Republicans begin organizing Stateheouse leadership

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(Host) There could be some major changes in Republican leadership at the Statehouse this winter. Both House Speaker Walter Freed and Senate minority leader John Bloomer have retired and a number of GOP lawmakers are indicating an interest to replace them.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) There’s a major challenge facing the Republicans in the Vermont Senate. It’s the size of their caucus: there are only nine of them. The Democrats picked up two Senate seats in the November election and now enjoy a 21 to nine majority. This means the Democrats can clearly set the agenda in the Senate with or without Republican assistance.

Essex-Orleans Senator Vincent Illuzzi has served in the chamber for 24 years and in recent years has chaired the Senate Institutions Committee. Now he wants to be the GOP leader in the Senate and it’s virtually certain that the caucus will elect him to this post next month.

Illuzzi says he’s running because he wants to show that Vermont Republicans are not as conservative as many of their national counterparts:

(Illuzzi) “I think a lot of House and Senate candidates were defeated at the polls because voters identified them with the positions taken by congressional Republicans. I think the message I want to get across is one of moderation, a willingness to work toward common goals – but with the understanding that we may from time to time respectfully disagree.”

(Kinzel) House and Senate Democratic leaders have identified health care reform as their top priority for the upcoming session. Governor Jim Douglas has also made this a top issue, although the scope of the governor’s plan is expected to be less comprehensive than the approach taken by the Democrats.

Illuzzi thinks the governor is on the right track but he says GOP senators should be willing to consider proposals that might call for a tax increase to help solve the state’s health care problems:

(Illuzzi) “I’ve found over the last quarter century of service in the Vermont General Assembly that often times you need to look at both the spending and tax raising side of the equation. Obviously you use as a last resort an increase in taxes but I’m not sure that it would be fair to any debate to automatically say that that is off the table.”

(Kinzel) Rutland Senator Kevin Mullin is expected to seek the post of Republican whip; at this time he faces no opposition.

Over in the House, the Republican caucus is trying to decide if it wants to keep the foundation of its previous leadership team. The Republicans lost 14 seats in the election, a move that virtually assures the election of a Democratic speaker in January. Some House Republicans feel it’s time to bring new people into their leadership positions.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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