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Democrats, Allies Appear to Gain Veto-Proof Majority in Vt. Legislature



VtDigger
Thursday, November 08, 2018

A down-ballot blue wave in House races across the state has given Democrats the reinforcements they need to take on the veto pen of Gov. Phil Scott, whose agenda was also bolstered after he cruised to re-election.

The combined 100 seats won by Democrats and Progressives (with some seats still up in the air) will likely mean some major legislative fights over minimum wage, paid family leave and a tax and regulate system for marijuana.

To make use of the supermajority, House Speaker Mitzi Johnson, D-South Hero, will have to corral her caucus to fully unite on key votes. She said that having an even greater majority in the chamber will “balance the power” between the executive and legislative branches.

“We ran into a lot of issues at the end of the session with the governor completely disregarding the Legislature, refusing to negotiate, refusing to talk about bills that are moving through the process,” Johnson said on Tuesday night.

“I think growing the majority ... will hopefully help to bring him to the table in a much more productive way than we’ve seen in the last two years,” she added.

In the last legislative session, Scott vetoed 11 bills, including two budget proposals. With only 83 members — and two-thirds of the 150 member House needed to override a veto — Democrats struggled to even come close to challenging the governor’s veto pen.

Preliminary results from Tuesday’s voting showed that Democrats and their Progressive Party allies appear have reached a veto-proof majority in the House, winning at least 100 seats, with the Republicans holding 43. The Republicans were expected to hold six seats in the 30-member state Senate.

The down-ballot Democratic blitz could mean a tough two years for Gov. Phil Scott, who relied heavily on his veto pen for leverage in budget fights and to kill bills that would have raised new taxes or imposed new fees — key to his success in holding down government spending.

“I’ll continue to try and represent Vermonters the best I can, but understanding the realities of what we face,” Scott said on Tuesday night of his relationship with a strengthened Democratic Legislature.

“I think we’ll both have to change our approach,” Scott said, “because Vermonters expect that.”

Outgoing House minority leader Don Turner, who lost his race for lieutenant governor, was more downtrodden about the prospect of a Democratic supermajority.

“I just know that it’s going to be a very difficult job for Gov. Scott to be the check and balance in our process,” Turner said. “So on the one hand, I’m sad I won’t be returning in January, but on the other hand, I’m saying ‘Oh, my God it’s going to be a tough job for the governor.’ ”

It wasn’t all bad for the Republicans. In one of the most closely watched House races in the state, Rep. Heidi Scheuermann, R-Stowe, fended off a spirited challenge from Marina Meerburg by a vote of 1,366 to 1,280.

But another leading conservative voice in the House, Rep. Kurt Wright of Burlington, will not be returning after losing to Democrats Bob Hooper and incumbent Rep. Carol Ode. Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger crossed party lines to support Wright, the Burlington City Council president, but it wasn’t enough — he lost by 166 votes to Hooper. Wright told CCTV he will be retiring from politics.

Rep. Fred Baser, of Bristol, one of the more moderate members of the GOP House caucus, lost his seat to newcomers Caleb Elder and Mari Cordes, both Democrats. Sara Coffey, a Democrat, easily beat Republican Patrick Gilligan for the seat in Vernon previously held by Mike Hebert.

Another upset was delivered to Rep. Paul Poirier, an independent who defected from the Democratic Party years ago and openly fought with leaders of his former party who campaigned hard against him this time around.

The Democrats lost a seat in Grand Isle, where Republican Leland Morgan knocked off incumbent Ben Joseph. Speaker Johnson came in first in that race, but less than 200 votes separated her from Joseph, who finished fourth our of four candidates. Progressive Democrat Rep. Cindy Weed also lost her seat in Enosburg Falls in a tight race Republican Felisha Leffler.

House Majority Leader Jill Krowinski, D-Burlington, said she hopes having more Democratic influence in the chamber will bring the governor to the table to work with legislators earlier in the legislative session. In the past two years, the governor has brought new proposals — including a five-year plan to reform education finance — to lawmakers in the waning days of the session.

“I hope this sends a message to the governor that he needs to be working with us ... from day one,” Krowinski said.

Material from the Assoicated Press was used in this report