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.

Alicia Freese

Leave a Reply

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


Comment Policy requires that all commenters identify themselves by their authentic first and last names. Initials, pseudonyms or screen names are not permissible.

No personal harassment, abuse, or hate speech is permitted. Be succinct and to the point. If your comment is over 500 words, consider sending a commentary instead.

We personally review and moderate every comment that is posted here. This takes a lot of time; please consider donating to keep the conversation productive and informative.

The purpose of this policy is to encourage a civil discourse among readers who are willing to stand behind their identities and their comments. VTDigger has created a safe zone for readers who wish to engage in a thoughtful discussion on a range of subjects. We hope you join the conversation.

Privacy policy
Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Adam Fausey
4 years 1 month ago

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

Glenn Chase
4 years 1 month ago

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
4 years 1 month ago

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
4 years 1 month ago

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

4 years 1 month ago

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.

4 years 1 month ago

The story has been corrected. Thanks.

Jim Barrett
4 years 1 month ago

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
4 years 1 month ago

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

walter carpenter
4 years 1 month ago
Jim: I am not exactly sure what you are referring to here. Are you suggesting that climate change is a farce despite the evidence of green house gases being worse than ever? If so, then I am not sure what studies you have read. I will defer to the ones already on here and add some more to the mix. There could be hundreds more. Plus, as Terry said below, “I’m seeing too much evidence, though, that the climate is changing: Katrina, Irene, and now Sandy…” From the Vermont Forest, Parks, and Recreation site: Ireland’s main newspaper, the Irish… Read more »
Jim Christiansen
4 years 1 month ago
“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… Read more »
Patricia Crocker
4 years 1 month ago

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.–chart-prove-it.html?ito=feeds-newsxml

Michael Stevens
4 years 1 month ago
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… Read more »
David Bell
4 years 1 month ago

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
4 years 1 month ago
Doug Hoffer
4 years 1 month ago
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… Read more »
William Dods
4 years 1 month ago

Your argument is well researched and persuasive. However –

“… it raises another question for Vermonters: How much of their customary living standard are they willing to sacrifice for the cause of climate change, given that any contributions they make will be negligible on a global scale?”

– Tim Johnson, Burlington Free Press

Terry Bequette
4 years 1 month ago

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.

4 years 1 month ago

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

What are the odds?

Grant Reynolds
4 years 1 month ago
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… Read more »
walter moses
4 years 1 month ago

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.

4 years 1 month ago

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
4 years 1 month ago

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.

Thanks for reporting an error with the story, "Smith poised to take helm of House for third time; Shumlin tells Dems..."