Democrats choose Welch for Senate leader

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(Host) The Senate Democratic Caucus on Monday unanimously chose Windsor County Senator Peter Welch as the Senate president pro tempore candidate for the upcoming session. Because the Democrats hold a commanding majority in the Senate, Welch’s formal election next week by the full Senate is considered a certainty.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) There was a festive atmosphere at the Statehouse as Senate Democrats held their first formal caucus since the November elections. The Democrats won a number of Republican Senate seats and they now hold a 19 to 11 majority in that chamber. The group is now so large that they had to move their caucus meeting to a larger conference room to accommodate the new members.

For the past few weeks, Bennington Senator Dick Sears and Windsor Senator Peter Welch have been seeking the Senate’s top leadership post. Sears was unable to attract enough support for his candidacy and on Monday afternoon he nominated Welch for the position and the Caucus unanimously elected him.

It will mark the second time that Welch will serve as the senate president pro tempore; he was elected to this post in the late 1980s. Welch told his colleagues that he wants to work with the Republicans in the Legislature on many of the tough issues facing the state:

(Welch) “But both sides have been talking about common problems and one of the reasons is that there’s no shortage of problems that we face here in the state of Vermont. We’ve got an anemic economy, we’ve got an arthritic regulatory system, we’ve got an Act 60 that needs reform, we’ve got a drug problem that we’ve got to address. And the only way we’re going to be successful is by having strong committee chairs, strong committees that are committed to doing the best possible public policy work regardless of the politics.”

(Kinzel) The Senate Democrats, at the request of Franklin Senator Sarah Kittell, will also consider a proposal to upgrade the status of its agriculture committee. While the House has a standing committee on agriculture, the Senate doesn’t and the Senate panel meets whenever its members have free time.

Kittell, who served as the chairwoman of the committee last session, urged her caucus to give the panel full status this year – a move that means it would meet every day. Kittell says the problems facing the state’s agriculture industry require the full attention of the Senate:

(Kittell) “But I think it’s a time in the Senate and in the state where strengthening the Senate agriculture committee will strengthen the agriculture industry in general in the state and will strengthen the state.”

(Kinzel) The Democrats also unanimously elected Grand Isle Senator Dick Mazza to be the third member of the Senate panel that will determine all committee assignments in the Senate. The other two members of the committee will be Lieutenant Governor Brian Dubie and President Pro Tempore Peter Welch.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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