Democrats on Saturday formally nominated Rep. Jill Krowinski, D-Burlington, to lead Vermont House next year, clearing her path to the speaker’s office.
The party also appointed Newfane Rep. Emily Long to be majority leader and fill the position that Krowinski will be leaving behind.
Both Krowinski and Long were selected unanimously during a Democratic caucus meeting which was held via Zoom Saturday morning.
Krowinski became the likely leader of the House after the current House speaker, Rep. Mitzi Johnson, D-South Hero, lost reelection in November. Although she still has to be elected by House members on the first day of the legislative session, Jan. 6, Krowinski's path to the speaker's office appears clear. No Republicans have announced plans to challenge her.
She would be the fourth woman to hold the office in the state's history.
Speaking to the Democratic caucus during the party elections, Krowinski said that Democrats "must come together with a plan of action" to beat the Covid-19 pandemic.
"This coming session will take an immense effort on our part to serve Vermonters," Krowinski said.
"Out of the struggles of this pandemic we will build a stronger foundation for Vermont, one that moves all 14 Vermont counties forward. And we will not stop until every child in every family has access to opportunities that build hope, trust, and a brighter future," she added.
In an interview, the presumptive speaker said she would make access to affordable housing, child care and broadband her top priorities.
"From what I see and conversations that I've had with members and, people across Vermont is that this pandemic has even made worse problems that we have been working on, problems like broadband access and access to affordable child care and housing," she said in an interview. "These were already problems that have been identified that have been, you know, absolutely made worse and amplified because of this pandemic. And so I think it's going to be our job to come together and to create a plan for for recovery in Vermont, that leaves no one behind."
Krowinski said she couldn't elaborate on specifics until she had a chance to hear ideas from her own caucus and from GOP and Progressive caucuses. In addition, she wants to know how money has been spent during the Covid crisis and determine whether recovery programs have been effective.
"I think it's really important that we're making decisions based on data and testimony about what worked and what didn't work so that we're making really informed decisions about how to invest what money in the right place, given the limited resources we have," Krowinski said.
The House will take up an expanded mail-in voting bill for Town Meeting Day in March. "That's something that Secretary of State Condos has flagged. It's a really important issue for us to make sure that March elections are done with the public health and safety priorities first," she said.
The Senate also plans to discuss the expanded mail-in voting system in January.
Krowinski was first elected to the House in 2012, and has served on both Johnson's and former House Speaker Shap Smith's leadership teams.
She is the executive director of Emerge Vermont, an organization that recruits and trains female Democratic candidates to run for political office. She previously worked as chief of staff to former speaker Gaye Symington.
Two other Democrats, Reps. Sarah Copeland-Hanzas and Charlie Kimbell, sought the party's nomination for speaker this year, but ultimately dropped out.
Speaking to fellow Democrats, Kimbell praised Krowinski.
"For the past four years, Jill successfully managed the big tent of the Democratic caucus, not an easy task, advancing its priorities with vision, planning and tireless work," Kimbell said.
"She is experienced, networked, she is ready," he added.
Long, the incoming Democratic majority leader has served Johnson's leadership teams in the past two bienniums — once as a deputy assistant majority leader and most recently as whip. She was first elected to the Statehouse in 2014.
Democrats appointed other members to the incoming leadership team on Saturday.
Rep. Michael McCarthy, of St. Albans, was elected majority whip and Reps. Martin LaLonde of South Burlington and Marybeth Redmond of Essex were elected as assistant majority leaders. The caucus voted to unanimously support each of the appointments.
House Republicans this week also elected their leadership — reappointing House Minority Leader Pattie McCoy, R-Poultney, and assistant minority leader Rob LaClair, R-Barre Town.
In a statement, McCoy said she looks forward to working with lawmakers and Gov. Phil Scott in the coming session "so we can rebound from COVID-19, grow our economy, and reduce the cost of living."
"This legislative session will present us with a number of challenges, both as it relates to Covid-19 and Vermont's underlying demographic and economic trends," McCoy said.
"But I'm confident that, if we put aside partisan politics, and partner with our counterparts — Senators Brock and Collamore — in the Senate, we can set Vermont on a solid trajectory," McCoy said.
LaClair, the assistant minority leader, said he isn't aware of any Republicans who intend to challenge Krowinski in January. He said that Republicans wouldn't have the votes to beat the Democratic candidate.
"We'd have to have several Democrats end up sort of defecting. So math-wise it just really wouldn't work for us," LaClair said Saturday.
Although Republicans picked up three seats in the House in the November election, their now 46 members are still dwarfed by the 92-member majority held by Democrats.
He said Republicans have some concerns about Krowinski, particularly the fact that she is moving from the "more partisan" role of majority leader to speaker.
But he said the party is "fully prepared to work with her."
"It's going to be a very unusual session, and it's going to require a lot of time, effort, and trust on both sides," LaClair said.
Krowinski said she will be reaching out to Republican and Progressive caucus leaders right away and hopes to understand their priorities.
Anne Galloway contributed to this report.
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