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Follow VPR's statehouse coverage, featuring Pete Hirschfeld and Bob Kinzel in our Statehouse Bureau in Montpelier.

Dramatic End Of Session Highlights Democrat-Progressive Split In Vermont

The Vermont Statehouse with lawmakers seated
Oliver Parini
For VPR, File
Progressive Party leaders say they might challenge some moderate Democratic House members over the failure to pass legislation raising the state minimum wage and paid family leave.

The failure of Democratic leaders at the Statehouse to pass legislation raising the state minimum wage and paid family leave is causing a serious split between Progressives and Democrats. This rift could mean that more Progressives and Democrats will run against each other in House races in 2020.

According to Josh Wronski, the director of the Vermont Progressive Party, the 2019 legislative session was "an embarrassment" because Democratic leaders were unable to deliver on two key economic justice issues: increasing the state minimum wage to $15 an hour and providing paid family leave.

Wronski said the failure is even more disappointing because the Democrats have large majorities in both the House and the Senate.

"But I think what it highlights is that just because you have a 'D' next to your name, [it] doesn't mean that you're necessarily a progressive Democrat and it doesn't mean you're even necessarily supportive of things like minimum wage increases, paid family leave, climate change,” Wronski said.

And Wronski said Progressives will seriously consider challenging moderate members of the Democratic caucus in November 2020.

"We've got to go look at it and say, 'What's the problem here?'" Wronski said. "And if there are a number of Democrats that are essentially voting with the Republican Party consistently, I don't really see them as even Democrats really."

Terje Anderson, the chair of the Vermont Democratic Party, said he's also disappointed that the bills didn't pass — but he said there are some important issues that need to be resolved.

Anderson said the Vermont Democratic Party is a large oganization with different points of view on some issues, and if the Progressives don't like it, then they shouldn't be affiliated with the Democrats.

"Almost every Progressive member of the Legislature also runs as a Democrat in order to get elected," Anderson said, "so that Democratic label that they're not too, you know, pleased with right now, they're more than willing to embrace when it comes to getting elected in November because it's the only way they can get elected."

Anderson said it's the Republicans who will most likely benefit if the Progressives challenge House Democrats.

"The reality is if they go out and run Progressive Party candidates against some of these candidates, the likely result is to elect a Republican,” Anderson said. “If that's what they want to do, that's a strategy they have a right to pursue. I don't think it's a strategy that's in the best interests of Vermont. I don't think it's in the best interests of progressive values."

Anderson said he's confident lawmakers will pass the minimum wage and family leave bills in early January.

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