Baruth named Senate majority leader
Vermont Press Bureau | January 07,2013
One of the more vocal critics of Senate leadership over the past two years was elected by his Democratic peers Saturday to help fix it.
Sen. Philip Baruth, a second-term Chittenden County Democrat, will serve as his 23-member caucus’ next majority leader. During his first two years in office, Baruth often chided Senate President John Campbell for a top-down leadership style he said was used to subvert the will of the majority.
Baruth on Sunday said he thinks he and Campbell are primed to improve the dynamic.
“A lot of problems were caused by bills that had lot of support in the caucus but then didn’t have quite enough support to get out of committee,” Baruth said. “We have had very good discussion about that at (the Senate Democratic caucus Saturday) and talked about ways to massage that situation so we wouldn’t have quite so much pressure build up around certain issues.”
Baruth named the child care unionization bill specifically as one piece of legislation blocked from seeing a floor vote last year. Does that mean the controversial legislation, opposed by Campbell, is headed for an up-or-down vote on the floor in 2013?
“I wouldn’t want to say anything definitive on any specific bill, but it certainly seems as though discussions are moving in that way,” Baruth said.
A professor of English at the University of Vermont, Baruth said even Republican lawmakers will have a voice in the Democratic caucus. Sen. Diane Snelling, a Chittenden County Republican, is running against Campbell for a Senate presidency that will be decided this week.
“I know John Campbell is not taking anything for granted, and I am very sure he’s talking on a regular basis with Republicans that have been in the body for a while, as well as those just coming in,” Baruth said. “In the Senate, it’s less about R’s versus D’s and it’s more about wrangling over the vision for ideal government, and then how you pay for that ideal government.”
Baruth, who won the post in a unanimous voice vote, had voiced interest last fall in being a member of the leadership team, but said he’d cede the top spot to a more senior member of the body. No one else emerged to take the job.
Sen. Claire Ayer, an Addison County Democrat and chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Health and Welfare, will serve as assistant majority leader.
From his more experienced No. 2, Baruth said he’ll seek “advice and guidance.”
“Claire is an extremely experienced and savvy person,” Baruth said. “And what I need from her is mostly her advice.”
Lawmakers will convene in Montpelier on Wednesday for the opening of the 2013 session. Gov. Peter Shumlin delivers his State of the State address Thursday.
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Shumlin says games of partisan brinkmanship from a “dysfunctional Congress” will continue to complicate fiscal planning for the state of Vermont.
Even as he praised the president last Wednesday for cutting a deal to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff, Shumlin panned the U.S. House whose members finally signed on to the compromise.
“This is a dysfunctional Congress,” Shumlin said. “We saw it for the last two years, we’re likely to see it for the next two. They seem to want to push the country to the brink every single time.”
Had he been in their seats, Shumlin said he too would have voted for a deal that won “yes” votes from Sens. Patrick Leahy and Bernard Sanders and Rep. Peter Welch.
But he said the compromise postpones questions of considerable financial importance, creating uncertainty in a state budget that relies heavily on federal revenue.
“You have to make assumptions that you’re making the right choices and guesses,” Shumlin said. “It’s not unusual for us to navigate around this particular Congress.”
Shumlin said he believes a congressional stalemate on the fiscal cliff would have plunged Vermont back into recession.
“I think this is the one thing that could have sent us back into a recession,” he said. “I think that it’s pretty clear that the dire consequences that would have been inflicted on the American economy had they not resolved this question would have been a real challenge for us.”
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This year’s budget address will come later than usual.
During a debriefing on the budget-adjustment act for members of the media last Wednesday, Secretary of Administration Jeb Spaulding said the governor will wait until after the next revenue forecast to unveil his fiscal year 2014 spending plan.
The updated forecast won’t come until Jan. 23. Spaulding said the budget proposal will be delivered to the Legislature on Jan. 24.
“And that is a little bit later than we’d like, but it’s something both the Legislature’s and the governor’s economists recommended to us,” Spaulding said.
Spaulding said the extra time will also allow the final proposal to reflect as accurately as possible what Vermont can expect in the way of diminished revenue from the federal government.
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The Vermont Progressive Party has a new executive director.
Robert Millar, who worked for the past several years on Bernie Sanders’ 2012 re-election campaign, will fill a post vacated after the November elections by Morgan Daybell.
According to a release sent out by the VPP last week, Millar served on the Winooski School Board from 2010 to 2012 and has been a Progressive Justice of the Peace in Winooski since 2010.
“I am pleased that we were able to find someone who has both experience in, and a commitment to, our organization and an appreciation of the role we play in Vermont politics,” VPP chairwoman Martha Abbott said in a written statement.
Millar called the Progressive Party “one of the strongest, most important, liberal movements in the country and I’m proud to have been a part of that movement for the last several years.”
“The Progressive Party has been a part of the political landscape in Vermont for over 30 years, providing a voice for the working class and the many others whose voices were not being heard in the other two parties,” Millar said. “I’m thrilled that this position will allow me to continue to play a leading role in helping to guide the party into the next 30 years of success, and beyond.”