The Elections that Enabled Vermont's Veto Override

Since the Vermont legislature approved gay marriage on Tuesday, we've heard lots of discussion of whether lawmakers made the right decision. We've also ...
by | April 9, 2009

Since the Vermont legislature approved gay marriage on Tuesday, we've heard lots of discussion of whether lawmakers made the right decision. We've also heard lots of talk about the implications for the gay rights movement in other states. But, since I don't have a lot to add on either of those fronts, allow me to make another rather self-serving point: Vermont's vote is proof of the importance of legislative elections.

You'd have been forgiven for not really caring about the results of Vermont's legislative elections in 2008. Democrats held comfortable margins in both chambers. Vermont only has one congressional district, so the results wouldn't affect congressional redistricting. Plus, I'm told that the presidential election was interesting.

But, consider this: In November, four Democrats won seats in the Vermont House of Representatives by 34 votes or fewer. The gay marriage veto override passed on a largely party-line vote, without a single vote to spare. Every one of those four Democrats voted for the veto override.

Perhaps, some of the four Republicans they defeated would have voted the same way. And, perhaps House Speaker Shap Smith could have scrounged up another vote or two if he needed it.

Still, without those seats, getting a two-thirds vote would have been very difficult.  This was, after all, Vermont's first successful veto override in 19 years. It's probably not an exaggeration to say that a key milestone in the debate over one of the most controversial public policy questions of our time never would have occurred had it not been for a few dozen votes in a few obscure legislative elections.

Josh Goodman
Josh Goodman  |  Former Staff Writer
mailbox@governing.com  | 

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