This commentary is by Paul Dame, chair of the Vermont GOP.
Last week as the Legislature organized itself, some of the changes made by the Democrat supermajority drew some unusual attention and gave us a preview of how the Democrats are planning to govern in their own interests — not in the best interests of Vermonters.
To start with, Democrats took Vermont backwards with a major change to the scope of the Health Care Committee. They had undone years of intentional effort to get mental health treated equally with what they referred to as “physical health” in their new committee description. They also punished the Legislature’s top advocate for mental health, Republican Anne Donahue, by stripping her of her vice chair position and assigning her to another committee entirely. Vermonters must demand Democrats explain why they made these moves to send us backward on the issue of mental health.
In addition, Democrats completely eliminated the Natural Resources, Fish & Wildlife Committee. While they moved some of the Natural Resources function to the newly named Environment & Energy Committee, they also removed from that committee the oversight of broadband when it was known as the “Energy & Technology” Committee. Since broadband was also removed from the description of the Economic Development Committee, all signs are pointing to the fact that Democrats are directly contradicting Gov. Scott’s encouragement for us to work towards equal opportunities for rural Vermont.
Then on the Senate side, for the first time in recent memory, Democrats ensured that they did not have ANY Republicans on the Natural Resources & Energy Committee. Not one dissenting voice was to be allowed. This is quite remarkable because, unlike in the House, Republicans still have the same number of senators for this session that they did last session when Republicans had representation on every committee, so there was no justifiable reason to remove a Republican.
This becomes incredibly important when we know that Democrats campaigned on a return of the previously-vetoed Heating Fuel Tax, and there will not be one minority voice on the Senate Committee that has the power to impose the largest tax increase the state has seen in over a decade. When Republicans are outnumbered on the floor, the only way they can have influence is usually in the committee process. But with no Republican seated on that committee, that balancing perspective has been squashed.
Democrats have proven they are not at all interested in working with the Republicans who still represent tens of thousands of Vermonters. Instead Democrats are already pushing them to the sides preemptively before any work has really started. This sets them up for bigger policy failures because they are unwilling to take input from anyone with a different perspective. The policies that will be produced with this kind of process are sure to be lopsided, unbalanced and untested.
This is one of the fundamental problems with the Democrat way of governing, as opposed to everything Vermont Republicans would do with a majority. This and previous sessions, Democrats have vindictively removed anyone who dared to challenge their authority. It started back when Democrat Rep. Cynthia Browning dared to suggest that Democrats follow their own rules. Then Rep. Thomas Bock was bullied and brow-beaten when he supported Gov. Scott’s veto of the heating fuel tax, which resulted in him deciding not to run again. Vermont Democrats are slowly establishing the kind of heavy-handed authoritarian approach to governing that should leave Vermonters worried that Montpelier is beginning to look more like Washington than we would like. The sustained efforts to centralize power and pressure opposition is not the way a free and independent-minded society should be run.