Do I Vote the Party Line Over the Interests of My Constituents? No.
And I’ve Got a Lot to Say About That.
Directly and by insinuation, Rep. Browning has often said that I am controlled by party leaders, influenced by ambition or “party discipline,” and that I vote the party line over the interests of my constituents. These statements are not only untrue, they are dismissive and disrespectful.
I’m a Democrat, and the Democratic platform reflects my most deeply held civic values. So it shouldn’t be surprising that I view legislation through that lens. I believe we help people, help businesses and help communities through legislation that, in general, provides the greatest number of people with equal access to the resources they need to build a good life.
But I’m also an independent thinker. I look carefully at legislation. I think hard about how bills will impact people, families and small businesses across my district.
And then I vote. And when I vote, I am always voting for a position that I believe will help people, families, small businesses and our district as a whole.
In a democracy, ethical, principled and dedicated public servants will often disagree about the best way to help people and help our communities. That’s not only okay, it’s vital to the legislative process.
But it’s not okay to say I would knowingly vote against the interests of my constituents for reasons of “party discipline” or ambition.
I would never believe that about Rep. Browning or my legislative colleagues. Whether we agree about policy or not, I honestly believe that your state representatives — Democrats, Republicans, Independents and Progressives — are voting for what they believe is right and best for their constituents. That’s why representative democracy is the finest form of government.
That said, it’s not always easy to decide how to vote. Many bills represent weeks, months and sometimes years of collaboration and compromise. I often need to weigh one value against another or to decide whether a particular provision I oppose, contained within a larger bill, is important enough to merit a “no” vote.
In making these decisions, it’s important to understand how I work in Montpelier. First: I’m not big on public debates or grandstanding. I believe the most important work happens long before a bill reaches the House floor.
That’s why I’ve worked so hard in my first term to:
- Establish strong, positive relationships within my party — the majority Democratic caucus that has a powerful influence on introducing and shaping legislation.
- Become an active, contributing member of that caucus — attending all meetings, asking questions, reaching out to committee chairs and colleagues regularly to learn about important bills and offer regular feedback
- Become an active member of bipartisan caucuses that focus on policy issues relevant to our district (climate economy, rural economy, tourism, social equity)
So how does this work in practice? Here are some examples.
In my first year, I was losing sleep over the minimum wage bill, a high priority of the Democratic caucus. The push was to move the wage to $15 per hour over five years, an increase I felt was great for Chittenden County, but too much, too soon for our Main Street businesses in Bennington-4. I firmly believe it’s a moral and economic imperative that our lowest-wage workers need to make more money — the escalating income gap is hurting families and hurting our economy. (In fact, if we’d pegged the minimum wage to inflation starting in the late 1960s, it would be $22 by now.) But progress can’t come at the expense of our mom-and-pop southern Vermont small businesses, or we hurt the workers we’re trying to help.
What to do? In the end, I told our Democratic leaders I was a “no” vote on the original bill (and no, I wasn’t shunned or subjected to arm-twisting). Then, working with a small group of fiscally conservative Democrats from outside of Bennington County, I threw my full support behind a plan to revise the bill in the Appropriations Committee. By the time it came to the floor, the legislation reached $15 but on a slower track. It also had some safeguards built in, and I felt comfortable voting yes.
On a recent housing bill, I heard from our town planner that some proposed zoning changes, while well intended, would have a negative impact in Manchester. I submitted testimony, along with testimony from the Bennington County Regional Commission, to the Housing Committee — along with a note to leadership that I’d be a “no” vote if the provision remained. By the time the bill came to the floor, the provision had been dropped and I was able to support it.
Similarly, through my active participation in the Rural Economic Development Working Group, I was able to directly influence — with a bipartisan group of legislators who represent a broad spectrum of political views — the conversation on Act 250 and how that important legislation will be handled in the next biennium.
The most impactful voices in that Act 250 conversation, by the way, were several legislators from other districts — outside of our county — who are well-known in Montpelier for being independent while working in a way that gets results instead of alienating colleagues. They are effective and respected, and I’ve looked to them during my first term as mentors. If re-elected, I will continue to strengthen those relationships.
That’s the kind of hard work you don’t see reflected in my voting record. To say I vote the party line because I am controlled by party leadership is not only dismissive and disrespectful to me, it’s destructive. It undermines voters’ confidence in how things work in the statehouse, where I’ve found the process to be highly engaged, collaborative, and based on skillful dialogue not only within the Democratic party, but across the aisle.