(Host) The race for speaker of the Vermont House is heating up. Democrat John Tracy is accusing Republican Walter Freed of creating a partisan atmosphere at the Statehouse in the weeks before the election. Freed says the charges have no foundation and are part of Tracy’s strategy to attract more votes.
VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:
(Kinzel) It’s clear that the race for Speaker of the Vermont is going to be very close – so close that the views of some Democrats on Act 60 could determine the outcome of the election.
The balance of power at the Statehouse shifted dramatically after the November elections. The Democrats trimmed the Republicans’ 19 vote margin down to just five votes; there are now 74 Republicans and 69 Democrats. The four Progressives have announced their support for Democrat John Tracy in the speaker’s race and three independents are considering their options.
Tracy says he needs to hold on to all the members of his caucus in order to win and that means keeping the support of at least six Democrats who are very unhappy with Act 60 because they represent property wealthy communities.
Over the weekend, incumbent Republican Speaker Walter Freed suggested that it would be difficult to reach a compromise on Act 60 in the new session because the Democrats had elected Jericho Representative Gaye Symington as their new leader. Symington has been a strong supporter of Act 60. Tracy says Freed’s comments reveal a lot about the speaker’s political philosophy:
(Tracy) “But to say before the session even begins, ‘We’re probably not going to make any progress on Act 60,’ I think lets down the people of the state of Vermont. And I think it’s discouraging to those people who have been sent to Montpelier. You’re not even giving them a chance before they enter the door. The gavel’s not even fallen and you’re already throwing in the towel. And I think that’s unacceptable and I don’t think that’s the way to lead the Vermont House.”
(Kinzel) Freed says he remains hopeful that the Legislature can reach a compromise on Act 60 and he thinks Tracy’s comments are designed to encourage some “gold town” Democrats not to vote for Freed:
(Freed) “To try and maybe light some partisan tension here on it but it is going to be partisan. Most of the votes are going to be along party lines. But there are people that don’t necessarily follow political party lines and vote for their colleagues who they’ve had some experience working with.”
(Kinzel) The vote for speaker will be the first order of business in the House when it reconvenes in Montpelier on January 8. The election will be conducted by secret ballot.
For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.