MONTPELIER — Addison County gained a leadership position in the Vermont House but lost one in the state Senate.
At the Vermont Democrats’ annual pre-session caucus last weekend, Rep. Willem Jewett, D-Ripton, ran unopposed for the position of assistant majority leader. This means he will spend the next two years working closely with House Speaker Shap Smith, D-Morrisville, and newly elected majority leader Rep. Lucy Lariche, D-Hardwick, in coordinating the business of the House. It is a chamber in which the Democrats will enjoy the same substantial majority (94 out of 150 total seats) as it did during the last biennium.
“It was a singular experience, listening to people nominate and second you (for the position),” Jewett said of his election at Sunday’s caucus. “It was a group of people placing trust in you. I was more emotional than I thought I would be.”
Meanwhile, Sen. Claire Ayer, D-Weybridge, decided not to run for re-election as deputy majority leader (a position known as the whip) of the Vermont Senate, where Democrats also hold a substantial majority. In an e-mail reply from Taiwan, where she is co-leading a delegation of legislative leaders form the New England states, Ayer commented on her decision.
“The newly elected leadership has my full support,” Ayer wrote. “I waited to see who we had for governor before I made any decision and I’m happy to have one (Gov.-elect Peter Shumlin, a Putney Democrat) who will work for health care for everyone when he takes office in January.
“Turns out I’m more interested in policy than in politics and am planning to devote considerable energy to promoting health care for everyone over the next two years,” she added.
Sen. Harold Giard, D-Bridport, is among several state officials and political observers interviewed by the Addison Independent this week who said they would not be surprised to see Ayer tapped for a committee chairmanship. Ayer, elected in 2002, now finds herself as one of the most tenured lawmakers in the Senate in wake of the November elections that saw colleagues like Shumlin, Susan Bartlett and Doug Racine run for governor.
“She chose not to run (for re-election as majority whip) but I expect she will continue to provide leadership in the Senate,” said Paul Forlenza, chairman of the Addison County Democratic Committee.
Senate committee assignments will be announced in early January. Among those deciding the spots will be newly elected Senate President Pro Tem John Campbell of Quechee.
Also elected by the Senate Democrats at their caucus were Majority Leader Sen. Bill Carris of Rutland; and Deputy Majority Leader Sen. Hinda Miller of Burlington.
Campbell promised Ayer would be a key player this winter as the Senate takes on such issues as balancing the budget, health care reform and economic development.
“I consider Claire to be one of my top lieutenants,” Campbell said on Tuesday. “She is one of the brightest people we have in the Senate and has a tremendous amount of experience in a lot of areas, including health care.”
The Senate Health and Welfare Committee now has a vacancy, as Racine — who chaired that panel — was recently named the new Secretary of the Vermont Agency of Human Services.
Ayer currently serves as vice chairwoman of the Senate Finance Committee, as well as on the Senate Committee on Government Operations.
Giard currently serves on Senate Finance and as vice chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee. Giard said he will submit a preference list that includes the Senate Finance, Agriculture, Education, and Economic Development, Housing and General Affairs committees. He and other senators will each be assigned two committees.
As assistant House majority leader, Jewett will do much of his work outside the committee room. Jewett, a Middlebury lawyer, has spent his eight-year legislative career on the House Judiciary Committee. He said he will be given a committee assignment, but expects most of his time will be spent networking with other lawmakers in the Statehouse.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected]