By Guy Page
Forty-two of the 180 legislators in the Vermont General Assembly won’t be seeking re-election to their current seats.
On Monday, Vermont Daily Chronicle asked about 50 undecided or unknown lawmakers if they plan to run. We also asked them why they think turnover is at an all-time high. In their own words, here are the responses — which seem fairly representative of the entire legislative body. (Note: Reps. Colston and Martel will not be seeking re-election. The rest quoted below are running again.)
Rep. Jessica Brumstead, D-Shelburne
The last couple of years have been rough; working remotely, participating in hybrid setups, and just being overall worried about either getting Covid or giving it to someone who is at high risk of getting very sick. It weighs on you, you know?
I am home and have been home for the past 9 days because I have Covid and I can’t seem to shake it. I feel pretty horrible, and I hope all the time that I didn’t spread it to anyone ele.
Rep. Brian Smith, R-Derby
Derby has become a single member district so if elected I will be Derby only. I regret not representing Holland, Charleston, Morgan and Brownington! Many fine folks in these towns and I regret not being able to represent them in Montpelier. I think people are leaving politics because they are fed up with the way things are headed in Vermont. And, if the majority stays…they will be at fault for what may come.
Rep. Hal Colston, D-Winooski
I am retiring and moving to Aruba this fall so I am not running for reelection. I know being on Zoom for two years was very tough on a lot of legislators. Perhaps this is a factor for so many choosing not to run again.
Rep. Chip Troiano, D-Hardwick
Some have been in the House and Senate for a long time and have decided it has been long enough. Others find that they have not been able to be as effective as they would like. You know, as a citizen legislature it is often difficult to manage a job and family with the demands to the Legislature. The end of each session can be stressful and very time consuming. There are some who just can not manage that.
Rep. Nelson Brownell, D-Pownal
Health. Family. Pay.
Rep. Carol Ode, D-Burlington
There are probably as many reasons as there are legislators retiring.
For some it’s the time commitment and time spent away from family. For others it’s the end of many years of service to Vermont. Some are running for statewide office and some are leaving the House to run for the Senate. Covid-19 might have played a role in the decision of those who fear bringing the virus home to family members with compromised immune systems.
The work is as difficult as it is rewarding.
Rep. Brian Cina, P-Burlington
Some of the reasons I heard for lawmakers not running: challenges for working people and parents to balance duties, manage time, or afford to live on the pay/benefits, stress/burnout from the pandemic, frustration with politics, making space for new leadership, feeling like they had done enough in the position and needing other opportunities for personal growth, and aspirations for higher office.
Rep. Mary Morrissey, R-Bennington
It is hard to say why so many are not running again in the House and the Senate. I am sure that they each have different reasons. However, our economists have cautioned several times over the last two years that even with all of the federal funding and COVID relief funding (which is taxpayer funding) that has come into the state, we may have challenges sustaining programs going forward. Some of those concerns came even before all that is going on around the country presently. Inflation, cost of gas, heating oil and diesel, shortage of products across the board, food, etc., which is financially affecting our citizens negatively and significantly. Having six chairpersons stepping down from Appropriations, Ways & Means, Health Care, Education, Agriculture and Government Operations is significant. I do not believe that I have seen such a turn over in all of my years of serving. I truly wish all of my fellow colleagues who are not seeking re-election the very best!
Rep. Lisa Hango, R-Berkshire
I’ve had conversations with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle, and to a person, particularly those who have been long-serving, they’ve all told me that the tenor of their work has changed dramatically since they began their legislative careers. Many spoke about how today’s legislators behave more like activists than representatives of their constituents, and that the pandemic caused everyone to feel as if they lost two years of their lives, so to make up for it, legislators worked at a frenetic pace on all the causes they got elected on two years ago. Several mentioned that they finally got legislation approved that had been a priority for years, and it was time for them to move on to leisure pursuits. I know that many of my long-serving colleagues will find retirement a well-deserved break.
Rep. Marcia Martel, R-Waterford
Too many legislators are there for their own agendas and nothing more. Doing good things for the state seems to have gone by the wayside.
Rep. Mike Morgan, R-W. Milton/Grand Isle
People are frustrated and COVID weary.
Rep. Erin Brady, D-Williston
There are many veteran members who have served for a long time, and though they will missed dearly, they deserve a real retirement.
Sen. Chris Bray, D-Addison
I think one reason is how stressful the last three sessions (2020, 2021, and 2022) have been. First, we had to deal with Covid itself on behalf of all Vermonters. While Covid seems relatively tame now, it felt like a shockingly life-and-death situation at the beginning of the pandemic.
On top of that, we were remote almost the entire time, and while we were able to get work done, it was much harder without all the informal time talking with one another that is so essential to lawmaking — e.g. hallway conversations, going through the cafeteria line with someone, and meals together. So, the work environment was stressful.
Perhaps those two factors together have worn out more than the usual number of people; it was often exhausting, and there was so little of the fun and camaraderie that helps us pull one another through the hard parts of the job.
Sen. Phil Baruth, D-Chittenden
I think it’s probably pretty similar to why waves of workers are retiring in almost every sector – the pandemic shifted people’s views about what they can do before retirement, shifted their economic outlook in some cases, and burnt people out (especially in front line jobs). The Legislature isn’t front line, but we had a lot of emergency response to coordinate, and it’s not over yet. I think a lot of good people – people who have served the state for decades in some cases – just need a break.
Rep. Tiff Bluemle, P-Burlington
There are a number of people who are retiring from the legislature who have given years of service to Vermont and have decided that it’s time to pass the torch.
Rep. Taylor Small, P-Winooski
I have heard a myriad of reasons as to why other legislators are stepping down: the difficulties of finding a work-life balance, the desire for more time with children and families, the financial struggle of being a part of a part-time legislature with no benefits and having to work a second job, as well as recognizing the vast amount of time a lot of my colleagues have already provided in service to our great state – with some serving over 30 years in the Vermont House. We have a great opportunity ahead of us next session with such significant turnover, and I am so grateful to have learned from these outstanding legislators before they begin their next chapter.
Guy Page is publisher of the Vermont Daily Chronicle. Reprinted with permission.