonderry and Rep. Barbara Murphy of Fairfax
Vermont independents looking for consensus building Speaker of the House
The national and Vermont election results provide legislators with important takeaways. It seems clear our nation wants more kindness, more coordinated action on the pandemic and action on healthcare and climate change. It is also clear that rural America is hurting and angry from being left behind and left out of the modernization of the global economy. There is evidence of frustration because we are not moving fast enough on urgent policy areas like climate change and healthcare and evidence of frustration because we are moving too fast on policy that requires major lifestyle changes and sacrifices from America’s isolated and forgotten.
Leading up to the election, Vermont benefited from careful science-based governance during the pandemic and Republican and Democratic legislative leaders who kept the most bitter partisan politicking at bay during both the Trump presidency and the ongoing pandemic. Nonetheless, the parochial fires of division have burned hot all around us and we see evidence in some of the Vermont election results that partisanship is likely to increase and not decrease, especially in the Vermont House in the upcoming session.
In the Green Mountain State, Vermonters gave our moderate Republican Governor a definitive mandate to govern, sharply rejected the cruelty of the Trump Administration, and ever so slightly – yet meaningfully – clipped the wings of the super-majority. National frustrations manifested themselves clearly in elections across Vermont’s geography and highlight the differing policy priorities of both the I-89 Chittenden/Washington County Corridor and the NEK and Southern Vermont.
But there have been no partisan heroes for the isolated and the forgotten in Vermont. The squeaky wheel – those with dollars and ease of access – get the grease – legislation, and funding. It is expensive to take care of the isolated and it is expensive for the forgotten to advocate for themselves. In the past two bienniums, with both Speaker Johnson and Governor Scott’s support, bipartisan rural legislators in the Vermont House have begun coming together to advocate for the isolated and forgotten, championing land use and telecommunications legislation. During her tenure, Speaker Johnson went even further in her regular inclusion of one of Vermont’s independent legislators to attend and listen to House party leadership meetings; ensuring the independent legislators elected to represent 20,000 Vermonters had access to information about pending legislative process and procedure.
It is not common for Vermont’s elected independents to speak with one voice, but the view of the road ahead has found us in urgent agreement. Since March, our Speaker of the House has been deeply engaged with all parties and members in planning for our safe return to the people’s business, modernizing and streamlining the human resources and operations of the institution, and always ensuring that House processes included every voice and the greatest chance for consensus. With the November 3rd election the Vermont House likely has lost a key leader in the middle of a global pandemic.
We are concerned about losing such an inclusive, moderate, consensus building leader in the House.
We encourage our partisan colleagues to search among their midst for a transparent consensus builder with the wisdom to recognize how important is for the legislature to focus deeply on the issues driving inequity in Vermont. These issues are more difficult and costly to solve then simply raising the minimum wage or further increasing taxes on the wealthy – perennial policy efforts that drive national agendas rather than driving solutions to the structural issues of inequity specific to Vermont. These inequities include misalignment of our education and training system with the changing Vermont business profiles and job opportunities, access to equitable educational resources for our kids and taxpayers, modernizing our telecommunications and energy infrastructure, access to healthcare and justice, the ability to comply with changing environmental regulations, our pension obligations and demographic challenges and the ability to participate in the global economy.
Vermont’s independent legislators are hopeful that our colleagues have come to the same conclusion we have regarding the national and Vermont elections. We want to see candidates for Speaker who are temperate and who will be slow to pick up partisan cudgels in the House, with our colleagues in the Senate or with Vermont’s governor. We want to see candidates who understand the need to address not only urgent issues related to healthcare and climate change, but also Vermont’s structural inequity issues.