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

Priorities For A Pandemic Session: House Minority Leader Pattie McCoy

Rep. Pattie McCoy sits in the Vermont House chamber, looking ahead with hands folded.
Oliver Parini
Rep. Pattie McCoy, seen here on the opening day of the 2019 Vermont Legislature, returns to Montpelier as the House Minority Leader. It's her second term as the House Republican leader, and she's the only legislator returning to a leadership role.

There are some big changes in leadership at the Statehouse to mark the start of a new biennium in Montpelier. But one of the few familiar faces belongs to Rep. Pattie McCoy, who represents Poultney and Ira. She's been reappointed House Minority Leader, making her the only holdover from 2020 in a leadership role.

VPR's Mitch Wertlieb spoke with Rep. Pattie McCoy about what she'll be putting front and center as the new legislative session begins. Their interview is below and has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Mitch Wertlieb: I imagine that priorities for this coming session are going to be tinged in some way by what's happening with COVID-19. What are the most important COVID-19 issues that you want to get to work on right away?

Rep. Pattie McCoy: Well, I think the most important, while we don't have much to do with it, is the vaccination. Hopefully we will get that quickly and enough to vaccinate a good majority of us in our state.

But really the COVID issues really deal with a tremendous deficit that the state of Vermont is facing over the next couple of years. You know, I worry not for this next session, but the following year will probably be even more impactful because we may not have the funding available from the federal government.

Well, that is going to be a challenge for sure. And related to that, I have a question about funding, because child care is being classified as essential during the pandemic. A lot of people say that may be moving the needle on state-funded child care programs.

There was a recent poll from Let's Grow Kids, that's a child care advocacy organization, and it found that about three out of four Vermonters favor more state spending on child care programs. How do you plan to approach child care programs and funding this coming session?

Well, interestingly, I literally just got off a Zoom call with Let's Grow Kids. You know, they were telling me what the issues are. And it's not any news to me. I have two daughters who have moved out of state and have children. I understand the tremendous amount of money spent personally by them on child care. I know the discussion's gone on for quite a number of years. But, you know, we need to start taking a more focused look on it, these upcoming sessions.

That survey does show that people really do want child care, and they want it to be affordable. And I understand that you, as you said up front here, you know, you're worried about the state's finances, you're worried about deficits. But do you think that this is the kind of priority that really should be funded maybe over some other things?

I haven't really put everything in a basket to figure out what should be funded and what should not be funded. I do know that child care is probably the number one issue for families throughout the state, and it's a difference sometimes of whether both parents can actually work outside of the household.

So I think we should take a look at it. Yes, absolutely.

More from VPR: Poll: Vermonters Support More State Funding For Child Care

Rep. McCoy, over the years you have said that affordability and the state's demographics are two of the biggest challenges facing Vermont. Have you changed that opinion at all? Has COVID changed that opinion at all?

No, it has not. And I think that it probably has solidified it more, because we really need economic growth in this state.

How to do that? I'm not really sure. But I do know that for companies to try to even come in and set foot in our state and open their door, it's prohibitively expensive for most, if not all companies looking to either, you know, stay here or move into our state.

Republicans picked up three House seats in November. Nobody needs to tell you this. Still outnumbered by about two to one compared to the Democratic majority in Montpelier.

What do more Republicans, though, in the House, even if it's those just those three seats, what does that mean, do you think, for what you're hoping to accomplish?

It was refreshing, because what we had heard was that we were going to lose 10 seats. So to actually maintain and pick up three was quite refreshing for us. I'm going to stretch that because we historically have some independents that come along and vote with us. So you're looking at 47 to 48.

What that means is, if the governor does decide to veto a particular bill, instead of having to, you know, climb that mountain and try to get eight people to go along with us, now we need to actually look for three. You know, I think that might give pause to some bills, that maybe the Democrats may look to reach across the aisle a little bit more so that we can maybe come to some consensus on some bills.

I know you mentioned that you're really worried about this coming year, but even beyond that, because of the deficits we're going to be facing and so many uncertainties, I'm just wondering about how you're feeling, optimism, pessimism, as you head to Montpelier.

You know, I am hopeful with new faces and new leadership. I think there's always hope that perhaps there will, as I said, [be] reaching across the aisle a little bit more, trying to get to consensus and really bring more balance to Montpelier. I take Gov. Scott's strong win as people wanting balance. I think the people of the state of Vermont want us to work together. They want us to get to consensus.

I think, frankly, what happens in Washington weighs on their mind, and how nothing gets done because they're just fighting more than they're trying to come to the table to try to solve the problem. So that's what I'm hopeful about, that we in the state of Vermont stand up as a model for the rest of the country and say, "Hey, this is how we do it, and it works."

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message or tweet Morning Edition host Mitch Wertlieb @mwertlieb

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A graduate of NYU with a Master's Degree in journalism, Mitch has more than 20 years experience in radio news. He got his start as news director at NYU's college station, and moved on to a news director (and part-time DJ position) for commercial radio station WMVY on Martha's Vineyard. But public radio was where Mitch wanted to be and he eventually moved on to Boston where he worked for six years in a number of different capacities at member station a Senior Producer, Editor, and fill-in co-host of the nationally distributed Here and Now. Mitch has been a guest host of the national NPR sports program "Only A Game". He's also worked as an editor and producer for international news coverage with Monitor Radio in Boston.
Matt Smith worked for Vermont Public from 2017 to 2023 as managing editor and senior producer of Vermont Edition.
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