by Gina Galfetti
As I entered the Vermont State House for the opening day of the legislature as a Representative-elect for Barre Town and part of Williamstown, I was filled with a sense of awe. I had traveled a long way through a demanding campaign and was now in the show. I headed to the coat room, hung up my jacket, and headed upstairs to the cafeteria.
The cafeteria at the State House is the hub of everything. A lot happens over the course of morning coffee and lunch, and it is a place to congregate with members of both my party and the opposite side in a relatively relaxed setting. I grabbed a soda and sought out a few of the other new members whom I had met during orientation back in early December.
I took a seat next to some of my colleagues, and we exchanged congratulations and discussed our feelings about being sworn in and what committee assignments we might get. I also quickly noticed that some of the folks I had met during orientation had cooled toward me. Not all, thankfully, but a few people who breezed by without a returned hello or with eyes downcast. I don’t have to tell you that these were folks on the other side of the aisle, and it was pretty obvious that they were not going to be friendly. I laughed to myself, knowing that this might be a harbinger of what is to come.
After awhile I was greeted by Topper McFaun, my wingman. Topper and I had run together, and he is now my mentor for the upcoming session. I was relieved to have a capable veteran legislator to guide me through my first days at the State House.
Soon enough the warning chimed, alerting us that it was time to head to the floor and take our seats. We elected Jill Krowinski as Speaker and Betsy Ann Wrask as Clerk, and heard the Clerk’s appointments for the assistants in her office. Finally, we were sworn in, and never have I felt so proud and so honored. Then we broke for lunch.
“It appears that Republicans will be treated more as a nuisance to be tolerated rather than as valued partners in the development of policy.”
– Rep. Gina Galfetti (left, with fellow Barre representative Topper McFaun)
During lunch, at 12:23 to be precise, we were sent an email giving notice of a Resolution that we were to consider for the afternoon. And this is where things got interesting. In an unprecedented move, the majority party had decided to put a rather weighty item up for our consideration with little prior notice. I say consideration rather generously, for what could 51 new members know, having never engaged in a committee meeting let alone floor debate?
The Resolution H.R. 4 was a complete overhaul of the House’s committee structure. The resolution eliminated long standing committees such as Fish and Wildlife and replaced them with things like “Energy and the Environment” and “Agriculture, Food Resiliency and Forestry.” It also tasked multiple Committees with the same tasks in what is sure to create troubling overlap in the future. The Resolution proposed to eliminate a number of committee chairmanships and completely alter the makeup of long-standing committees. At a time when 51 new members would have certainly changed the makeup of many committees anyway, and continuity and institutional knowledge would be needed, this Resolution dropped like a bomb on the stability of the House.
When we returned to the floor, few members—especially first-year members—had any idea what was going on. The Speaker gaveled up into session, and the Resolution was put up to vote. One lone voice of questioning arose, and that was from Representative Anne Donahue of Northfield. Donahue proceeded to question one of the sponsors of the Resolution as to its meaning and scope. The sponsors of the bill scrambled to answer questions and soon Donahue was hushed up without getting any good answers to her questions.
As Donahue sat shaking her head, the Resolution was passed and business returned to “normal” with the assignments of committees taking place. With respect to committees, every member is asked in December to submit a list of five choices, in ranked order, of committees the member would prefer to serve on. I was placed on Institutions and Corrections, a committee that was not even on my list. Interestingly, three other Republicans were named to Institutions and Corrections (a committee which seldom deals in any controversial subjects) while the newly named Energy and Environment Committee (which is likely to handle some of the most significant and controversial bills this biennium) was only stocked with two Republicans. This to me cast a long shadow on the 2023 Legislative session and is an omen of things to come.
Let me be clear: the 2023 Legislative session is going to be filled with legislation that is not subject to enough scrutiny and critical opinion. With a super-majority of Democrats in the House, there is little chance that any legislation that is earmarked for passage will not succeed. Buckle up, because carbon taxes (undoubtedly with some more appealing name) are coming, and property taxes will be raised. Mark my words: there can be no doubt that with Governor Scott hampered by not having enough Republican Representatives to uphold a veto, things are going to be rougher for working Vermonters. In a time of record high inflation, your heating oil and gasoline are going to get more expensive, the chance of city and towns losing control of local zoning is not out of the question as a means of creating more affordable housing, and mandatory paid leave funded by new taxes will be imposed on every employer and employee, whether you want it or not.
My friends, the presence of the super-majority is a risk to democracy by its very existence. Democracy thrives only when all voices are heard and all options fairly considered before final decisions are made. Unfortunately, that will not be the case for the next two years. Morale in the State House among Republicans is at an all time low, and moods are gloomy, because it appears that Republicans will be treated more as a nuisance to be tolerated rather than as valued partners in the development of policy.
All is not lost, however, because with all the distasteful legislation that is sure to pass in the next two years, the voters of Vermont surely will turn out to elect women and men who will fight for their rights and freedoms. Take stock, residents of Barre Town and Williamstown, that your elected Representatives will fight hard to do what we can in the face of long odds. I will not in my first year or any year stop representing the people who elected me, simply to make friends in the mire. I commit to you that I will welcome your comments and concerns, that I will be a voice that is heard questioning and examining bills in a decent and responsible way, and that I will work tirelessly to meet the needs of all who reach out to me. To that end, please feel free to contact me at the addresses below.
These first days in office have been an eye opener for sure, and in the days to come I can only imagine what lies ahead. I will do my best to keep you informed through this periodic, hopefully weekly, writing, and I hope that I can shed some light on the new polices and measures that lie looming on the horizon.
Gina Galfetti is one of the two Representatives for House District Orange-Washington, which is comprised of all of Barre Town and the northeast corner of Williamstown. She may be contacted by email at Ggalfetti@leg.state.vt.us or by phone at 802.461.3520.
Categories: Rep. Gina Galfetti's Floor Report