Editorial: Sen. Ayer: A leader with the right stuff for Senate post

As a leadership vacuum sweeps through the Golden Dome in Montpelier, the race for Senate president pro tempore has taken on added significance. With other changes in political leadership looming—including races for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general—and a caucus for a new House Speaker, a premium on political experience, organization and people skills to forge consensus make Sen. Claire Ayer, D-Addison, a good choice as the next leader of the Senate.
Sen. Ayer was first elected to the senate in 2002, has chaired several committees—including Health and Welfare—and has served as majority whip wince 2006.
Besides her years of experience, political skills to seek consensus, and her universally acknowledged integrity, what also sets Sen. Ayer apart is her desire to put policy ahead of politics. “My aspirations are for the Senate and the state, and not for me personally,” she told the Independent in an interview Tuesday — an important distinction in an arena that can have outsized egos.
Sen. Ayer has the ideal perspective. She views the role of Senate president pro tem as “figuring out the goals with the state Senate and then setting the path.” Flexibility is a big part of being successful in that role, as is knowing how far to push an issue and when to back off and let an issue sit.
“She has an incredible intellect” with “good political instincts,” said House Speaker Shap Smith in a Tuesday interview about his decision to run for Lt. Gov., while also saying the state was fortunate to have so many good candidates running for the position. “She’s also a very good convener and consensus builder. At the same time she’s a strong advocate for her views and she’s willing to stand up for them in committee.” Both traits are needed to be a successful leader, Smith said, adding that Ayer is also known throughout the Senate as a good listener and being able to work across the aisle with all personality types.
Ayer also wants to be a Senate leader that helps bridge the divide between the two chambers. “We need to have a lot of different eyes looking at different ways of doing things, and then come together with the best ideas because, ideally, we all have the same goal — and that’s what’s best for the state… The final legislation should be the prize, owned by both (the House and Senate).”
That even-handedness and lack of a personal agenda sets Ayer apart from some of her challengers that have expressed interest in running for the post, including Sen. Tim Ashe of Burlington, Sen. Chris Bray of New Haven, and Sen. Ann Cummings of Montpelier. Above all, what does not work well is using the leadership position to push a personal agenda or as a calculated stepping-stone to higher office. That is part of the calculus Senate Democrats must consider when they decide the issue shortly after the November election.
Angelo S. Lynn

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