It’s been known for a while that Senate President Pro Tem John Campbell is likely to face a challenge from Senator Ann Cummings (as was first reported by Paul “Scoop” Heintz, who now has no cause for carping). Now comes word that House Speaker Shap Smith may be challenged by Paul Poirier of Barre. According to the Times Argus (full article paywalled here; capsule version available free here),
A longtime Democrat who first ran as an independent in 2010, Poirier said he has been troubled by what he sees as Smith’s autocratic leadership style – a style he said has marginalized minority parties and chilled debate in Vermont’s House of Representatives.
“We don’t have debates anymore,” said Poirier. “Every time a member of a minority party raises an issue it’s immediately ruled out of order by the majority. I don’t think that’s right.”
Il Duce takes the news in stride.”If you’re doing your job, you’re probably going to make some people angry along the way,” he told GMD. “John is being challenged because the Senate is too chaotic; I’m being challenged for being too autocratic.”
Must be a sweet spot in there somewhere.
Poirier says a Speaker should “make sure that all sides are heard.” Smith acknowledges that the House, whose part-time lawmakers have no offices and no staff, is often and by necessity a top-down kind of organization. But he insists that he does listen to all sides — to a degree that seems remarkable to fellow Speakers from other states. “They can’t believe that I have a Republican chair of the Transportation Committee [Patrick Brennan of Colchester].
“I think we have some pretty rigorous debates. We had a lengthy debate on health care reform, on the CVPS merger.”
Poirier estimates he’s about 90% sure to run. He admits it “looks like a huge uphill battle,” but insists that he could put together a coalition of Republicans, independents, and disaffected Democrats that could bring Smith down.
Smith doesn’t seem too worried. “There are people who are unhappy with me for one reason or another,” he said, “but I don’t see a significant split [in the Democratic caucus].” He adds that a contest for House leadership can be a healthy thing, but “I am worried that he is buying into the Republican meme” that Democrats are “out of control” and autocratic.
He notes that Poirier “did leave himself some room not to run,” and plans to talk with the Barre independent in the near future.
Not, we trust, to wield an iron fist.