This commentary is by Paul Dame, chair of the Vermont GOP.
When Republicans looked at the hand we were dealt in the 2020 elections I saw a bit of a mixed bag. On one hand we had incredibly huge morale-boosting wins in defeating the Speaker of the House Mitzi Johnson as well as knocking out Progressive Leader Robin Chesnut-Tangerman. We also picked up a net four seats in the House and one in the Senate. We retained seats held by Republicans while bringing in some fresh faces. Compared to the 2016 and 2018 campaign, things were looking up last cycle.
But on the other hand we still have only 46 Republicans in the House and 7 in the Senate. We were far from a majority, and we were just shy of the one third we needed to back up the veto power held by the Governor.
It would have been easy to get discouraged and give up before the session ever started. But now that the books have closed on this legislative session, I think Republicans can look back and say that we did pretty well considering the limited resources we had to work with.
The session ended with two major wins for Republicans by stopping the new mystery carbon tax (thanks to YOUR help last week!) that was included in the Clean Heat Standard, as well as new restrictions on rental units in the Burlington charter changes. We also were able to sustain the Governor’s veto allowing 16-year-olds to vote a few weeks ago. Those four seats we picked up really made the difference between sustaining those vetoes this year, and getting them overturned in 2020 with the Global Warming Solutions Act. One vote really made all the difference.
Republicans also were able to advance our agenda in some measurable but less dramatic ways. Last year Republicans introduced a floor amendment last year to repeal the military pension tax. After our strong showing on that vote, along with your participation (contacting legislators and signing our petition) we were able to get an exemption of up to $10,000 for our veterans. While we can celebrate this important win for the Republican minority, we will need to work towards a majority to fully repeal the military pension tax and support the veterans of Vermont.
In some cases we were not able to defeat a bill completely, but were at least able to push it back until after this election. Two such bills relate to the Democrats continued efforts to fundamentally undermine law enforcement. Despite the record number of vacancies in several police forces around the state, some legislators wanted to remove completely the qualified immunity protection for police officers. Another bill was seeking to downgrade the seriousness of drunk & high driving to a secondary offense. This would mean that police would no longer be able to pull over a car if the only violation was a suspected DUI. That could only be charged if the car was pulled over for something else. In both of these cases Republicans fought to maintain public safety and reduce the more extreme elements of the bill into studies.
While those are all important efforts the fact remains that there is much work left undone and Republicans will need to recruit over the next two weeks, and support over the next five months more candidates for the legislature if we want a chance to work towards a majority and have an even bigger influence. Some of the things that got left on the table this year because we didn’t have enough Republicans include a long-term fix for the State Employees’ pension fund. We were successful in kicking the can down the road in the short term – but we need a long term solution that is fair to state employees and taxpayers so they don’t have to renegotiate every 4-5 years. We also need more Republicans to get elected in order to have an impact on zoning regulations that will make it easier to build the housing units we desperately need. And there are a number of other issues Republicans could address – but that will depend on what kind of people step up and run for office in the coming weeks.
We still have another 10 days for Republicans to get on the ballot through the usual signature process. And even after that, the party has a few ways to support late-comers, like we did in 2020. So for the next five months the deck is getting prepared to be reshuffled. We get just one shot at a better hand for the next two years. In November a new hand will be dealt. Will we be better off that we were this year – or worse? Election time is exciting because there is a world of possibility awaiting us. There is a short but glorious window ahead of us to work towards a more affordable, accountable and flexible government.