So I Guess Performative Acts Are Okay Now?

When last we checked in with Senate President Pro Tem (and Congressional hopeful) Becca Balint, she was deep-sixing a mask mandate bill because Gov. Phil Scott would just veto it, thus making further action a pointless “performative act.”

Apparently she’s changed her mind because on Monday, she put on a performative act of her own.

The occasion was a press conference in support of ranked choice voting, a concept that was introduced in both the House and Senate in early 2021 and went absolutely nowhere in either chamber.

Well, it’s back this year, and those endorsing RCV included two of the three Democratic candidates for Congress: Balint herself and Sen. Kesha Ram Hinsdale, the two hopefuls actively competing for the progressive slash Progressive vote. RCV is a high priority for the Progs, so their support for RCV is no surprise.

But Balint’s endorsement was a performative act, plain and simple. Two points.

First, Balint’s support means nothing unless she puts her Pro Tem muscle to work. The bill would have to clear the Senate Government Operations Committee, whose ideas-averse chair Jeanette White tends to be a roadblock on any big changes to election law. Balint is the only one with the authority to persuade White to take up the bill. Unless she does that, her endorsement was purely performative.

Second, and more crucially, Gov. Phil Scott has made it clear he opposes RCV. He did so again at his Covid presser on Tuesday, when he all but promised to veto the bill if it reaches his desk.

So… Balint is against moving ahead with a mask mandate because of a veto threat, but she’s fine with advancing RCV in spite of a veto threat. (Ram Hinsdale’s endorsement was equally performative, but she’s not the one who came out loud and clear against such antics.)

Now, as I’ve written before, I believe performative acts play a legitimate role in legislative bodies — especially when the majority and the governor are from different political parties. How else do you make distinctions between your party and the governor’s? The most direct way is to send him legislation he doesn’t like, and make him veto it. There’s value in pursuing issues the governor opposes, including RCV, paid family leave, medical monitoring, a robust climate action plan and, well, a mask mandate.

But Balint claims to believe otherwise. Or perhaps she believes otherwise unless a performative act would be personally advantageous.

This is a case where being a legislative leader can be an impediment to seeking higher office. Balint has an institutional authority and responsibility that her opponents don’t share. It can put the leader in some very uncomfortable positions. This is unlikely to be the last time being Pro Tem is an obstacle, not a stepping stone.

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