Poirier running for House speaker
By DAVE GRAM
The Associated Press | November 15,2012
Staff Photo / Jennifer Langille
Wednesday morning at the State House, Rep. Paul Poivier announced to members of the press his intention to run against Shap Smith for Speaker Post.
MONTPELIER — State Rep. Paul Poirier, an independent, said Wednesday he will seek the post of House speaker when lawmakers convene in January, seeking to unseat two-term Democratic Speaker Shap Smith.
Poirier, a former Democrat from Barre, has criticized the current Democratic leadership for being too willing to cut social service programs and, in his view, to shortchange the state education fund, saying the latter policy puts upward pressure on local property taxes.
“Shap (Smith) is more conservative than I am,” Poirier said.
The 64-year-old former teacher and hockey coach served eight years in the House before running unsuccessfully for Congress in 1988, rising to Democratic leader during his time in Montpelier. He later returned to the Legislature and has served a total of eight terms. Poirier faulted Smith’s leadership style, saying the Morristown Democrat had kept too tight a rein on debate in the House and had failed to appoint enough Republicans, independents and Progressives to the late-session conference committees that work out differences between House and Senate versions of bills.
Poirier said Smith had been too quick to rule lawmakers out of order during debates.
“Under my speakership, I would make it very clear that a point of order raised to, in any way, to restrict or limit debate would have to be completely clear to everybody,” he said. “My positions would be to rule in favor of the person on the floor as much as I could within the rules of our chamber.”
Smith later rebutted Poirier’s remarks, saying that he had encouraged open debate in the House, and that he had striven to be fair to the minority parties in committee assignments.
“There are times when it’s pretty clear under the rules that something should be ruled out of order,” the speaker said. “And it’s not only about that debate, but it’s also about the precedent for the future.”
He said on the key money committees, including Appropriations, which writes the budget, and Ways and Means, which develops tax policy, “minority representation is strong. You know the Transportation Committee is headed by a Republican when you have 94 Democrats (out of 150 House members). In almost any other state, that wouldn’t happen.”
Both Smith and Poirier said they were actively campaigning, visiting and calling their House colleagues.
“I’m hopeful I will be speaker again. You never want to presume anything,” Smith said.
Republican leader Don Turner of Milton said he did not know of anyone in his caucus considering a run for speaker. He said he shared some of Poirier’s criticisms of Smith but was not ready to endorse either of them.
“My interest right now is to have all the candidates come in and address the (Republican) caucus and, as in any election, have them make their case to the caucus,” he said.
Poirier’s local ties are deep.
Poirier points to a legislative career during which he has helped steer both resources and attention Barre’s way, and his service on the City Council, from 1990-99 and 2008 to the present, as examples of his leadership.
Poirier, 64, of Abbott Avenue, told The Times Argus this fall he considered himself the most liberal candidate in this year’s legislative race in his district, and described his decision to run as an independent as liberating.
“I vote on things if I think they are right and not because it’s a part of a political party passing their agenda,” he said.
Poirier told the paper his primary focus if elected would be on a jobs program and health care reform.
“I want to be there to see them implemented correctly,” he said, citing strides in both areas.