By Dr. Carolyn Dwyer
Editor’s note: Dr. Carolyn Dwyer is a 25-year veteran of local and national Democratic politics. She has managed campaigns for Senator Leahy and Congressman Welch and supported many more candidates for office at all levels in Vermont. She is not employed by any candidates running in 2024.
Senator Leahy’s announcement that he would not seek re-election upended the Vermont political landscape and with it Vermonters face a significant change in leadership. As voters head to the polls it is worth reflecting on the role of our federal delegation and the changes we can expect.
Much attention has been given to the effectiveness with which Senator Leahy has advocated for Vermont, particularly delivering federal appropriations. There is no question his seniority and the relationships that come with it have had a transformational impact in communities in every corner of Vermont. The newly elected members of the delegation, along with Senator Sanders, will need to rely on their experience working in Congress, their relationships and their ability to forge compromise in order to lessen the impact of Senator Leahy’s departure from the chair of Appropriations.
The new members of the delegation face the real possibility of Republican control of both the House and the Senate. The best-case scenario is a continuation of the slim majorities in each chamber. As voters consider their choices in the primary it is worth considering what experience the candidates bring, working across the ideological divide and their track record of working with people they oppose to advance an issue.
The current body seems dominated by ideological warriors who are more apt to attack their opponents than to find common ground that leads to progress. If Vermonters elect another ideological warrior, rather than someone focused on building consensus to get results, we run the risk of voting our little state into obscurity. Vermont’s current standing in the Senate and significant federal funds it receives exists in large part because of Senator Leahy’s ability to work with others — whether he agrees with them or not.
The void left by Senator Leahy will be felt across the policy spectrum. His legal training landed him on the Judiciary Committee where he has been one of the Senate’s staunchest defenders of civil liberties, civil rights and free speech. His Vermont roots landed him on the Agriculture Committee where he fought to protect Vermont farmers, authored the organic standards, created the Farm to School meals program, and expanded funding for school lunch and low income food assistance programs. His leadership landed him on the Appropriations Committee where he has directed hundreds of millions of dollars to protect our lakes and forests and invested programs that address climate change. It also enabled him to be a moral voice on international issues ranging from his campaign to ban landmines and human rights to funding international climate and anti-poverty programs.
This is to say, our new members of the delegation will have big shoes to fill and a full agenda of Vermont priorities. We should continue to seek out and support candidates whom we can trust to continue this tradition of pragmatic leadership that delivers for every Vermonter.