Ripton Democrat Willem Jewett will not run for Majority Leader
RIPTON — Rep. Willem Jewett, D-Ripton, confirmed on Tuesday he will not seek re-election as House majority leader, saying he wants to return as a rank-and-file member of the Vermont House of Representatives to devote more time and energy to specific issues and constituent services.
“This was not a decision made in a moment,” Jewett told the Independent.
The six-term lawmaker, who was not facing opposition on the ballot, said he had hoped to put off his announcement until after the Nov. 4 General Election. But he explained that he was facing increased questioning from the media about his future plans, and also wanted to extend courtesy to his prospective successor(s), who will jockey for a variety of leadership positions at the House Democrat caucus on Dec. 13.
“It’s been a great experience, but I think people should cycle in and out of these positions,” he added.
Jewett, 51, is rounding out his sixth consecutive term representing the Addison-2 district, which includes the towns of Cornwall, Goshen, Hancock, Leicester, Ripton and Salisbury. His Democratic peers elected him House majority leader in December of 2012, replacing then-leader Lucy Leriche of Hardwick. Prior to that, Jewett had served two years as assistant majority leader.
The past four years have seen Jewett assist the House leadership — including Speaker Shap Smith of Morrisville — in setting the business agenda for the Democratic majority and lobbying for votes to get that agenda through the legislative process. Jewett had to become well-versed in the various matters topping the Democrats’ list — such as health care reform and Lake Champlain cleanup.
He has found the job rewarding, exciting and at times very challenging.
“It has been described ‘like drinking water from a fire hose,’” Jewett said in describing how rapidly the majority leader needs to become schooled — and convey— major issues that come before the House. “It’s stressful, difficult and fun, at times.”
It’s a job that has forced some sacrifices, particularly in the amount of time Jewett has been able to spend on committee work. He served the first eight years of his legislative career on the House Judiciary Committee, then two years each on the House Government Operations Committee and House Fish, Wildlife and Water Resources Committee.
“I have enjoyed working with each of you as whip and as leader and I look forward to finding new tasks that I can take on in the caucus going forward,” Jewett wrote in a statement announcing his plans to fellow House Democrats. “Having followed our unwritten rule, I have not sponsored a bill for four years and I am particularly looking forward to sponsoring legislation to advance our educational system; our economy (with a focus on our rural economy); a health care system that works for all Vermonters; and protection of environmental values among other things.”
Jewett said he has no preference at this point on his committee assignment for the next biennium. He ran unopposed for re-election on Tuesday.
“There is really no ‘bad’ committee,” Jewett said. “We just have to figure out where I can be the biggest help.”
Jewett, who works in Middlebury as an attorney, is a former member of the Ripton School Board.
Time will be the ultimate arbiter on the impact of his leadership in the House, according to Jewett. He explained that some of the biggest issues tackled during his watch — like Vermont’s transition toward a single-payer health care system — are still works in progress. But Jewett said he is particularly proud of the work the House contributed to legislative redistricting and the state’s recovery from Tropical Storm Irene.
Will Jewett seek another leadership post in the Legislature sometime in the future?
“I’m leaving that question open,” he said.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].
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