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Ashe to lead Senate Democrats; Ayer steps aside

MONTPELIER — Tim Ashe will be the next president pro tem of the Vermont Senate.
The 39-year-old Chittenden County Progressive Democrat was unanimously nominated to the top post by his peers in a Democratic caucus last Monday night.
Ashe ran unopposed on Monday, but Addison County Sen. Claire Ayer earlier made a bid for the top leadership position in the Legislature’s upper chamber. Sen. Phil Baruth, D-Chittenden, also sought the post.
Ashe was first elected to the state Senate in 2008. He has served as chair of the Senate Finance Committee, which reviews tax policy, since 2013.
Ashe will replace retiring Sen. John Campbell, D-Windsor, who served in the post for six years.
Ashe, who is beloved by the old guard Democrats in the Senate, was nominated by Sen. Jane Kitchel, D-Caledonia, and supported by Sen. Dick Mazza, D-Grand Isle, and Sen. Dick Sears, D-Bennington.
Ashe said that as pro tem he would ask members of the Senate to think about why they ran for office in the first place. “We all wanted to change the world,” Ashe said.
“I will deem the next two years a success if we’ve improved the lives of people and we’re doing the things that motivated us to be here in the first place,” Ashe said.
Ashe is a 1999 graduate of the University of Vermont. He worked for U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders after college and then became a union organizer for United Academics. He holds a master’s degree from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. Ashe has served as a member of the Burlington City Council and has worked as a developer for Cathedral Square, an affordable housing complex in Burlington.
Ayer withdrew her bid for pro tem on Sunday when she realized she didn’t have the votes to win.
Instead, she sought the nomination for the third seat on the Committee on Committees, a three-person group that dictates who will lead Senate committees and what committees senators will serve on. The lieutenant governor and the pro tem are automatic members of the committee. The so-called “third member” is elected by the Senate.
Mazza has served on the committee for 20 years and was easily re-elected in a 14-8 vote. Lt. Gov.-elect David Zuckerman, a senator from Chittenden County, and Ashe, who lives in Burlington, will be the other two members of the committee.
In a speech to the caucus, Ayer said as a member of the Committee on Committees she would work to build the back bench and help the Senate run more efficiently.
“I’m concerned that representation in the top office will be all the same gender and from the same county,” Ayer said. “I think we need diversity. This isn’t about Dick Mazza. There’s a reason Dick Mazza has not been challenged in 20 years. It’s because he’s done a good job, but in many ways that’s a reason for change. You’ve worked with me. I’m fair, hard working. We’re ready for a change. Vermont knows no glass ceiling. We voted for Hillary Clinton.”
While the Senate is 30 percent female, there will be no woman represented on the Committee on Committees.
Baruth is stepping down as majority leader. The Democratic caucus will elect a new leader in January.
The caucus spent more time arguing over when they would vote for the new majority leader than they did deliberating over who would serve as pro tem and third member.
Ayer, during a telephone interview with the Independent on Wednesday, said she’s eager to continue her current Senate assignments, which include leadership of the chamber’s Health & Welfare Committee. With more than a decade of service in the Senate, she ’s keen on continuing to play a major role in setting the legislative agenda at the Statehouse.
“I’ve always been a go-to person, and I don’t expect that to change,” Ayer said.
John Flowers contributed to this report.

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