Smith poised to take helm of House for third time; Shumlin tells Dems to “focus like a laser” on health care implementation

House Democrats were in high spirits at their biennial nomination of new leaders on Saturday. The Democrats who gathered at the Statehouse for a caucus a month before the session starts reveled in their numbers — they are now 96 strong out of 150 representatives.

Rep. John Malcom prompted the most boisterous laughter during his speech for Shap Smith, who clinched the nomination for Speaker of the House without a contest. “They say to be good at Speaker you have to be good at herding cats. I like this man named Smith because he’s got the tuna fish,” Malcom said.

There were references to the work ahead — Malcom characterized the end of the session as a “unique Vermont mixture of ballet and demolition derby” — and recurrent standing ovations.

Smith will face a challenger, Rep. Paul Poirer, an independent, in January when the session starts. Smith, who has the overwhelming backing of his caucus, is expected to win.

Despite the convivial tone of the caucus, Smith, who won his third nomination for Speaker on Saturday, struck a somber note. He told the caucus Vermont must address climate change — even if other states and the federal government don’t move ahead with initiatives to mitigate human impacts on world’s rising temperature.

“We can’t bury our heads in the sand because we don’t understand … we can’t shy away from it because other people are,” Smith said.

Smith said the gathering was “bittersweet” for him because of the goodbyes it necessitated. He praised outgoing Majority Leader Lucy Leriche, who became part of the Democrats’ leadership team at the same time that he started his speakership in 2009. “We are sort of seared in the fire together,” Smith said.

The somber focus on climate change and farewells to departing lawmakers didn’t dampen the spirits of the assembled for long, however. The atmosphere stayed convivial right on through the only contested vote of the day between Rep. Therese Taylor of Barre and Rep. Rebecca Ellis of Waterbury for the Assistant Majority Leader, or whip position. Taylor got 49 votes; Ellis finished with 37. In her victory speech, Taylor touted Ellis’s more impressive academic credentials (magna cum laude at Harvard and Georgetown Law), saying, “I was just a hippie in a teepee at St. Mike’s.”

Guests at the caucus included state Treasurer Beth Pearce; Secretary of Administration Jeb Spaulding; Jake Perkinson, chair of the Vermont Democratic Party; Louis Porter, the incoming secretary of Civil and Military Affairs; and Gov. Peter Shumlin. Pearce took the podium to chants of “Beth, Beth, Beth!” and thanked the roomful of representatives for helping her beat Republican Wendy Wilton during the November election.

Shumlin strolled in to rally enthusiasm for his vision for the upcoming session. After some verbal back-patting about the last two years — weathering the recession and passing single payer health care legislation — he launched into an outline of his upcoming agenda. “We will do things together over the next two years that other states don’t have the vision or courage to do,” Shumlin said.

The governor urged lawmakers to balance the budget, which this year includes a $50 million to $70 million gap, without raising broad-based taxes (i.e. sales, income or rooms and meals taxes). Shumlin said it won’t be “fun,” but it “sets the foundations, builds the confidence and gives us the support of Vermonters that allows us to do the other things that I say other states don’t dare do to really grow jobs and economic opportunities.”

Shumlin also told House Democrats to “focus like a laser” on health care implementation. He also wants the Legislature to address what he sees as a crucial education issue, namely the dearth of students with credentials in science, technology, engineering and math skills and increase Vermonters’ access to higher education (“not enough poor kids are moving beyond high school in Vermont”). Renewable energy and energy efficiency are also major issues he wants to address again this session. “We are doing abysmally on thermal efficiency,” he said.

Willem Jewett made a seamless transition from Assistant Majority Leader to Majority Leader. The caucus unanimously voted him in to succeed former Majority Leader, Lucy Leriche.

Kathryn Webb, who also received unanimous support to adopt the role of Deputy Assistant Leader, jokingly questioned the desirability the position, saying she felt like “the dog that caught the bus.” Two more unanimous votes installed Rebecca Ellis as clerk and David Deen as the caucus’ at-large member of the House Rules Committee.

