Paul Poirier, an independent state rep from Barre, will challenge Shap Smith, a Democrat, for his position as Speaker of the House. Poirier said he wants to rectify what he sees as a “total disregard of the views of the minority parties” under Smith’s command.
In a Nov. 11 interview with Mark Johnson, Poirer said he had been mulling over the thought of running since last spring, when, during floor debate about the Central Vermont Public Service Corporate-Green Mountain Power merger, he became dismayed by the lack of balance in the discussion and by Smith’s stalling tactics.
“I’m disappointed by the lack of debate that we have on substantive issues,” Poirier said, pointing to the budget and tax issues as two topics that have not undergone sufficient discussion. “I come from the days when we had long vigorous debates.”
Poirier, first entered the Legislature in 1980 and once served as House Majority Leader under Speaker Ralph Wright.
Smith has been House Speaker since 2009 and a House member representing Elmore, Morrisville, Worcester and Woodbury since 2002.
Smith disagrees with Poirer’s assessment of his leadership. “I’m sorry Paul feels that way,” Smith said. “I don’t think that accurately characterizes what’s happening out there. I don’t think that’s borne out. Anyone who has watched floor has seen vigorous debates around health care, the budget, the energy bill, around vacciines.”
Smith said he wasn’t surprised by Poirier’s run, but the Speaker also isn’t taking any chances — he’s already called 80 lawmakers soliciting support.
The Speaker disputes the notion that he has squelched debate. “I guess everyone is entitled to have their own opinion,” he said. “In conversations I’ve had with people in running for Speaker again, people have told me they think I treat people fairly. We certainly have wide-ranging debates on the issues of the day.”
Poirier said he knows his odds aren’t good in a House where Democrats occupy 96 seats and Republicans, Progressives and independents collectively constitute 50 seats. But, Poirier said, in addition to courting the minority parties, he is “actively calling” a list of 25 Democrats who may be discontented enough with party dynamics to give Smith the boot.
Poirer said he also thinks House committees should be less dominated by Democrats, though he acknowledges the House constitution would constrain his ability to do so — “I can’t change the fact that there are 96 Democrats.”
Poirier said he was confident no other candidates would come forward, but Don Turner, Republican House Leader, didn’t rule out the possibility of a Republican bid for Speaker. Turner said this will be determined during the party’s caucus on Nov. 28.
Turner also acknowledged it would be difficult to dethrone Smith, but, he said, “I do think it’s important for the Speaker to know that not everyone is 100 percent happy with the way things have been going,” and, he added, “it will be healthy for the institution to have some challenge.”
The House will vote to select a Speaker on Jan. 9.