Tag Archives: Brian Collamore

The State Senate Approaches a Demographic Tipping Point

Seems like I’ve been waiting forever for the Vermont Senate to undergo a demographic shift. Every two years there’s been talk of a retirement wave, but it never materializes. Senators consider stepping aside, then realize they’re indispensable. (They’re not.) And the voters rarely eject an incumbent except in cases of overt criminality (Norm McAllister) or advanced senescence (Bill Doyle).

The shift has been painfully incremental until this year, when almost one-third of all senators decided to bow out. The nine incomers are younger, five of them are women, and one is a person of color: Nader Hashim joins Kesha Ram Hinsdale and Randy Brock as the three non-white members of the upper chamber.

(The tiny Republican caucus managed to get older and no less male. Its two youngest members, Corey Parent and Joshua Terenzini, will be replaced by a couple of old white men.)

Got more numbers to plow through, but here’s the bottom line. The Senate is on the verge of a historic shift, but it’s happening in slow motion. We might reach the tipping point in two years’ time. We’re not quite there yet.

There are still plenty of tenured members in positions of power. They account for most of the committee chairs. But only — “only” — eight of the 30 senators will be 70 or older. At least 13 will be under 65, which doesn’t sound like a lot but in the Senate it definitely is.

The incoming Senate President Pro Tem, Phil Baruth, straddles the age divide. He’s only — “only” — 60. But he’s entering his sixth two-year term, so he’s familiar with the Senate and the elders are comfortable enough with him to make him their leader. As a senator he’s been a strong policy advocate unafraid to ruffle feathers, but as Pro Tem he’ll know he can’t push his caucus too far too fast.

There are the preliminiaries. Now let’s dive in.

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Wanted: A Few New State Senators. Or a Lot.

Well, I guess there’s at least one group with a worse seniority problem.

The Vermont Senate, as has been noted in this space, is a temple of tenure. It’s almost impossible to defeat a sitting senator; the only time we get a new one is when someone voluntarily retires. That rarely happens and, as a result, the Senate just keeps getting older and older.

How old? Average age of the 30 senators is 63.4 years. There are only five senators under age 50; there are 14 over 70, and 11 who are 75 and older. There are two others in their late 60s, which means we have a Senate majority past retirement age.

And the oldest wield the most power. The average age of the 11 policy committee chairs is 72.1. Brian Campion is the only policy chair under 64. Yep, that chamber loves it some seniority.

This has some unfortunate effects. First, there’s often an airless quality to the Senate’s work. It is an entity apart from the real world — or even those rambunctious young’uns in the House. (Senators often treat the House with open contempt.) Second, senators are often out of touch when discussing issues of concern to young people like digital technology, child care, substance use, rental housing, and workforce development. Third, well, it’s really hard to get the Senate to take a fresh look at anything or contemplate a change in How We’ve Always Done It.

Sure, tenure has its benefits. They know their way around the building, and that’s nothing to sneeze at. Some, including Dick Sears, Bobby Starr, and Jane Kitchel, bring decades of experience and deep knowledge of their policy beats.

But in any organization, you want a mix of young and old, new and tenured. The Senate is terribly skewed toward age and seniority. It’s long past time for some serious turnover. Will 2022 be the year we get it? I sure hope so.

After the jump: Naming some names.

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Mailed Ballots: A Study in Legislative Timidity

A couple of weeks ago, the Senate Government Operations Committee approved S.15, a bill that would mandate mail-in ballots for November elections. On Wednesday, the panel was presented with an opportunity to make the mandate universal, applying to general elections, primaries, and Town Meeting Day.

(The only exception: Communities that hold actual town meetings would be exempt. Towns that use the Australian ballot for TMD questions would have to provide mail service to all voters.)

And the committee couldn’t back away fast enough. Members used every delaying tactic in the book, from straw-man punching to red herrings to gross exaggeration. It was so sad that the panel even balked at the last refuge of legislative delay, appointing a study committee!

Now, there was a bit of political gamesmanship involved on the part of Republican Sen. Corey Parent, who offered the amendment to S.15. If he was completely serious about the idea, he could have proposed it sooner. The deadline for policy bills to pass the Senate is this Friday, and it’s a stretch to think his amendment could get due consideration in Gov Ops and on the Senate floor.

But he did have a serious point, and I have to say I agree with him.

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