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Jane Kitchel Joins the Race for the Vermont Senate’s “Third Member”

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photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger
Sen. Jane Kitchel, D-Caledonia, speaks before the Senate Finance Committee at the Statehouse in Montpelier on Wednesday, March 22, 2023.

MONTPELIER – The influential post on the Senate’s Committee on Committees opened up for the first time in 27 years following the resignation of Sen. Dick Mazza.

Fans of inside baseball, please take your seats. Today, we’re talking about the process under the golden dome.

On Monday, Vermont’s longest-serving state senator, Dick Mazza, announced his resignation from the Grand Isle district seat he occupied for nearly four decades. The moderate Democrat’s resignation not only leaves an open seat in the 30-member chamber but also on one of the building’s most influential panels: the Senate Committee on Committees.

Composed of the lieutenant governor, Senate president pro tempore and a so-called third member, the committee holds the quietly powerful job of assigning senators to the chamber’s committees and selecting who will chair those panels. Like the pro tem, the third member is elected to the position each biennium by the full chamber.

According to Senate Secretary John Bloomer, Mazza occupied the influential role since 1997. With his resignation, the position is open for the first time in 27 years. Vying for the open seat is Sen. Jane Kitchel, D-Caledonia, according to an email obtained by VTDigger on Wednesday.

“The thing about the third member is, they really have to be somebody who’s highly trusted by all three parties,” Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Baruth, D/P-Chittenden Central, said Wednesday.

“The Republicans want to make sure that their rights as the minority are protected and that they’re not getting shut out of things that they want or need. So it’s usually somebody with substantial experience,” he added. “That’s a category that Sen. Kitchel definitely fits.”

Baruth spoke to VTDigger Wednesday afternoon — rather serendipitously, from the Senate Transportation Committee room that Mazza occupied for years as committee chair. The pro tem said the role of the third member “is really interesting because they don’t tend to be known or understood by anybody outside the Legislature, even most people in the House.”

Baruth gestured to a corkboard affixed to the transportation committee room’s wall that serves as a sort of scrapbook to Mazza’s tenure. Tacked onto the board beside numerous photos of Mazza smiling with his colleagues is a Seven Days cover dubbing Mazza “The Advisor,” depicting him in the style of “The Godfather” movie poster.

“Dick Mazza was that person who, behind the scenes, exerted a lot of power,” Baruth said.

With Mazza’s resignation, the search for a new third member commences. At noon on Monday, Baruth sent out an email to the chamber laying out the timeline: Friday, April 12: Deadline for placing one’s name in contention; Tuesday, April 16: Democratic caucus candidate forum and Democratic caucus vote; Tuesday, April 23: Formal vote of all senators on senate floor

Once the Democratic caucus anoints its candidate next week, Baruth said, it’s typical that the nominee runs unopposed in the full Senate vote — but another senator could go rogue and challenge the nominee then.

If someone does, they may face a formidable opponent. Less than 20 minutes after Baruth sent his note to senators Monday, Kitchel emailed her colleagues to say that she would throw her hat in the ring.

“After discussion with some of my colleagues, and recognizing that our work in the Senate has to continue, I have made a decision to run for the position of third member to fill the vacancy left by Senator Mazza,” Kitchel wrote.

Baruth said that, as of Wednesday afternoon, no other senator had submitted their name to the caucus for consideration.

Time is of the essence to fill the seat. In the waning weeks of the legislative session, the committee will have the all-important task of appointing senators to conference committees to hash out differences between House and Senate bills.

Perhaps most vital among those conference committees will be the six-member panel selected to reconcile the House and Senate budget drafts — a behemoth bill spearheaded in the Senate by none other than Senate Appropriations Committee chair Kitchel.

Sen. Jane Kitchel represents the Caledonia District in the Vermont Legislature. She Chairs the Senate Committee on Appropriations, the Joint Fiscal Committee and the Joint Public Pension Oversight Committee, while also serving on the Senate Committee on Transportation, the Canbassing Committee, the Health Reform Oversight Committee, the Joint Legislative Management Committee. She also serves on the Emergency Board, the Governor’s Snowmobile Council and the Transportation Enhancement Grant Committee.

Sarah Mearhoff, VTDigger

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