Startin’ to change my mind.
There are two factors at play, and neither directly involve the State Senate passing the bill last week.
First, I’ve written that there’s one person who could turn the tide — Governor Shumlin. He supports legalization, but I wondered how actively he would engage on the issue. Well, in the Senate, he was heavily engaged, and probably made the crucial difference. Especially with two of his longtime Senate running buddies, John Campbell and Dick Mazza. Both were opposed to legalization, both are powerful enough to derail any bill they don’t like — and both stepped aside and allowed the process to go forward.
Second, House Speaker Shap Smith has consistently thrown cold water on expectations for the bill. Now, he seems to be opening the door a bit. In an interview with the Vermont Press Bureau, he called the bill “a squeaker,” which is different than calling it a loser. He said “the split that exists in the Senate reflects how people in the House feel.” Well, the Senate just passed the bill.
And he said “if you asked [key House members] today,” they’d oppose, which was also true of the Senate. (Democratic lawmakers have been urged to consult with constituents during this week’s legislative break, so if you favor legalization, now would be a good time to contact your Representative.)
Also, as a well-connected friend of mine pointed out last week, Mr. Speaker has made a habit of expectation-lowering. This is mainly a matter of his cautious nature and his leadership style: he can be tough, but he doesn’t do it in public, and he doesn’t put his lawmakers on the spot.
In that context, his warnings on legalization looks like business as usual.
Plus, with expectations lowered, one of two things will happen: Smith will be proven right, or he will be seen as a hero, the guy who helped swing the votes. Which would set him up nicely for a potential late re-entry into the 2016 campaign.
I still think the odds are against legalization this year. But they’re shorter than they were a week ago, and there’s reason for supporters to be hopeful.