Vermont women in key legislative leadership roles

January 26, 2019
In this Thursday, Jan. 24, 2019 photo, Vermont House Majority Leader Jill Krowinski poses at her desk in the House chamber in Montpelier, Vt. State legislatures across the country are convening this year with at least 17 new women in top leadership roles, after a record-setting election for female candidates. Krowinski says having women in leadership roles encourages more women to get involved. (AP Photo/Wilson Ring)

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — It’s almost an afterthought to many in the Vermont Legislature, but women lawmakers hold the top three leadership roles in the House and one of the top spots in the state Senate.

Some of those leaders say the 61 women in the 150-member House and 10 in the 30-member Senate do things differently than men and that can make a difference on which bills are considered, which become law and the tenor of the debate while legislation is being considered.

The Vermont legislative leadership includes Democratic Speaker of the House Mitzi Johnson and House Majority Leader Jill Krowinski, while the Senate majority leader is Becca Balint. Republican House minority leader Patricia McCoy is starting her first term leading the House GOP.

“It didn’t even faze me, until someone pointed it out to me, which is refreshing that I didn’t even notice,” McCoy said Friday of the number of women in the Vermont Legislature and in leadership positions. “I just consider them colleagues here regardless of whether they are male or female, whatever persuasion they are.”

A national review by The Associated Press found that women will hold at least 33 of the 195 top spots in House and Senate chambers across the country this year. That figure is up slightly from 30 leadership positions last year.

In the November election, women won election in record numbers to U.S. Congress, governorships and state legislatures. The surge in female candidates was propelled partly by Democratic opposition to President Donald Trump as well as the #MeToo movement, which drew attention to sexual harassment of women by men in positions of power.

Women have been well represented in the Vermont Legislature for some time.

Krowinski said having diversity, which includes women and minorities, around the law-making table can affect what comes out the other end. “I think women absolutely make a difference in those conversations,” she said. “They bring their life experiences, which is very different from men.”

McCoy, who is beginning her third two-year term in the Vermont Legislature, said she felt women could be more empathetic than men and that can change the way lawmaking is done. She said her behind-the-scenes conversations with Johnson, of the opposing political party, have been open and direct, which makes it easier to do business. “I’m not really sure if that went on prior to this.”

Johnson, who has served in the Legislature since the early 2000s and is entering her second term as speaker, said she’s noticed the difference in style now that the Legislature is being led by women.

“When you have 60, 70-year-old men around the table it’s no wonder things like child care hasn’t risen to the top of the priority list,” Johnson said. “Because they have no idea how difficult it is, how tight the spots are, how hard it is to find, how expensive it is and how critical it is because it also wasn’t them responsible for taking care of the child.”

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