By Rep. Alison Clarkson
Last Wednesday, Jan. 6, we saw a sharp contrast between legislative life in Vermont and in the Congress in Washington, D.C. This contrast couldn’t have been more stark — one: unusually quiet, orderly and historic but subdued, and the other: noisy, chaotic and shockingly violent. One affirming and one rocking our firm faith in the sanctity of our democratic process.
In Vermont, the Legislature gathered in a hybrid of in-person and Zoom attendance to be sworn in for a new biennium of public service. I was one of 19 senators who went up to the State House in Montpelier to be sworn in live in the Senate chamber. Our other 11 colleagues attended remotely and we could see them up on the big screens in the chamber.
When we take this oath of office – all of us swear to uphold and defend the constitutions of both of our state and of our country.
For the first time in my legislative life, the State House was practically empty on this normally exciting first day of a new biennium. It is usually a crush of families and friends coming to celebrate their loved ones being sworn in, and to experience the moderate pomp and circumstance of the launch of a new biennium.
Despite the fact that few were physically present in Montpelier, there was a palpable sense of the historic nature of this new biennium. Not only were most members of the general assembly sworn in remotely, via Zoom, but for the first time in Vermont history, the legislative leadership is entirely female: Speaker of the House, President pro tempore of the Senate and the majority leader in both the House and the Senate. In addition, the new Lt. Governor is female. I am delighted to have been elected the Senate majority leader – and am excited to see what this leadership team will accomplish.
While the federal legislature was sworn in on Jan. 3, both the state and federal Legislatures had one job in common on Jan. 6. Both bodies had to begin the process of certifying the votes of the general election.
Vermont’s canvassing committee — made up of House and Senate members — was appointed in the morning and met with the secretary of state, and his election team, that afternoon. After reviewing the vote cast and tallied for each state wide official: governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state, treasurer, auditor, and attorney general, the committee voted to accept the elections report from the secretary of state and to recommend to the joint assembly the following day that we accept the report and certify the vote. Thursday morning, the joint assembly voted, in a tri-partisan fashion, to accept the report and certify that vote.
By contrast, the congressional effort to certify the vote of the Electoral College was interrupted by a terrifying mob storming the Capitol. The business of the House and the Senate was delayed for many hours by this unprecedented breach of the Capitol building. Both the Congress and the Vermont Legislature managed to finally certify the vote on Jan. 7 – one just before 4 a.m., after an angry, chaotic day and the other at about 10:30 a.m. after a straightforward presentation and vote.
The first order of business in the Vermont Senate was to pass a joint resolution which condemned the violent storming of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021 as a direct attack on our democracy. With this joint resolution, our tri-partisan Legislature voted, with only a few dissenting voices, to support the values and ideals which anchor our democratic foundation. [See text of resolution in adjoining sidebar.]
The contrasts were stark.
Our Vermont legislative work didn’t make headlines, but it managed to affirm ‘business as usual.’ In this extraordinary year, ‘business as usual’ provides both relief and hope.
Alison Clarkson is a state senator from Windsor County. She can be reached at: [email protected] or 457-4627.