Toward a more Progressive Senate

I welcome Chris Pearson’s entry into the race for State Senate from Chittenden County. The Progressive state rep is the Progs’ sharpest policy voice in the House, and he should be a formidable candidate for Senate.

For those just joining us, the Chittenden County district elects six Senators, and it’s usually a free ride for incumbents. This time, two of the six seats will be voluntarily vacated; David Zuckerman is running for Lite-Gov, and Helen Riehle (appointed to fill out Diane Snelling’s term) is not running for a full term.

The openings are sure to attract a strong Democratic field, while Republicans are desperately searching for someone who might retain Snelling’s position. Searching in vain, methinks.

But the race on the left will be lively. It’ll be interesting to see how Pearson will fare in fundraising — I suspect he’ll do quite well. He’ll certainly have better name recognition than the Democratic non-incumbents.

And should he win, there is the potential for a real shift in Senatorial power.

Let’s play out the scenario:

— Pearson is elected to the Senate.

— Zuckerman becomes Lieutenant Governor, which makes him the Senate’s presiding officer and a member of the powerful Committee on Committees.

— Dem/Prog Tim Ashe, chair of the Senate Finance Committee and an announced candidate for Senate President Pro Tem, does in fact achieve that ambition. He will be a very strong and very determined candidate, and today he won a key endorsement from Senate Majority Leader Phil Baruth, who had been mulling a bid of his own. Baruth’s endorsement makes Ashe the early favorite for Pro Tem. (Other potential candidates: Claire Ayer, Chris Bray, and Ann Cummings.)

So what would we have? A state Senate with Progressives holding the two most powerful positions, plus strong Progressives Anthony Pollina and Chris Pearson. That’s a potent nucleus.

Progressives would hold a 2-1 majority in the Committee on Committees, meaning they could hand out the committee assignments. Would Pearson succeed Ashe at Finance, or take over, say, Health Care or Education? Would Pollina get a chairmanship? Would Ashe and Zuckerman be more accommodating to recent Democratic arrivals like Becca Balint and Brian Campion?

The third member of the CoC has been, forever and ever amen, Dick Mazza. It’s been a cozy threesome with John Campbell and Phil Scott. Where would he fit in with Ashe and Zuckerman? Or would he? Would the Democratic caucus finally grow a pair and kick Mazza off the panel?

And how would the remaining old guard feel about Zuckerman wielding the gavel? I’ll bet the dwindling ranks of the old guard, like Mazza, DIck Sears, Kevin Mullin, Alice Nitka, and Bobby Starr, are hoping against hope that Shap Smith enters the race for Lite-Guv. Sure, he’s from the House, but he knows how to play the game. He’d find a way to work within the status quo, while Zuckerman would be more likely to cause trouble.

I’ve gotta say, part of me is rooting for Pearson, Zuckerman, and Ashe just for the sheer entertainment value. Could be interesting, that’s for sure.

4 thoughts on “Toward a more Progressive Senate

  1. Dave Katz

    And who knows? Maybe the citizens will see some real benefits from a Pearson/Zuckerman/Ashe Progressive realignment. Sure won’t happen with the crop of Rockefeller Democrats who’ve held the whip hand for so long–Campbell? Mazza? Smith? Go Progressive!

  2. Walter Carpenter

    ” Pearson/Zuckerman/Ashe”

    I’d love to see this as well. Chris would be an excellent senator.

  3. NanuqFC

    The real question is why Democrat Baruth threw well-respected Senator Claire Ayer and the two other members of his own party under the bus in endorsing P/D Tim Ashe. Even if he rearranges the letters to D/P, the true identity/affiliation is one of action: who Ashe and other cross-party legislators actually caucus with.

    And then there’s the question of whether Baruth’s endorsement is at least in part in service to his unwillingness to see a woman in the role of Senate President Pro Tem. Haven’t read a peep out of him since he made his choice.

    1. John S. Walters Post author

      Ashe has made himself appealing to the Senate establishment by constantly kissing up to them. The question is, if Ashe does become Pro Tem, does he use his influence to drive a progressive agenda? His supporters say yes, but there is certainly room for skepticism. My post outlined a scenario in which progressives (small and large P) became highly influential in the Senate. It’s only one scenario.


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