Johnson loses recount; Krowinski only Dem speaker candidate as Kimbell drops out

John LaBarge empties a bag of ballots during a recount requested by Rep. Mitzi Johnson, D-South Hero, the speaker of the House whose district covers several towns in Grand Isle County, at the North Hero Community Hall on Friday. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

This story was updated at 7:51 p.m.

House Speaker Mitzi Johnson, D-South Hero, lost the recount in her race for reelection on Friday and officially conceded to Michael Morgan, a Republican from Milton. 

After Johnson lost her recount, Democrats also announced that House Majority Leader Jill Krowinski, D-Burlington, was the only remaining candidate in the party’s race for speaker, making it likely she will lead the House next year. 

Until Friday, Rep. Charlie Kimbell, D-Woodstock, was also seeking the Democratic nomination for House speaker. He dropped his bid and endorsed Krowinski.

When ballots from the Nov. 3 election were recounted on Friday, Johnson was 23 votes short — three more ballots than had been tallied on election night went to her rival. 

Morgan, who unseated Johnson, is the nephew of Leland Morgan, R-Milton, the other representative in the Grand Isle-Chittenden House district. 

Johnson’s loss was a surprise, but not completely unexpected. Her races in prior years had been close. In 2018, Michael Morgan also ran to unseat Johnson, and fell 174 votes short. 

Johnson has served in the Legislature for nine two-year terms, and as House speaker for the past four years. 

“Honestly I am filled with nothing but gratitude and pride that I was able to represent my community in Montpelier for 18 years, work on really impactful legislation on responsible budgeting, on clean water, this year on minimum wage and climate change,” Johnson said in response to the recount result. 

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In the last legislative session, Johnson led efforts in the House to pass a minimum wage increase and the Global Warming Solutions Act — legislation that mandates the state meet carbon emissions reduction targets. She mustered the votes to override Gov. Phil Scott’s veto for the passage of both bills. 

She also highlighted her efforts to bring the House’s business online during the pandemic and broadcast meetings live over the internet, enhancing public access. 

“I think that’s going to be the biggest mark of my speakership is bringing that incredible transparency to our legislative proceedings and really changing the way we do business to make sure that it truly is accessible,” Johnson said. 

Johnson has said that the Covid-caused extended legislative session, which dragged on until late September, hampered her and other incumbents’ campaign efforts this year. She also said losing the ability to campaign door-to-door because of the pandemic was a disadvantage. 

Speaker of the House Mitzi Johnson, D-South Hero, waves to traffic outside the South Hero town offices on Election Day. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

Morgan said Friday evening that it was a “relief” to have the recount behind him. 

“It’s gratifying and one of our messages is to bring some balance back to Montpelier, and we look forward to trying to do that,” Morgan said. 

Morgan said that Montpelier lacks “diversity of thought” under its current Democratic control.

“I hope this is a bit of a call for folks to go, ‘You know we have to start working some stuff together,’ and not just to be at a one lopsided view,” he said.

About a dozen election workers staffed Friday’s recount effort, which was based at the town offices in North Hero, and lasted throughout the day. All votes had been retallied by late Friday afternoon. 

The race for speaker narrows

Krowinski has yet to be formally nominated as the Democratic Party’s candidate for House speaker. The vote on the nominee will take place during a caucus meeting on Dec. 5. But her path to the nomination is now clear.

Johnson, Krowinski, Turner
House Speaker Mitzi Johnson speaks with Majority Leader Jill Krowinski and Minority Leader Don Turner in 2018. Photo by Anne Galloway/VTDigger

Kimbell, who said earlier this week that he believed Krowinski had more support than he did in the speaker’s race, dropped out and endorsed the House majority leader on Friday. 

“It is clear to me that the person best positioned to lead our caucus and the Vermont House of Representative is Jill Krowinski. She has worked hard for our party and the state of Vermont, and knows well the workings of the speaker’s office,” Kimbell said. 

Johnson said that in choosing Krowinski, the Democratic Caucus had made an “excellent choice” for a speaker candidate. She noted that Krowinski has served on both her and former Democratic Speaker Shap Smith’s leadership teams. Krowinski also was chief of staff for former House Speaker Gaye Symington.

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“She comes in with incredible experience, incredible dedication and just a lot of passion and energy for the work,” Johnson said.

The speaker won’t be formally elected until the House reconvenes in January, and candidates to challenge Krowinski could still emerge. Republicans could put forward a candidate. And Cynthia Browning of Arlington, who lost her reelection bid this month, said she is also mulling a run for speaker. Browning is a former Democrat who ran for reelection as an independent. House rules do not prevent candidates from outside the Legislature from running for speaker.

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Xander Landen

About Xander

Xander Landen is VTDigger's political reporter. He previously worked at the Keene Sentinel covering crime, courts and local government. Xander got his start in public radio, writing and producing stories for NPR affiliates including WBUR in Boston and WNYC in New York. While at WNYC, he contributed to an award-winning investigation of how police departments shield misconduct records from the public. He is a graduate of Tufts University and his work has also appeared in PBS NewsHour and The Christian Science Monitor.

Email: [email protected]

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