State Rep. Cynthia Browning has announced that she will seek reelection to the Vermont House as an independent, not a Democrat.
That decision means that Browning, who represents the Bennington-4 district, which includes Arlington, Manchester, Sandgate and part of Sunderland, will not appear on the ballot for the Democratic primary scheduled for Aug. 11, though "you can still write in my name," she noted.
Democrats Kathleen James, who currently holds the district's other seat, and Seth Bongartz, former president of Hildene, this year are jointly campaigning for the two seats.
Browning was removed from the House Committee on Ways and Means by Speaker Mitzi Johnson in March after Browning — in a move later criticized by the Vermont Democratic Party — called for a quorum amid consideration of a remote-voting measure.
"I expect that the full force of the party establishment will be arrayed against me in the primary," Browning wrote in an email to the Banner. "I do not believe that Montpelier should be choosing our representatives, and primaries tend to have low voter turnouts, so to ensure that the voters have a chance to choose me in November I will be running as an Independent."
Browning previously wrote that, if reelected this year, she "may also be running for Speaker of the House for the January 2021 session." The lawmaker still hopes to do that, she wrote on Monday, but for now she "will concentrate on continued service to this district during the elongated Legislative session," which may not end until August. The Speaker technically does not need to be a member of the House, she added, "so I could still run for that even if I were not [reelected]."
Browning described herself in the letter on Monday as a lifelong Democrat who shares the party's "goals of improving the lives of ordinary Vermonters, investing in our communities, and protecting the environment." However, she continued, "from what I have seen the Democratic majority in the House has been unable to achieve these goals fully because their policy proposals are often impractical and ineffective, too constrained by ideology, politics, special interests, and wishful thinking."
"Our current leadership has proven unable to put in place education finance reform and unable to extend high speed internet service to all Vermonters," she added.
In an interview on Monday afternoon, Browning said she votes with other Democrats on many bills and is "sad" to be running as an independent. She remains the "same person" with the "same policy ideas," she said.
R. Christopher Di Mezzo, communications director for the Vermont Democratic Party, expressed no regret at Browning's decision.
"Representative Browning has displayed behavior that is both reckless and placed the health and safety of others in jeopardy," Di Mezzo said in an email Tuesday. "As Democrats, we lead with our values: from raising the minimum wage to providing Vermonters with paid family and medical leave. Browning’s votes against paid family and medical leave and raising the minimum wage increase — legislation that would have helped her constituents during the COVID-19 outbreak — illustrate the need for new leadership in Bennington-4.
"We hope Rep. Browning will run a clean (and safe) race against the two declared Democrats," he said.
Johnson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Tom Haley, chairman of the Bennington County Democratic committee, wrote in an email that he wishes Browning well.
"It seems clear to me based on her actions in the State House that her ideals don't line up with those of the Democratic Party, so I suppose it is in everyone's best interest that she take another path," Haley wrote. "As we go into the next cycle, it is critical the we elect officials who can work together and communicate effectively with each other as we strive to build a Vermont that works for all of us, and the Democratic Party remains committed to continuing our work in that direction."
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