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Ousted Vermont House speaker, challenger on upset

Published: Nov. 5, 2020 at 6:16 PM EST|Updated: Nov. 6, 2020 at 5:00 AM EST
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MILTON, Vt. (WCAX) - We are watching close counts in the presidential race, but how about this-- 20 votes could effect the balance of power at the Vermont Statehouse. The Speaker of the House lost her seat by that margin to a Republican, costing the Democrats their supermajority.

Democrat Mitzi Johnson finished third in the Grand Isle-Chittenden House District behind Republicans Leland Morgan and Michael Morgan. So Johnson is out as the speaker and out of the Statehouse unless a recount reverses the outcome.

Johnson has been in office for 18 years representing Grand Isle County and she’s served as the speaker of the House for the past four years.

Johnson hopes a recount will let her return to Montpelier in January.

“I think a little bit of time to double-check that we’re doing the will of the voters is warranted,” she said.

Johnson represents the Grand Isle-Chittenden District made up of six towns in the northwest corner of Vermont.

This isn’t her first close race. Johnson won by fewer than 150 votes in each of the last three elections.

Voters we spoke with who declined to go on camera said Johnson has largely been absent from the community and she hasn’t returned calls and emails. Michael Morgan, who beat her by 20 votes, agrees.

“The rank-and-file person felt like they had been basically had her back turned to them and didn’t pay attention to what they wanted to say. Essentially working in smaller circles instead of looking at the bigger picture circle of everybody,” Morgan said.

But Johnson maintains that as Speaker of the House, she’s responsible for more than just her own district and she’s been busy navigating the Legislature through the pandemic. She says she’s also helped her own constituents and others throughout the state by standing up programs to help people navigate unemployment backlog and also keep food on the table.

“I’m incredibly proud of the work that I’ve done for the state or my community and have no regrets about that,” she said.

If the vote holds and Johnson is out, Democrats will still wield enormous power at the Statehouse. But they’ll have to elect a new speaker of the House and they’ll have to lean more on independents to override a veto from the governor. The ability to override can make the difference between Democratic policies gong into law. But Johnson says she’s confident Democrats can still override vetoes with or without her.

“They were coalitions of Democrats and Republicans and independents, and that option is still here for people,” Johnson said.

We can expect the results of the recount in the coming days. With it hanging on just 20 votes, it shows that every vote counts.

Related Story:

Vt. House Speaker Johnson calls for recount after losing Grand Isle-Chittenden race

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