Vt. House speaker race narrows as Johnson loses recount

  • In this Thursday, Jan. 24, 2019 photo, Vermont House Majority Leader Jill Krowinski poses at her desk in the House chamber in Montpelier, Vt. State legislatures across the country are convening this year with at least 17 new women in top leadership roles, after a record-setting election for female candidates. Krowinski says having women in leadership roles encourages more women to get involved. (AP Photo/Wilson Ring)

Published: 11/22/2020 8:38:38 PM
Modified: 11/22/2020 8:38:21 PM

MONTPELIER — House Speaker Mitzi Johnson, D-South Hero, lost the recount in her race for reelection on Friday and officially conceded to Michael Morgan, a Republican from Milton.

After Johnson lost her recount, Democrats also announced that House Majority Leader Jill Krowinski, D-Burlington, was the only remaining candidate in the party’s race for speaker, making it likely she will lead the House next year.

Until Friday, Rep. Charlie Kimbell, D-Woodstock, was also seeking the Democratic nomination for House speaker. He dropped his bid and endorsed Krowinski.

When ballots from the Nov. 3 election were recounted Friday, Johnson was 23 votes short — three more ballots than had been tallied on election night went to her rival.

Morgan, who unseated Johnson, is the nephew of Leland Morgan, R-Milton, the other representative in the Grand Isle-Chittenden House district.

Johnson’s loss was a surprise, but not completely unexpected. Her races in prior years had been close. In 2018, Michael Morgan also ran to unseat Johnson, and fell 174 votes short.

Johnson has served in the Legislature for nine two-year terms, and as House speaker for the past four years.

“Honestly I am filled with nothing but gratitude and pride that I was able to represent my community in Montpelier for 18 years, work on really impactful legislation on responsible budgeting, on clean water, this year on minimum wage and climate change,” Johnson said in response to the recount result.

The race for speaker narrows

Krowinski has yet to be formally nominated as the Democratic Party’s candidate for House speaker. The vote on the nominee will take place during a caucus meeting on Dec. 5. But her path to the nomination is now clear.

Kimbell, who said earlier this week that he believed Krowinski had more support than he did in the speaker’s race, dropped out and endorsed the House majority leader Friday.

“It is clear to me that the person best positioned to lead our caucus and the Vermont House of Representative is Jill Krowinski. She has worked hard for our party and the state of Vermont, and knows well the workings of the speaker’s office,” Kimbell said.

Johnson said that in choosing Krowinski, the Democratic Caucus had made an “excellent choice” for a speaker candidate. She noted that Krowinski has served on both her and former Democratic Speaker Shap Smith’s leadership teams. Krowinski also was chief of staff for former House Speaker Gaye Symington.

“She comes in with incredible experience, incredible dedication and just a lot of passion and energy for the work,” Johnson said.

The speaker won’t be formally elected until the House reconvenes in January, and candidates to challenge Krowinski could still emerge. Republicans could put forward a candidate. And Cynthia Browning of Arlington, who lost her reelection bid this month, said she is also mulling a run for speaker. Browning is a former Democrat who ran for reelection as an independent. House rules do not prevent candidates from outside the Legislature from running for speaker.

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