This commentary is by Paul Dame, chair of the Vermont GOP.
In the early days of the legislative session the committees are still orienting their new members, and reviewing the basics of the parts of state government that their committee will have oversight over. So the House Calendar, the daily document that lets the public (and legislators) know what is coming up for consideration is pretty light.
This year the very first item to appear in the House Calendar originated from input offered by Republican Rep. Anne Donahue. As I wrote last week the Democrat supermajority got off on the wrong foot, by pushing through a significant reassignment of committee jurisdictions, and eliminating one committee entirely — all of which was done behind closed doors and without discussion or approval among the bipartisan rules committee. Rep. Donahue caught this significant change, especially as to how it relates to the Health Care Committee from which she was removed, and made a public note of it when the rules were approved.
Despite Republican legislators being vastly outnumbered, Rep. Donahue’s willingness to take a stand resulted in the first act of the Democratic Supermajority being to address the concerns of a member of the minority party. Even one member can make a difference when they are calling attention to the right things. Vermonters will be well served by this legislature if it continues on this path of taking in to consideration the perspectives of Republicans who bring a different world view and different set of perspectives and values than the Democrats in power.
While we can appreciate this small act of bipartisanship from Democrats in Vermont, however minor and fleeting it may be, it stands in contrast to what has happened to one Vermont Democrat who has barely been in Washington for a week.
While everyone was expecting Congresswoman Becca Balint to generally vote against the Republican majority once she got to Washington, she has already taken obstructionism to a new level. She started out by voting “NO” three times on a motion to adjourn. When House Republicans needed more time to iron out an agreement on the rules before unifying around a speaker, instead of giving them the time to have those discussions Rep. Balint voted as she was told to by the Democrat’s whip. It was very disappointing to see these kinds of partisan votes out of spite instead of the independence and common sense Vermonters expect from their elected officials.
To make matters worse Rep. Balint has gone even further to the extreme by voting against the first two largely bipartisan measures that we’ve had in Congress. While most of the votes have been along party lines, twice a majority of Democrats have agreed that Congressional Republicans have taken important steps to help Americans. In two votes a majority of Republicans and a majority of Democrats came together to draw attention to the U.S. China relationship, first by creating a committee to examine our strategic competition, and then secondly to ensure that America’s strategic oil reserves would not be sold to our top competitor. In both of these cases Rep. Balint was in the curious super minority among other far-left Democrats.
While Democrats in the Vermont House seem to be willing to work (at least for now) in a bipartisan manner to incorporate Republican concerns into legislation, the one Vermont Democrat we sent to Washington has already abandoned the Vermont Way. Either Rep. Balint is so unprepared to be in the minority for the first time in her political career, or she is intentionally establishing herself as an obstructionist who won’t work across the aisle, even when most moderate Democrats see the value in the Republican proposals. While we saw this same change in Senator Welch — it took him much longer than the first week to be radicalized by Washington.
Let’s hope that Rep. Balint is able to come to the same bipartisan understanding as the colleagues she left behind and find a way to work with the Republican majority in Washington to do what Vermonters and Americans need her to do.