MONTPELIER -- When House Speaker Shap Smith dropped the gavel on the 2014 legislative session last month, many were left wondering if he would pick it up again in January.
Smith was back at his desk in the Statehouse on Thursday, saying he hopes to stay there.
The six-term lawmaker from Morrisville left observers in doubt after the session, saying he was torn by family and professional obligations. He kept those observers guessing until Thursday - the final day to submit petitions to appear on the ballot.
"I love the job, it's a great job to have," he said. "The heart of the decision was whether to leave a job I love because of other considerations. In the end, having talked with my family and talked with work, I really thought the issues over the next two years are ones that I'm interested in and hope to be a part of solving."
Those issues include health care financing, education reform and economic development, Smith said.
"Not only in Vermont, but for many rural states this is a pivotal moment when you are seeing continued migration from rural America to urban America and the challenge we face is to put in place policies that will allow Vermont to not only survive but thrive," he said. "I consider this to be an important challenge, and one that I want to be a part of."
He said he expects the Shumlin administration to deliver a financing plan for publicly funded health care early in the session.
"My sense is that if we don't have something by January or February it's pretty clear that we are not moving forward," Smith said.
Smith, 48, said the decision to run again largely hinged on having a support system in place for his wife, Melissa, and two young children.
"It's a challenge (during the session) with Melissa having a full-time job," he said. "I really needed to make sure Melissa and the kids were OK with it."
He said he was encouraged by many people to run for re-election, including Gov. Peter Shumlin.
"I think it's great that Speaker Smith has decided to run for another term," Shumlin said in a statement. "Shap is deeply committed to making progress for Vermonters, and I know his decision to run again was driven by that commitment. This next legislative biennium will be an incredibly important one for Vermont. And I can think of no better leader to help us move forward than Shap Smith."
Smith, an attorney with the Burlington firm Dinse, Knapp and McAndrew, said it's difficult to maintain the kind of majority enjoyed by Democrats in the Vermont House and he expects a spirited challenge from Republicans this fall.
"I take seriously the Republican statements that they're planning to run strong House and Senate races and I look forward to the conversation," he said.