At several points, the representatives remembered their recently deceased colleague, Republican Greg Clark. Smith recalled being on the receiving end of Clark’s “gentle ribbing” but he said the representative from Vergennes “was one of us.”

Correction: The original story stated that Smith was elected. He will not be elected until January.

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Alicia Freese

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  • Adam Fausey

    This whole article made me want to move to Vermont so freakin’ bad! Show all the doubters that it can be done!

  • Glenn Chase

    Is Portier totally out of the running for Speaker? Won’t there be a vote of the full House in January? At which time, the House could vote for Portier, no?

    Not that I’d expect Smith to be vulnerable at this point … just a question of procedure.

  • Randy Koch

    Amidst all the hee-hawing at the thigh-slapping humor, wasn’t there room in the story to mention that Lucy Leriche departed from the statehouse via the revolving door, the airlock, to go work for the mothership, GazMet?

  • walter carpenter

    Come on up, Adam:) We’re doing it, despite the doubters:)

  • It might be worth noting that Shap will be the Democratic nominee for speaker. The speaker isn’t elected until the House goes in session in January.

  • Jim Barrett

    Get ready for more millions to be poured down an endless hole on climate change when the rest of the country and World don’t have a clue as what to doing to change course. But the huge waste of spending will actually be good in the long run when it is finally discovered that we have wasted our time and money instead of helping the poor, the middle class etc. and REDUCED spending.

  • Jim Barrett

    Walter, the last report I read said that green house gases are worse than ever in spite of billions being wasted on a farce!

  • Jim Christiansen

    “He {Smith} told the caucus Vermont must address climate change — even if other states and the federal government don’t move ahead with initiatives to mitigate human impacts on world’s rising temperature.”

    Is it ethical for the State of Vermont to advertise and encourage unnecessary tourist travel (auto and air) in the face of climate change? Are Vermont’s carbon dependent jobs really better for the planet than those in Pennsylvania, Ohio, or Virgina?

    Will the Speaker have the stones to tax unnecessary air and automobile tourist travel to solve this problem, or is this just empty climate talk to placate the masses?

    I’m waiting to see his plan. I hope VT Digger keeps asking him for more than just bold statements on the existence of a problem.

  • Patricia Crocker

    Sorry folks, there is not consensus on “global warming” ahem…climate change. Didn’t the East Anglican e-mails from the climate change scientists commiserating that the earth hasn’t warmed in 10 years, despite CO2 increases stop you alarmists? Even to the point that they were fudging numbers to try to make it fit their narrative? Use the money instead to help causes that we know will have an impact. All the research coming out now is pointing to the sun’s activity in climate change.


    • Michael Stevens

      Sorry to break it to you, but there is no scientific institution of national or international standing that agrees with you.

      The only “fudging” of numbers is coming from you anti-science denialists like yourself who quote tabloids as if they were credible sources and pretend they are credible sources.

      “…an extensive dataset of 1,372 climate researchers and their publication and citation data to show that (i) 97–98% of the climate researchers most actively publishing in the field support the tenets of ACC outlined by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change,…”
      –National Academy of Science,

      But please, remind us why we should take the word of a retired weather man and a right wing tabloid over the National Academy of Sciences?

      Oh, right, because the denialist movement is convinced that every major scientific institution and virtually every climatologist is involved in an iron clad, leak proof conspiracy.

    • David Bell

      Wow, your knowledge of global warming is as factually bankrupt as your knowledge of healthcare.

      By the way, climate change was a word developed by Republican strategist Frank Lutz to make the problem sound less frightening.

      Little tip, if you want to be taken seriously, try quoting an actual scientific institution with a good reputation rather than bloggers who claim to be scientists despite being laughed out of their fields. Which I’m sure you would have done if not for the inconvenient truth that their is not a single such institution on the planet.

