Montpelier voters promoted two city officials to the Legislature in last week’s election, creating a pair of vacancies in city government by the end of the year.
Mayor Anne Watson was elected to the state Senate and District 2 City Councilor Conor Casey was elected to the House. Both said the demands of the new gigs will require that they step down from their current roles by the end of the year, before the Legislature convenes in January. The process of replacing them is underway and one city councilor has expressed interest in running for mayor.
“It would be inappropriate to be both the mayor and a state senator at the same time because there could be a question of whether I’m taking certain actions for the city or for the entire district,” Watson said.
Watson, who won a third mayoral term in March and has more than a year remaining, said she would likely step down by the end of this year. When a mayor resigns with more than 120 days remaining in their term, the city charter requires that the City Council call a special election “forthwith.” However, should Watson resign by Dec. 31, for example, does that mean the council must call for a special election immediately or could it wait until Town Meeting Day?
City Councilor Jack McCullough, who is the Council’s president and parliamentarian, said logic would suggest waiting until Town Meeting Day to avoid the expense of a special election while encouraging greater turnout.
“I think we will seek advice from the city’s attorney,” said McCullough, who presides over the Council in the absence of a mayor. He also said he is considering a run for Watson’s seat.
The process of replacing Casey has more precedent. In recent years at least three councilors have resigned before their term expired. In each case the Council appointed a replacement to serve until the next regular election, in this case Town Meeting Day. In each of those instances the appointee went on to win the ensuing election.
Fresh Faces in the State House
With 60 percent of Montpelier’s five-seat Statehouse delegation vacant, this year’s election marked a rare opportunity for turnover. Only two incumbents sought reelection and both won easily. Democrats Ann Cummings and Andrew Perchlik returned to their seats in the newly redrawn three-member Washington 1 Senate District. With 20,507 votes Cummings was the top vote-getter in the district that includes all 20 Washington County towns plus Braintree, Orange, and Stowe. Watson had 17,860 and Perchlik had 16,521. Republican Paul Bean finished fourth with 9,738. Watson will fill the seat previously occupied by Sen. Anthony Pollina, who retired after last session.
The newcomers will join a Legislature that will include a record number of Democrats and Progressives. They will control 109 of the 150 seats in the House, according to the news website vtdigger.org, giving them a 73 percent veto-proof majority. The Senate remains 23-7 in favor of the P/Ds.
Watson, a teacher at Montpelier High School, said she would reduce her load to part-time since the legislative session runs roughly January-May. An advocate for energy efficiency while mayor, Watson said she hopes to pursue ways to make energy more affordable during the transition away from fossil fuels.
“My number-one committee priority is Natural Resources and Energy,” she said. “I’m very excited to get started on that and hoping that I’m put there.”
She also cited interest in the Finance and Government Operations committees.
“What an exciting time to be in politics,” Watson said. “We just elected our first Congresswoman from Vermont (Rep.-elect Becca Balint) and it seems like there’s a fundamental shift in the perspective of Vermonters. With the turnover in the Senate everything is feeling really fresh and full of possibilities right now. With a supermajority it’s time to think about what are the hopes and dreams of Vermonters and what we can get done that hasn’t been able to be done in the past few years (because of Gov. Phil Scott’s veto power.)”
Montpelier’s two-seat House slate also turned over with the retirements of Mary Hooper and the late Warren Kitzmiller. Political newcomer Kate McCann garnered the most votes with 2,780 while her Democrat running mate, Casey, was close behind with 2,714. City Councilor Dona Bate, running as an independent, finished third with 1,004, followed by Republican Gene Leon with 590 and Progressive Glennie Sewell with 512.
McCann, an educator at U-32 and co-owner of North Branch Vineyards with her husband, John, said she would like to focus on ways to support working families and small businesses. She said she supports common sense gun laws, standards for clean air and safe drinking water, school nutrition, education finance reform, addressing homelessness, and empowering the voices of the LBGTQ-plus community.
“I think I bring an understanding of working families,” she said. “I own a small business and I’d like to help more small businesses get started and continue to flourish.”
McCann and Casey said they knocked on over 3,500 doors and heard about concerns for reproductive rights, homelessness, and high property taxes, among other things.
“I’m so grateful to Montpelier voters for opening their doors and having conversations with us,” McCann said. “Their trust is overwhelming and I look forward to living up to their expectations.”
Casey, who is executive director of the advocacy group Gun Sense Vermont, has a longer history in the State House, having worked as a political consultant and labor organizer for many years.
He said House Government Operations would be a good fit.