Rep. Tess Taylor, majority whip of the Vermont House of Representatives, announced today that she would be leaving the Legislature immediately to become executive director of Vermont’s CURE, a pro-single payer 501(c)(4) organization funded by the American Federation of Teachers.
The Vermont Coalition for Universal Reform, a newly formed issue advocacy group, will work to build broad-based public support for the Shumlin administration’s planned universal health care program. The American Federation of Teachers recently gave $100,000 to VTCURES. The Montpelier lobbying firm KSE Partners will promote VTCURES’ advocacy work.
Taylor, a Democrat who represents Barre, has been a member of the House since 2008, became majority whip in 2013.
Taylor told the Democratic caucus that she would be leaving her seat and her post in the leadership immediately. She described the announcement as a “bittersweet moment for her.”
But Taylor said that in her new role, she would “help to push us toward universal health care in 2017.”
The caucus gave Taylor a standing ovation before she could continue.
As whip, Taylor was responsible for rounding up votes — a tough job that she acknowledged sometimes led to discord.
Whenever she had to have a “tough conversation” with a member of the caucus, she said she tried to think about what she liked about her colleague and “really feel it,” then she said it was a different kind of conversation.
“I have found something to like about every one of you since I became the whip,” Taylor said. “I have loved it. It has been an honor. This is a great caucus. We are a family and like family we have sharp tongues and elbows but we always get together.”
In remarks about Taylor’s departure, House Speaker Shap Smith said he is “disappointed” that she is leaving and stressed how difficult it is for citizens to sacrifice four months of income to serve in the Legislature. A new House whip will be elected by the Democratic caucus on Tuesday.
Rep. Patti Komline, R-Dorset, said she doesn’t think it’s appropriate for lawmakers in legislative leadership to lobby the General Assembly without a waiting period of two years. Taylor joins Floyd Nease, who also served as the House majority whip and is now in charge of the Shumlin administration’s legislative push for single payer, in efforts to persuade lawmakers to accept a financing plan for universal health care in 2017.
“It puts one side at a distinct advantage over another,” Komline said.
Komline said the House has tabled action on an ethics bill that would require a two-year waiting period before administration officials can take a job with a lobbying firm or corporation.
Smith has said an ethics statute regulating legislative conduct is not necessary. He has said he would prefer to see changes to House rules.
Smith said the immediacy of Taylor’s departure eliminates the appearance of a conflict of interest.
Editor’s note: This story was updated at 2:23 p.m. on March 21.