The voluntary departure of House Majority Leader Lucy Leriche has prompted a shake up of the 96-member Democratic caucus leadership team.
Rep. Willem Jewett, who spent the last two years as Leriche’s deputy, won unanimous election to the top post in the caucus Saturday. In a victory speech, the five-term Ripton Democrat reflected on party successes over the past decade.
“When I joined this caucus it was strong, but we were 69 strong,” Jewett said. “I like rearranging those numbers a little bit.”
Jewett said that voters have rewarded Democrats’ allegiance to Vermont values, and that the caucus over the next two years will be remembered less for what legislation it passes and more for how it conducts itself.
“How we do our work is perhaps more important than exactly what we do,” Jewett said. “What exact bills we pass, they’re going to matter less than how we conduct ourselves.”
Saturday’s caucus featured a rare contested race for assistant majority leader between Tess Taylor of Barre City and Rebecca Ellis of Waterbury.
Also known as the “whip,” the assistant majority leader is often responsible for finding out where members stand on various pieces of legislation, and perhaps compelling them to rethink their stance.
The vote featured an interesting debate over whether to accept the proxy votes sent by seven House Democrats who were unable to attend Saturday’s caucus. Rep. Mitzi Johnson of Grand Isle said “the essence of the body and the power of the institution is in the ability to exchange ideas.”
“I know that my mind has been changed more than once, even when I didn’t intend for it to be, by listening to nominating speeches or floor debate,” said Johnson, who opposed accepting the seven proxy votes.
Rep. Michel Consejo, of Sheldon, said that after an election cycle in which they pleaded with voters to cast a ballot any which way they could, it would be hypocritical for Democrats to disenfranchise fellow members unable to make to Montpelier on a Saturday.
“I find it puzzling that we would have been encouraging people to vote in any way, shape or form we can think of ... and when it comes to us somehow that doesn’t work,” he said.
The caucus voted narrowly to accept the proxy ballots, which in the end had no effect on the outcome. Taylor won the contest, 49-37.
Taylor said last week that as House Democrats grow their ranks, they need to make sure individuals can find their own voice without devolving into chaos.
“We’ve grown so much in numbers and everybody that comes in has really a lot to offer,” Taylor said. “But it’s a lot to work with such a big body and make sure we are really clear about what our goals are and what we can accomplish in 16 to 18 weeks.”
Kate Webb of Shelburne was elected to serve as deputy assistant majority leader, a job in which she’ll be responsible largely for communications and drafting talking points.
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