BURLINGTON — State Rep. Jill Krowinski has lined up the votes from members of the state House of Representatives’ Democratic caucus to succeed Mitzi Johnson as Speaker of the House, now that Johnson’s recount bid for her House seat has fallen short.
That announcement came Friday from Assistant Majority Leader Emily Long, D-Windham 5, along with the news that a recount Friday in Grand Isle-Chittenden District, which Johnson had represented for 18 years, showed she had lost to a Republican challenger Michael Morgan, R-Milton.
Leland Morgan, R-Milton, who is Michael Morgan’s uncle, finished first in the district, which sends its top two vote-getters to the House. Johnson had trailed Michael Morgan by 20 votes according to official election results.
Krowinski, D-Chittenden 6-3, has been the Democrats’ House majority leader the past four years under Johnson. She previously worked as an assistant to former House Speaker Gaye Symington.
House Democrats will formally agree to their candidate for Speaker when their caucus meets on Saturday, December 5. The full House is expected to reconvene and elect its new Speaker on January 6, 2021. In the meantime, Johnson will oversee the transition, the release said.
Krowinski commented little on the race before Friday, and in prepared remarks issued Friday afternoon, she focused on Johnson’s service to the state.
“We are so grateful to Speaker Johnson for all she has done to guide our state through the past four years,” Krowinski said. “Mitzi leaves an impressive legacy of forward-looking legislation, fiscal discipline, and bridging divides as our presiding officer. Her efforts to collaboratively guide Vermont through the COVID-19 pandemic will forever distinguish her as a leader who united all members of the House for the common purpose of helping Vermonters in their time of need.”
Two other Democrats, Rep. Sarah Copeland Hanzas, D-Orange 2, and Charles Kimbell, D-Windsor 5, sought the office. Copeland Hanzas, the chair of the Government Operations committee, withdrew late last week. Kimbell stepped aside Friday.
“Jill will be an outstanding Speaker of the House. Her experience offers us a steady hand at the rudder as we navigate a second remote session and lead Vermont through pandemic recovery,” Copeland Hanzas said, according to the news release.
“It is clear to me that the person best positioned to lead our caucus and the Vermont House of Representative is Jill Krowinski. She has worked hard for our party and the State of Vermont, and knows well the workings of the Speaker’s office,” Kimbell said. “She is committed to giving a voice to all members of our diverse caucus, and to enabling the House to do its very best work in this incredibly difficult time.”
Democrats are slated to control 92 of 150 House seats in the next biennium, with 46 for Republicans, seven for Progressives and five for independents.
If elected, Krowinski would become the third woman, and second in a row, to hold the office.
Republican House Minority Leader Pattie McCoy, Rutland-1 District, said the GOP caucus had yet to discuss whether it will put forward a candidate for Speaker.
McCoy thanked Johnson for her service to the legislature, particularly through the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“She’s done a wonderful job leading the Legislature through some pretty difficult times. I congratulate her on that and wish her well,” McCoy said.
McCoy said she had worked closely with Krowinski in the past. In her freshman term, McCoy said, she was seated next to Krowinski on the House floor, and they both served on the Human Services Committee.
“If [Krowinski] does get the nod and becomes Speaker, I am looking forward to having the same great relationship that I had with Mitzi the last four years,” McCoy said.
The speakership is an important role in House, as the position assigns committees, sets rules for the body, manages its operations, and works with the state Senate and with the executive branch.
State Rep. Cynthia Browning, D-Arlington, who lost her independent reelection bid in the Bennington-4 District, has said she would seek the office as well. The state constitution does not stipulate that the speaker must be a member of the House.
For Copeland Hanzas, who served as Majority Leader under former Speaker Shapleigh Smith Jr., it was her second unsuccessful bid for the gavel. She sought the office in 2016 but withdrew when it became apparent Johnson had the caucus’ support.
Kimbell, who is completing his second term in Montpelier, was making his first bid for the seat.
A four-term state Representative, Krowinski was appointed to the Chittenden 6-3 District, representing Burlington’s downtown, by then-Gov. Peter Shumlin in February of 2012.
In addition to working for Symington, she was vice president of education and Vermont Community Affairs at Planned Parenthood of New England.
A Buffalo, N.Y.-area native, Krowinski is a 2002 graduate of the University of Pittsburgh. She has served as executive director of Emerge Vermont, an organization which trains Democratic women to run for political office.