Sandy Dooley: Consider the big picture in assessing lieutenant governor candidates

This commentary is by Sandy Dooley, a 50-year resident of Vermont, a retired human services agency leader, a former South Burlington city councilor, and a community activist.

Sarah Mearhoff’s July 17 VTDigger article on the lieutenant governor Democratic primary candidates focused on the four contenders’ resumes, fundraising and use of paid media. Given the unusual circumstances that Vermont voters face this year, it is prudent to dig deeper. I believe the big picture — that is, the unusual circumstances — should be a major factor in weighing who is best prepared to hold the office of lieutenant governor during the next two years.

What are these unusual circumstances? They are the mass exodus of incumbents from the Vermont House of Representatives and Vermont Senate this year. Forty-one House members are not seeking reelection; that’s 27 percent. Ten Senate members, or one-third, are not seeking reelection. We are going to have lots of new blood in our Statehouse.

What is of greater significance is that nine of the 14 House committee chairs are not returning. The chairs of the following committees are not seeking reelection: Appropriations, Agriculture & Forestry, Education, Energy & Technology, Government Operations, Health Care, Human Services, Judiciary, and Ways & Means committees.

Along with the retirement of 32 other House members, this constitutes a colossal loss of knowledge and experience about how our government operates. 

Among the 10 senators leaving is the president pro tempore, the top leadership position. Fortunately, only two committee chairs are retiring. 

In addition, we will have new people in three other statewide offices:  attorney general, secretary of state, and treasurer.  

To quote Mearhoff, “Vermont’s lieutenant governor position is, most often, largely ceremonial. The bulk of the job is to preside over the state Senate during the legislative session. Lieutenant governors can and often do speak up on major policy issues, but unlike legislators or the governor, they don't vote on legislation, sign it into law or veto it. The lieutenant governor also has to be prepared to take the reins should the governor become unable to serve.” 

Still, in between the lines, the lieutenant governor is responsible for working to ensure that the work of the people, all Vermonters, gets done effectively, efficiently and collaboratively, while weighing present and future challenges and opportunities. 

Who is best qualified, in terms of experience, skills, and values, to complement the work of a legislative body in which so many will be new to their leadership roles and responsibilities? I encourage voters to assess the candidates for lieutenant governor from the perspective of this historic, likely unprecedented, context.  

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