Rep. Jill Krowinski, D-Burlington, is poised to lead the state’s largest-ever Democratic majority in her second biennium as House speaker.
House Democrats nominated their slate of leaders at a party caucus meeting Saturday in Montpelier. The nominees, including Krowinski, will be confirmed to their posts in the first days of the 2023 legislative session in January.
Krowinski is closing out her first biennium helming the 150-member body, a two-year period marked by the Legislature’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic and Krowinski’s amicable relationship with outgoing Senate President Pro Tempore Becca Balint. Krowinski, who previously served as House majority leader, was nominated to the top job in 2020 after former House Speaker Mitzi Johnson lost her reelection bid that year, forcing House Democrats to rush to find a replacement leader.
Going into this biennium, Krowinski told VTDigger in an interview Monday, she has a luxury she didn’t have at the top of the 2021-2022 biennium: time. In the wake of Johnson’s election defeat two years ago, Krowinski said her own fast-tracked nomination and election to speaker, followed by a rush to adapt the Statehouse for Covid-19 safety protocols, left her with little time to focus on the usual duties of the speaker leading up to the session.
“I have more time to focus on committee assignments and committee leadership and meeting with people about what their priorities are,” Krowinski said. “And so now, as opposed to last time, I have been happy to have a lot more conversations, and to really have time to think about how we set ourselves up for success and to get our shared goals and priorities to the governor's desk.”
Of those legislative priorities, Krowinski said that top of her list is “housing, housing, housing,” as the state’s housing affordability and availability crises persist. Other top priorities are affordable child care and paid family and medical leave, she said, as well as climate change mitigation.
At Krowinski’s fingertips will be a historic, 104-member Democratic majority in the House, which, if united, would easily be able to withstand Republican Gov. Phil Scott’s vetoes. Senate Democrats, too, hold a veto-proof majority.
Krowinski also will have a large crop of fresh faces in the chamber following a historic level of turnover in the Legislature this election cycle. Though she recognized that the House has lost more than half of its committee chairs — who play a vital role in policymaking — this year, and “it's going to take more time to get our feet underneath us,” Krowinski said she’s excited by the incoming class’s energy.
“They are incredible,” she said on Monday, days after the Legislature conducted its new member orientation. “They are bringing so much great, positive energy into the building, and they're so ready to get to work.”
Also new this year: Vermont will not be receiving hundreds of millions in federal pandemic relief dollars, as it has for the duration of Krowinski’s time as speaker. Krowinski said “it’s no question” that the feds’ allocations to Vermont in recent years have been “once in a lifetime,” and that the number of dollars available when crafting this year’s budget will not be the same.
“I think that there's a lot of need for oversight and going back to look at what worked, what didn't work, as we make these really tough and strategic decisions about how we build our budget to meet the needs of Vermonters,” she said.
Rep. Emily Long, D-Newfane, was reelected by the House Democratic caucus to serve a second term as majority leader. And third in line in leadership will be Rep. Kathleen James, D-Manchester, serving her first term as House whip.
Down the hall, a new leader is poised to take the helm of the 30-member, Democratic-controlled Senate. Taking Balint’s place as pro tem will be Sen. Phil Baruth, D/P-Chittenden.
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