by Guy Page
Presumptive House Speaker Jill Krowinski (D-Burlington) will go into the 2021-22 biennium with at least two big questions to answer:
- Given Dem/Prog losses to the GOP of a net four seats, can she still muster an override of a veto by Gov. Phil Scott?
- Can she turn her signature “Emerge” boot camp for Democratic women candidates into a House winner again?
The two questions are related. For years, Krowinski has been the staff director for Emerge Vermont, a six-month, 70-hour “boot camp” for Democratic women candidates. They learn about public speaking, fundraising, campaign strategy, media and more. They network with women who’ve already succeeded. Since 2002 the national Emerge has graduated 4,000 women, including 135 Vermonters. There is no Republican equivalent.
To be sure, Emerge scored several impressive legislative victories this year.
- Alyssa Black in Westford defeated incumbent Republican Bob Bancroft. This was the only seat flipped Democrat from an incumbent Republican.
- Kate Donnally (Hyde Park, Wolcott, Johnson) kept her seat Blue against challengers Shayne Spence and Richard Bailey. She even outpolled re-elected incumbent Dan Noyes. She fills a seat held in 2019-2020 by Democrat Matt Hill.
- Katherine Sims (Orleans-Caledonia) kept her seat Blue by nosing out Republican challenger Jeannine Young. She replaces Democrat Sam Young, who declined to run again.
In almost sure-thing Blue Chittenden County districts, Emergers Karen Dolan of Essex Town and Jana Brown of Richmond defeated Republican challengers. Several other Emergers walked to easy victory in Michael Johnson (“Bluer than Blue”) districts in Burlington and Putney. In those districts, the primary was the “real” election.
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But other Emerge non-incumbents didn’t fare so well.
- Denise McMartin of Northfield netted just 18% of the vote in the Washington-1 race won easily by GOP incumbents Anne Donahue and Ken Goslant.
- In a tri-county Northeast Kingdom seat, Martha Allen of Canaan lost to incumbent Paul Lefebvre, who had switched from Republican to independent.
- Barbara Noyes Pulling of Rutland lost to incumbent Republican Tom Terenzini.
- Kate MacLean (Williamstown/Orange/Vershire/Corinth/Washington district) was something of an Emerge poster child, with her photo on the website’s “spotlight” and this quote: “The Emerge Bootcamp was a transformational three days for me. I started the weekend with the vague hope of running for office someday. I ended the three day training armed with the knowledge, tools, confidence, and sisterhood to make that hope a reality. I would enthusiastically recommend the program to any woman considering a future in Vermont politics.” No doubt she’ll be back, and given the teeter-totter nature of her district she may succeed. But on Nov. 3 she lost to Samantha Lefebvre, a young mom, EMT, and businesswoman who after the election publicly thanked candidate organizer and gubernatorial candidate John Klar.
- Kelsey Root-Winchester of Wells River lost to Republican Joseph Parsons. The seat had been vacated by Democrat Chip Conquest.
- In perhaps the most surprising loss by an Emerge challenger, Jo Sabel Courtney of Stowe lost to incumbent Heidi Scheuermann by 522 votes. Many pundits had been saying that 2020 would be the year the Democrats finally took political control of the Ski Capital of the East.
At least two House incumbent Emergers also lost. The recount requested by Rep. Mitzi Johnson of Grand Isle – Milton revealed she lost by 21 votes. Incumbent Charen Fegard (D-Berkshire) lost her Franklin County seat to Paul Martin.
Regardless of how Emerge candidates performed this year, one thing is clear: women are running the show in the Vermont Legislature. Krowinski will lead the House. Emerge grad Becca Balint will lead the Senate, which will be presided over by Lt. Gov. Molly Gray, another Emerge grad. Sen. Alison Clarkson (D-Windsor) will be majority leader. Pattie McCoy leads the GOP House Caucus.
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