Pandemic, low-pay driving forces behind Vt. Statehouse exodus

Published: May. 30, 2022 at 4:37 PM EDT
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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) - A legislative sea-change is coming to the Vermont Statehouse, with an unusually large number of state lawmakers either not seeking re-election or running for higher office.

Ten lawmakers -- or one-third of the Vermont Senate are stepping back, and dozens of House lawmakers are also stepping down, including nine committee chairs

“I have a large extended family that I’d like to spend time with while I still have my health and my vitality,” said Rep. Kate Webb, D-Shelburne, one of those who will not be returning next year. Others say they hope to pass the baton to the next generation of leaders.

But the flood of retirements could mean a loss of some institutional knowledge. Webb chairs the House Education Committee and says her colleagues are prepared to steer the ship. “I can safely say I feel comfortable leaving a committee that will do just fine without my leadership,” she said.

Pandemic burnout has taken a toll on many after most lawmaking was conducted the past two years entirely over Zoom, limiting opportunities for the type of one-on-one conversations that move the legislative process along. Others say the meager pay and benefits are a reason to step back.

“You have to be independently wealthy or be in a spot in your life where you may not need to make as much money, and that’s difficult for some people,” said Sen. Corey Parent, R-Franklin, who says he earned $8,200 for the entire 18-week session. He turns 32 this summer and says it’s not enough to support his two kids. “You have to make hay in those years and I think that’s why not only in Vermont but nationally, 30 and 40-year-olds are underrepresented in state legislatures.”

Others agree that the conversation about what a part-time, citizen legislature should look like is long overdue. ”I think we’re going to have a harder discussion about that in this state and what it means to serve in these roles,” said Sen. Chris Pearson, P/D - Chittenden County.

The turnover under the Golden Dome is in addition to six statewide offices up for grabs in November.

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