Proposal would double Vermont governors' terms to 4 years
MONTPELIER — Vermont lawmakers are set to take another look at a proposal that's been rejected repeatedly in the past: doubling the term of office for governors from two years to four.
Sen. Diane Snelling, a Chittenden County Republican and the daughter of the late Gov. Richard Snelling, said Monday she would introduce a proposed amendment to the state Constitution this week. It would end Vermont's status as one of two states — the other is New Hampshire — that elect a governor every other year.
"It's an important change that would make a huge difference in how we can plan, to think about a four-year term instead of campaigning every two years," said Snelling, a respected lawmaker who has co-chaired a reform panel called the Government Accountability Committee.
Snelling said a four-year term would avoid the uncertainty and the expense of a gubernatorial election every two years. "It would bring greater stability," she said.
The process for amending the Vermont Constitution starts in the Senate and can begin just once every four years. For an amendment to pass, lawmakers have to approve it in two successive terms — the first time in the Senate by a two-thirds majority — followed by a statewide referendum. Lawmakers could approve the measure this year and in their 2017-2018 term, with a vote in November 2018 and the first election of a four-year governor in 2020.
Proposals for a four-year term for governor have been floated repeatedly in the past, sometimes combined with proposals to lengthen the two-year terms of lawmakers, the lieutenant governor and other state officials. They've been unsuccessful to date.
Sen. Jeanette White, D-Windham, chairwoman of the Senate Government Operations Committee, is not a big fan of the idea. "I'm not even a small fan of it," she said. She argued that elections every two years ensure governors are more accountable to the voters.
As for executing longer-term plans, White said voters should have a say two years into a governor's program whether they like what he or she is doing. Adding longer terms for lawmakers or other statewide elected officials "would make a dumb decision worse," White said.
In New Hampshire, a measure introduced last year to make the governor's term four years failed to get out of the House.
Vermont voters in recent decades have tended to re-elect incumbent governors. Democratic Gov. Howard Dean was elected five times after moving up from lieutenant governor in 1991 on the death of the elder Snelling. He declined to seek re-election in 2002 as he prepared for his unsuccessful 2004 presidential bid.
The last governor to be defeated after one term in office was Republican F. Ray Keyser in 1962.
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