How a slight shift of power in Montpelier could alter the lawmak - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

How a slight shift of power in Montpelier could alter the lawmaking process

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The Green Mountain State is politically blue with Democrats in control of the legislature and Governor's office. That dynamic is unlikely to change when voters go to the polls Nov. 4.

But even a slight shift in the balance of power could alter the lawmaking process.

There are 150 chairs in the Vermont House of Representatives and 30 in the state Senate sit empty.

Every legislator stands for election in less than two weeks and voters will determine who takes a seat in January.

Last session, Democrats held essentially insurmountable majorities in both chambers accounting for more than two-thirds of the seats in the Senate and a little less than two-thirds in the House.

Republican and Progressive party leaders in the House concede that's not going to change dramatically.

"We need to pick up a lot more seats than one, but picking up one seat in this election moves us in the right direction," said Rep. Don Turner, R-Minority Leader.

"We should be able to hold our incumbents and pick up a little bit of ground, probably, two, three seats would be dynamite," said Rep. Chris Pearson, Progressive Party Leader.

Turner and Pearson say the near super majority allows Democrats to force bills through if consensus cannot be found.

"They simply don't have to count on minorities like the Republicans or the Progressives," said Pearson.

"This health care issue is really a prime example of single party rule and how there's no checks and balances in our system," said Turner.

But both say members of their party can play significant roles in crafting measures when they're part of a small group working on a potential law that's not yet ready to reach the full chamber.

"Where we've been most effective is in committee," said Turner.

"We have a small number of legislators but our influence on the direction of the debate and the kind of issues we're talking about goes well beyond our numbers in Montpelier," said Pearson.

"I've been around since we were in the minority, and the challenges are just different," said Rep. Willem Jewett, D-Minority Leader.

Jewett says Democrats are currently focused on campaigns, not whether they can elect 100 house members, enough to override a Governor's veto without the support of any other party.

But he says, leadership includes outside perspectives at every legislative turn in order to create the best possible solution to problems faced by Vermonters.

"At the end of the day everyone's going to have to participate in that solution," said Jewett.

"The majority party has the advantage of passing bills, it's as simple as that," said Sen. Bill Doyle, R-Washington County.

Voters first gave Doyle a senate seat in 1968, and he's held it ever since. Back then, Republicans not the Democrats held 21 seats.

He says the one constant over that political swing though, is that good ideas beat out partisan measures.

"I find that the people who come here, to this legislature, are here to represent the people," said Doyle.

"it's not the party that counts in the Senate, it's how you present your case. It's the work in your committees," said Doyle.

While voters may not choose an identical balance of power, they will nearly-assuredly leave control of the Green Mountain SState in the hands of blue candidates.

Doyle also pointed out that there is a fairly even divide between genders in the legislature when compared to other states. The House has 85 men and 65 women. The Senate gap is larger with 22 men and eight women.

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