Editor’s note: This commentary is by Rep. Robin Chesnut-Tangerman, P-Middletown Springs, who represents the Rutland-Bennington district in the Vermont House of Representatives and is leader of the House Progressive Caucus.
In a recent commentary, former House Republican leader Don Turner called the 2020 Vermont election results far-reaching and a rejection of the status quo. I couldn’t disagree more. Despite the headlines generated when a speaker and a caucus leader lose their seats, this election actually cemented the status quo in Montpelier. Here’s why I think that:
Gov. Phil Scott remains personally very popular. Strong support from Vermonters had little to do with policy and everything to do with his temperate and level-headed response to the coronavirus. In any time of strife there is a natural tendency to “rally around the flag,” which is what we have seen. If this were really a rejection of progressive proposals and an endorsement of conservative policy, then John Klar would be governor-elect now.
The election outcomes were not a repudiation but a reinforcement of the status quo. As was the case in 2018, Vermont still has a Republican governor and a Democrat in every other statewide office and Democrats still hold commanding majorities in both chambers. A few of the faces have changed; the speaker and I both lost narrowly in our very purple districts, and the lieutenant governor and pro tem both gave up safe seats in bids for higher office, but overall the balance has barely budged. If the election were indeed a mandate for Scott’s policies and his vetoes of popular legislation, we would have seen huge shifts in the House and Senate as well.
Progressives held steady. In a year when three out of seven incumbent Progressive representatives did not seek reelection, Progressives clawed back from that 43% deficit and came out exactly even, a victory by any electoral math. With seven P/Ds in the House, two in the Senate, and a deep bench of supportive Democrats sporting a Progressive endorsement, Progressives are still the most successful third party in the country. Clearly the message of economic justice, rural development, and climate action continues to resonate across the state.
Much has been made of the loss of the 102 seat “veto-proof majority” supposedly enjoyed by Democrats and Progressives this last biennium. Reality proved that overriding any of the governor’s 20 vetos was already difficult at best, and will now be even more challenging with a combined 99 seats. But far from “shifting control in a more balanced direction,” Vermonters have kept the ship of state on a very even keel.