RIPTON — Rep. Willem Jewett, D-Ripton, faced no opponent in his re-election bid on Nov. 2 and hopes to have similar smooth sailing in his next political contest coming up on Dec. 4.
On that date, the four-term Addison-2 lawmaker will ask his Democrat colleagues to elect him assistant majority leader — also known as “majority whip” — of the Vermont House.
It’s a leadership role in which Jewett, 47, would be charged with two main tasks: Gathering key information from House committee rooms and communicating it to other lawmakers and citizens; and counting votes likely to be cast by party faithful prior to major referenda being decided on the House floor.
Bottom line — the majority whip serves as a communicator, and Jewett believes he has the skills to fulfill that role.
“When it comes down to it (lawmaking) is about people; it’s about relationships,” said Jewett, who would have to limit his work on the House Judiciary Committee in order to fulfill his majority whip assignments. “Those relationships are what make us successful, not the specifics of any particular policy, but how we communicate with each other.”
While Jewett is thus far the only House Democrat to officially declare interest in the whip role, there could be other takers before the Democrat caucus holds its election on Dec. 4. The caucus will also vote on other House leadership posts, including majority leader. Rep. Lucy Leriche, D-East Hardwick, has already declared interest in that post after having served the past biennium as assistant majority leader. The current majority leader, Rep. Floyd Nease, D-Johnson, is not seeking re-election to that post.
“Lucy and I are not running as a ‘ticket’ and I recognize that there may be other caucus members interested in these positions,” Jewett wrote in a recent letter to Democrat colleagues confirming his leadership aspirations. “That being said, I would really like to get to work for the caucus as soon as possible. I hope that we can organize the House quickly and efficiently and that we can turn our attention toward careful consideration and decisive action on the tough issues that matter most to Vermonters.”
If endorsed by his peers, Jewett would help lead a House that is projected to hold the same 95-seat (out of 150) Democrat majority it currently holds. A couple of those seats were hotly contested on Nov. 2 and could be the subject of recounts.
But House Democrats are not likely to have to scramble for veto-proof alliances during the coming two-year session. That’s because a fellow Democrat — Peter Shumlin of Putney — will be taking over the governorship in January. He will succeed Middlebury Republican James Douglas, who held the post for eight years.
Jewett would join fellow Addison County lawmaker Sen. Claire Ayer, D-Weybridge, in the leadership circle of the Vermont General Assembly. Ayer is the current Senate majority whip and confirmed to the Addison Independent on Nov. 2 that she is considering new leadership opportunities within the state’s highest chamber.
Asked what issues are likely to be at the forefront of the House’s agenda, Jewett cited the state budget, health care, the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant and Vermont’s energy future.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected]