Thursday, September 29, 2022

Leahy’s retirement sparks battle over successor in Vermont

MONTPELLIER, Virginia (AP) – Democrat Patrick Leahy’s announcement that he will step down after eight Senate terms sparked a scuffle in Vermont over a rare opening in the state’s tiny Congressional delegation.

While political observers expect Democratic spokesman Peter Welch to become the leading candidate if he decides to run for the post in 2022, Vermont is also under pressure to elect a woman. It is the only state in the country that has never sent a woman to Congress.

The opening provides an opportunity for Vermont to shed that distinction, Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women and Politics, said Tuesday.

“It would be nice if Vermont had some diversity in its Washington DC office to represent some of the diversity in the state,” she said. “The fact that Vermont has never had a female voice representing it in Washington DC, with such a set of life experiences, with such an understanding of another aspect of political issues, is a loss for the state of Vermont.”

Vermont last had a seat in 2006, when Bernie Sanders, then Congressman, succeeded Jim Jeffords as U.S. Senator, and Welch, then President of the State Senate, took Sanders’ seat in the only seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Potential candidates for the Leahy Senate seat include Democrat Lieutenant Molly Gray, said Garrison Nelson, a former University of Vermont professor of political science and Congressional scholar. But Nelson noted that Gray, Burlington’s former attorney who has served as lieutenant governor since January, has little political experience.

Other controversial names include Vermont Senate President for interim board member Becca Balint and Kesha State Senator Ram Hinsdale, both Democrats. Ram Hinsdale said Tuesday she is considering running for the House of Representatives if Welch runs for the Senate.

“It would be a shock for Vermonters if he chose not to run,” she said of Welch.

Welch, who praised Leahy after his retirement announcement, said Tuesday that he will make a decision about his political future “in the coming days.” If he is indeed running for the Leahy Senate seat, Nelson pointed out that Welch is 74, not much younger than Sanders, now 80, and Leahy, 81.

Welch has found a place at the House and is highly respected there, so “it’s a very personal choice for someone like him,” said Linda Fowler, emeritus professor of public administration at Dartmouth College.

Nelson said it will likely be difficult for Republicans to nominate a competitive Liberal state candidate, especially after GOP Governor Phil Scott said he was not interested in running.

Following Leahy’s announcement, the GOP chairman sent out a statement saying they had “an incredible opportunity to recruit a top-tier candidate to win this seat and make Vermont more competitive than ever before.”

Republican Scott Milne, the tourism executive who unsuccessfully challenged Leahy in 2016, did not say Tuesday if he was considering running again. However, he said he was not sure if Welch would be the man to make the necessary changes in “dysfunctional” Washington.

Fowler noted that it may take a while for potential candidates to decide whether to start a campaign, so any speculation is premature now.

“In my experience with potential candidates, they have to look at their finances, where their children are studying and what their spouses think,” she said.

But Fowler noted that Leahy has given potential candidates enough time to figure out what they want to do, given that his announcement came a year before the 2022 election.

“It’s just another sign that he’s a really cool guy,” she said.

Nation World News Desk
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