Eric Davis: State Dems eyeing veto-proof edge
The most consequential elections in Vermont in November could well involve 10 to 15 House seats around the state, which will determine whether Gov. Scott can have vetoes sustained by the Legislature in 2019 and 2020.
Scott is likely to be re-elected. No incumbent governor of Vermont has lost a re-election bid in 56 years. None of the Democratic candidates for governor has the political and electoral experience, fund-raising ability or name recognition to pose a serious challenge to Scott.
Scott relied heavily on the veto in his first term. In 2017 and 2018, he vetoed 14 bills, more than any previous governor of Vermont in a single term. Four of the 14 vetoes were on budget and education spending bills, with additional vetoes on priorities of the Democratic legislative majority such as increasing the minimum wage and establishing a paid family leave program.
None of Scott’s vetoes was overridden. House Republicans voted as a bloc to sustain them, even if some of them had voted for the same bills at earlier stages of the legislative process. With a Republican caucus of 53 members, Scott could count on the House GOP to prevent the two-thirds majority needed to override his vetoes in the 150-member House.
The 2017-2018 Senate included 23 Democrats and 7 Republicans. Scott could not rely on the Senate to sustain a veto. Republicans, or fiscally conservative independents, might pick up one or two Senate seats this fall, but that would not be enough to prevent the Senate from overriding a veto. Scott needs the Republicans to hold on to at least 51 House seats to ensure that his vetoes can be sustained.
The 2017-2018 House was made up of 83 Democrats, 53 Republicans, 7 Progressives, and 7 independents. The Democrats can count on the Progressives, many of whom also run for election as Democrats, to override a veto. Six of the seven independents voted to override Scott’s last budget veto earlier this summer.
Thus, Democrats, with their Progressive and independent allies, now have a coalition of about 96 House votes. Overriding a gubernatorial veto requires at least 100 votes, if all members are present and voting. If Democrats could make a net gain of between four and seven seats in November, the House Democratic majority would be in a strong position to override a Scott veto in the next biennium, even if one or two Democrats defect or are unable to be present for the roll-call vote.
Both parties have identified 10 to 15 House seats that will determine whether the 2019-2020 House will have a veto-proof majority. Most of these districts are now held by Republicans. Democrats will be trying to flip these districts, while Republicans will be trying to hold on to them.
A complicating factor in the Republicans’ defensive efforts is that the GOP did not do a good job recruiting House candidates in this cycle. As of last month’s filing deadline, there were Republican candidates in only 77 House districts, barely half of the chamber. The GOP will have to rely on write-in candidates in the primary, or party committee-appointed candidates, to fill out the Republican slate for November.
While there are few vulnerable incumbent Democratic House members, the Democrat whose hold on her seat is the most tenuous might well be the Speaker, Mitzi Johnson, who is running for re-election in a Champlain Islands district. Republicans would very much like to hold on to at least 51 House seats and defeat the incumbent Speaker in the process.
Obtaining a veto-proof majority in both houses of the Legislature is a very high priority for Democrats. Even if they cannot win the governorship, such a majority would allow them to enact many of their preferred policies over Gov. Scott’s objections.
Eric L. Davis is professor emeritus of political science at Middlebury College.
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