Komline to step down from House seat

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DORSET >> A long-serving member of the area's legislative delegation has announced she will not be seeking re-election to represent her district at the statehouse.

Patti Komline, 55, will step down from being a state representative for the district that includes Dorset, Danby, Mt. Tabor, Peru and Landgrove after 12 years, she said last week.

"I got in here because I wanted to make a difference for people," she said in a phone interview last Friday. "I feel like I've done that, so it's time for me to start my next 'last thing'."

Komline, a Republican, was first elected to represent her district in 2004, following in the foot steps of Walter Freed, who was also the House Speaker. She has been having discussions with residents within the district about finding someone to run for the seat, but no one has emerged yet, she said. In a recent interview with Seven Days, a news publication based in Burlington, she said she was announcing her decision now to give those who might be interested in pursuing that time to consider the idea.

"I'm sure the district will be well-represented by someone else," she said, adding that she planned to stay involved in state politics and issues through advocacy work in Montpelier — "I will do something government-related," she said.

Although Komline never had the opportunity to be part of the majority party during her years in the Statehouse, she was able to work across the aisles as well as within her own caucus. she will be missed, said one of her colleagues, Rep. Heidi Scheuermann of Stowe.

"For the last ten years, it has been my great pleasure to work closely with Patti Komline," she said. "She has been a fierce advocate for common-sense public policy, real economic growth, and fiscal responsibility. Her successes throughout the years, however, are a result of her fierce independence and commitment to doing the right thing. She was a true asset to the people of Dorset and the other communities she represents, and to all of the people of Vermont."

Komline joins a growing list of personalities in Montpelier who are moving on after years in leadership positions in state government. With Gov. Peter Shumlin not running for re-election, and Lt. Gov. Phil Scott running for the governor's office, both of the two top jobs will be filled by new individuals next year. So will the House and Senate leadership positions, with Rep. Shap Smith stepping down as House Speaker — and who may or may not re-enter the race for governor — along with Sen. John Campbell, the president pro tempore, who is calling it a day in the political arena,

All of that is just part of a shift that Vermonters are probably ready for, Komline said.

She is a former House minority leader who currently is a member of the influential House Ways and Means Committee, which is often tasked with finding the money to pay for legislative ideas which are advanced at the Statehouse.

"People up here keep coming up with ideas, and then we have to pay for them," she said.

Last week, that committee surprised many political observers by crafting a new version of a proposed legal marijuana statute, approving an amendment that would allow households to legally possess and cultivate two marijuana plants if they obtain a permit from the state's Department of Health. Komline was one of the four voting against the amendment. The bill, which has passed the state Senate earlier in the session, faces an uncertain future. It may not even reach the House floor for a vote.

Komline said she was opposed to this specific marijuana bill and wary of legalization, noting that it was ironic to talk of legalizing the cultivation of plants and raise money through the sale of permits to allow growing them that would then go to fund drug education for the state's youth.

"I go back and forth on the issue," Komline said, adding that her concerns centered around use by children, which prompted her "no" vote on the Ways and Means bill.

Looking back over her 12 years in office, Komline pointed to the marriage equality bill which legalized same-sex marriage in 2009 as a personal high point.

"When I think back that was the most meaningful thing I did here," she said.

Seven years ago this month, the Vermont legislature passed a bill legalizing same-sex marriage, but it was vetoed by then-Gov. Jim Douglas. However, his veto was overridden and the law went into effect that September. Vermont became the first state to legalize same-sex marriage through legislation. It was one of the rare times when Komline found herself on the other side of an issue from Gov. Douglas, who had made it clear he was giving House and Senate members free rein to vote their consciences on the controversial question.

Other pieces of legislation that stand out are her efforts to allow individuals to use their own health insurance carriers instead of Vermont Health Connect, the state's health insurance exchange set up under the Affordable Care Act. That effort came close to passage, failing by one vote.

"If that had passed, we would have avoided all the other problems," she said, referring to the difficulties the exchange has experienced since its troubled launch in 2013, which has been marred by frequent software issues and technical glitches. "It was frustrating."

She has also been at the forefront of advocating for other quality-of-life issues involving children — helping push through bills which banned smoking in cars when children were passengers and requiring child-proof packaging for e-cigarettes. She has also tried to be vigilant when it came to spending Vermonter's tax money. Despite her efforts and those of many others, the level of state spending has continued to creep upwards.

The upcoming election could be an interesting test on what Vermonters see as affordable, she said.

It's not a question of bad intentions — just different perspectives on how to solve the state's problems and meet needs, she said.

"I hope this is the year when people finally get fed up because I feel like what we do here is nick people here, nick people there," she said. "That part is depressing, but I feel like everybody I work with here have Vermonters best interests at heart and the differences are over how to get there."


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