(Host) Wednesday morning at the Statehouse, incumbent Republican House Speaker Walter Freed was re-elected to a second term in office on the first day of the new Legislative session. Freed defeated Democrat John Tracy by a vote of 82-68.
VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:
(Kinzel) Just after ten o’clock in the morning, with a light snow falling, the 2003 Legislature was formally called into session by Secretary of State Deb Markowitz.
(Sound of Markowitz from the podium) “Pursuant to the constitution and laws of the State of Vermont, I hereby call the 67th biennial session of the House of Representatives to order.”
(Kinzel) The first order of business was a roll call of all 150 members of the House by legislative district. (Sound of roll call.) When all members vocally indicated that they were present, Markowitz moved on to the major business of the day – the election of a House speaker for the next two years.
Incumbent Republican Speaker Walter Freed was being challenged by Burlington Democrat John Tracy. The race was expected to be close because the Democrats picked up a number of seats in the November election.
Two years ago, the Republicans enjoyed a 21-seat majority in the House. This year there are 74 Republicans, 69 Democrats, four Progressives and three independents in the chamber. Freed was able to win re-election by firmly holding on to the members of his own caucus and by appealing to a number of Democrats and independents.
Following the election, Freed said he expects the House will adopt much more moderate legislation this year because of the gains made by the Democrats:
(Freed) “What you’re going to see is that the middle is really going to drive the agenda here because the middle can move one way or another. The moderates have an opportunity to move to the more left of center or they can move to more right of center on any piece of legislation. So I think that all my colleagues would agree that, when you have a close number like this, that you’ll see the agenda, you’ll see the bills that come through really have to be consensus pieces in order to get 75 votes and get voted out.”
(Kinzel) The Legislature is expected to face a number of difficult budget decisions during the course of the session. Freed says he doubts that raising taxes will be considered as a serious option in the House:
(Freed) “I don’t think Vermonters elected us to office this year to come to Montpelier and raise their taxes. They feel the pinch of the tax burden, whether it’s their property tax or income tax. And I think that they’d like us to tighten our belts as much as possible in the same manner that many of them have been forced to tighten their own belts. If they’re not getting raises at work, they’re getting cut back in their number of hours, some of them are getting laid off. So I think that they want us to be very cognizant of that and to first do everything possible to get the most services out of government at its current dollar level.”
(Kinzel) The speaker of the House makes all the committee assignments in that chamber. Freed says the Democrats will have proportional representation on most of the House committees.
For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.
Bob Kinzel’s interview with Speaker Walter Freed.