Margolis: Politics and preemptive strikes early in the session

Tim Ashe, Phil Scott
Senate President Pro Tem Tim Ashe and Gov. Phil Scott ahead of the 2018 special session. File photo by Mike Dougherty/VTDigger

Ah, let us savor the joys of some weeks or perhaps even months free of politics. The elections were less than 70 days ago. The next ones of any significance are more than 280 days away. Here in Vermont, the governor and other statewide officials and all members of the General Assembly were just sworn in. A perfect time for reflection, contemplation, and even relaxation unbothered by partisan rancor and electoral strategizing.

In your dreams.

It’s only the end of the second week of the 2019 legislative session, and politics is in the air, in the Statehouse corridors, and in the minds of both Democrats and Republicans. Both sides started the week with preemptive political strikes, while in the background officials, lawmakers, lobbyists and assorted hangers-on were already wondering whether Gov. Phil Scott will run again in 2020.

The Democratic preemptive strike – with bipartisan cover from Senate Minority Leader Joe Benning, R-Lyndonville – was the proposal by Senate President Pro Tem Tim Ashe, D/P-Burlington, to get rid of Chittenden County’s peculiar state Senate district, in which all six seats are chosen county-wide.

Chittenden is heavily Democratic, so the making the whole county one Senate district is a great deal for Democrats, all but guaranteeing them six of the 30 senators. As Ashe said, changing it “is not in the interests” of Democrats, “the only people who would be upset.”

So why would Democrats move to change it?

Perhaps because with Democrats all over the country challenging Republican partisan Gerrymandering, Chittenden’s unique six-member district might be embarrassing, if not open to a court challenge.

Strictly speaking, that district is not Gerrymandering, the imaginative and often bizarre drawing of district lines to help one party or the other. Quite the opposite; the district respects the boundaries of the county. But it is the only legislative district in the country in which voters choose more than three representatives, and it clearly benefits one party.

Ashe said he did not propose to change to a system in which no one district had more…

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