      Ah well, better luck with some other issue.

  • Patricia Crocker
  • Patricia Crocker
    • Doug Hoffer

      Sorry. The question has already been addressed (see below).
      And BTW – Given the overwhelming number of scientists that support the premise, it is absurd to characterize that view as the Left’s global warming agenda. It is not an “agenda,” it’s the well considered opinion of the vast majority of scientists in the world.

      See #2

      “A second argument is that warming is smaller than predicted by the models:

      The lack of warming for more than a decade—indeed, the smaller-than-predicted warming over the 22 years since the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) began issuing projections—suggests that computer models have greatly exaggerated how much warming additional CO2 can cause.

      What is the evidence on the performance of climate models? Do they predict the historical trend accurately? Statisticians routinely address this kind of question. The standard approach is to perform an experiment in which (case 1) modelers put the changes in CO2 concentrations and other climate influences in a climate model and estimate the resulting temperature path, and then (case 2) modelers calculate what would happen in the counterfactual situation where the only changes were due to natural sources, for example, the sun and volcanoes, with no human-induced changes. They then compare the actual temperature increases of the model predictions for all sources (case 1) with the predictions for natural sources alone (case 2).

      This experiment has been performed many times using climate models. A good example is the analysis described in the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (for the actual figure, see the accompanying online material4). Several modelers ran both cases 1 and 2 described above—one including human-induced changes and one with only natural sources. This experiment showed that the projections of climate models are consistent with recorded temperature trends over recent decades only if human impacts are included. The divergent trend is especially pronounced after 1980. By 2005, calculations using natural sources alone underpredict the actual temperature increases by about 0.7 degrees Centigrade, while the calculations including human sources track the actual temperature trend very closely.

      In reviewing the results, the IPCC report concluded: “No climate model using natural forcings [i.e., natural warming factors] alone has reproduced the observed global warming trend in the second half of the twentieth century.”5

  • Terry Bequette

    Re: climate change: we can all cite the studies that support our personal beliefs. I’m seeing too much evidence, though, that the climate is changing: Katrina, Irene, and now Sandy – 3 of the worst hurricanes ever and with ever larger footprints; frequency and intensity of tornados; this year’s drought; and right now there seems to be a shortage of snow here in Vermont.

  • Two tests for Smith and his fellow pols:
    1. Decentralized power generation.
    2. No F-35.

    What are the odds?

  • Grant Reynolds

    It’s sad that the Governor and the House leadership want to sacrifice Vermont ridgelines to foreign companies, in order to make overpriced electricity. If all our electricity came from wind power (impossible, of course) or wind and hydro, we would have made an essentially zero contribution to fighting climate change. One Chinese new coal plant – they crank them out every week – completely offsets everything we can do in electricity generation. If everyone walked to work – which everyone did until the 1920’s – the contribution to greenhouse gas reduction might be noticeable, though there’s still that regular production of new Chinese coal-powered plants. Vermont politicians need to have some sense of our planetary insignificance, and not sacrifice the state’s environment for nothing more than publicity.

  • walter moses

    Yes, Randy Koch, I did notice Lucy Leriche’s exit to the big bucks of GazMetro. Goes to show that if you are a good girl and do what you are told, the big bucks await. Where do you suppose old Shap will end up? Shumlin, when he loses his next election won’t be forgotten either.


    The House need to elect someone who will Challenge the Administration like Paual Porier and stop kissing up to the Governors Ears!!!! Its time to Raise taxes on the wealthy!!! NO MORE BUDGET CUTS in AHS!!! Leave Developmental Services alone and Give us 20,000,000 million in new case load!! enough CUTS IS ENOUGH!!1

  • Kristin Sohlstrom

    There is no need to focus on health care. Haven’t you heard the news? VT is healthiest in the nation – AGAIN. VT Leads can go now.