One of the more vocal critics of Senate leadership over the past two years was elected by his Democratic peers Saturday to help fix it.
Sen. Philip Baruth, a second-term Chittenden County Democrat, will serve as his 23-member caucus’ next majority leader. During his first two years in office, Baruth often chided Senate President John Campbell for a top-down leadership style he said was used to subvert the will of the majority.
Baruth on Sunday said he thinks he and Campbell are primed to improve the dynamic.
“A lot of problems were caused by bills that had lot of support in the caucus but then didn’t have quite enough support to get out of committee,” Baruth said. “We have had very good discussion about that at (the Senate Democratic caucus Saturday) and talked about ways to massage that situation so we wouldn’t have quite so much pressure build up around certain issues.”
Baruth named the childcare unionization bill specifically as one of piece of legislation blocked from seeing a floor vote last year. Does that mean the controversial legislation, opposed by Campbell, is headed for an up-or-down vote on the floor in 2013?
“I wouldn’t want to say anything definitive on any specific bill, but it certainly seems as though discussions are moving in that way,” Baruth said.
A professor of English at the University of Vermont, Baruth said even Republican lawmakers will have a voice in the Democratic caucus. Sen. Diane Snelling, a Chittenden County Republican, is running against Campbell for a Senate presidency that will be decided this week.
“I know John Campbell is not taking anything for granted, and I am very sure he’s talking on a regular basis with Republicans that have been in the body for awhile, as well as those just coming in,” Baruth said. “In the Senate, it’s less about R’s versus D’s and it’s more about wrangling over the vision for ideal government, and then how you pay for that ideal government.”
Baruth, who won the post in a unanimous voice vote, had voiced interest last fall in being a member of the leadership team, but said he’d cede the top spot to a more senior member of the body. No one else emerged to take the job.
Sen. Claire Ayer, an Addison County Democrat and chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Health and Welfare, will serve as assistant majority leader.
From his more experienced No. 2, Baruth said he’ll seek “advice and guidance.”
“Claire is an extremely experienced and savvy person,” Baruth said. “And what I need from her is mostly her advice.”
Lawmakers will convene in Montpelier on Wednesday for the opening of the 2013 session. Gov. Peter Shumlin delivers his State of the State address on Thursday.