Rep. Peter Welch (D)
Elected: 2006, 2nd term.
Born: May 2, 1947, Springfield, MA .
Education: Col. of the Holy Cross, A.B. 1969, U. of CA, J.D. 1973.
Family: Married (Margaret Cheney); 8 children.
Elected office: VT Senate, 1980-88, 2001-2006; VT Senate min. ldr., 1982-84; VT Senate pres. pro tem, 1985-88, 2002-06.
Professional Career: Robert F. Kennedy fellow, 1969-70; Practicing atty., 1974-2006.
Vermont’s only House member is Peter Welch, a Democrat first elected in 2006. He grew up in Springfield, Mass., the son of a dentist, and graduated from Holy Cross College. The summer before his junior year, he worked for a Jesuit group that did community outreach in poor black neighborhoods in Chicago. While there, he was inspired by a speech by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., a leader of the growing civil-rights movement in the 1960s. After graduating from law school at the University of California, Berkeley, Welch backpacked down the Pan-American Highway to Santiago, Chile, went overland to Salvador and Brazil, then worked on a freighter that sailed to Portugal. After that, he was ready to settle down to practice law, and chose White River Junction, Vt. He married a professor at Dartmouth, just across the river, and became a stepfather to Joan Smith’s five children. In 1980, Welch was elected as only the second Democrat to represent Windsor County in the state Senate—and the first since the Civil War. In 1982, he became Senate minority leader. In 1984, after Democrats won a majority in the Senate for the first time ever, he was elected Senate president pro tem. He focused on environment, education, and tax issues and helped establish the Housing and Land Conservation Trust, which worked to create affordable housing and to conserve farmland and forests. In 1988, when Republican Rep. James Jeffords ran for the Senate, Welch aimed for the U.S. House but lost the Democratic primary by 266 votes. In 1990, Welch ran for governor but lost 52%-46% to Republican Richard Snelling. For some years after that, Welch retired from political life. His wife, Joan, who had been his closest adviser and campaign manager, fought cancer for nine years, and Welch at times was her full-time caregiver. She died in 2004.
|Peter Welch (Democrat/Republican)||248,203||(83%)||($58,128)|
|Mike Bethel (I)||14,349||(5%)|
|Jerry Trudell (I)||10,818||(4%)|
|Thomas Hermann (I)||9,081||(3%)|
|Cris Ericson (I)||7,841||(3%)|
|Peter Welch (D)||19,566||(88%)|
|Craig Hill (D)||2,635||(12%)|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (53%)
In 2001, Democratic Gov. Howard Dean appointed Welch to the state Senate to fill a vacancy in Windsor County. In 2003, he became president pro tem once again and focused on health care issues. He also helped negotiate a deal for the storage of spent nuclear fuel on the site of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant. In the spring of 2005, Sen. Jeffords announced he would not seek re-election in 2006. Socialist Rep. Bernie Sanders, after 15 years in the House, announced he would run for the Senate seat and attracted little opposition. So Welch decided to run once again for the U.S. House, this time for the seat that Sanders was giving up. He was supported by many Democratic leaders and, although other potential candidates canvassed for support, no one else ended up running, and Welch won the September 2006 primary unopposed. The winner of the Republican primary, by 71%-28%, was Martha Rainville, the commander of the Vermont National Guard, who had a sterling résumé. A Navy brat born on a base in Connecticut, she graduated from the University of Mississippi, enlisted in the Air Force in 1979, and, after four years of active duty, served in the Air National Guard. In 1997, she was chosen by the Legislature to serve as state Adjutant General, becoming the first woman to command a state’s National Guard. Welch campaigned as an opponent of military action in Iraq from the start, and he condemned the “corrupt” Republicans in Washington. He supported a universal health care program and called for the resignation of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Rainville said she would have voted for military action in Iraq in 2002 given what was known then, but she also criticized some of the Bush administration’s decisions since. Both candidates favored access to abortion.
Both also pledged not to run negative campaigns, and this was probably the only seriously contested 2006 House race in the country without a single negative ad on the airwaves. But there was dispute. Welch called Rainville the “hand-picked” candidate of the by then unpopular national Republicans. Rainville countered that Vermont Republicans are “something very different,” and insisted that “the party has a lot of room for diversity.” Welch spent $1.7 million to Rainville’s $1.1 million. But the House Republican campaign committee outspent its Democratic counterpart, $750,000 to $300,000. This was one of the few Democratic seats that Republicans thought they had a good chance of picking up. (Though technically not a Democrat, Sanders had generally caucused with the Democrats.) The contest was close in the polls throughout the summer, but by late September Welch began opening up a lead. Rainville was embarrassed when she was forced to fire a speechwriter in early October for plagiarizing from Democratic Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York. Welch won, 53%-45%.
In the House, Welch quickly became one of the most active and legislatively savvy members of the large freshman class, though he retained an understated and collegial style. He was one of four freshman Democrats to get a seat on the Rules Committee, an influential, leadership-run panel that establishes the procedures for any bill coming to the floor. With his legislative experience, he became a player on a range of issues. “It’s like he has been here for years. He is connected in every way,” an admiring Democratic leadership aide said. Welch took the lead in urging the Environmental Protection Agency to approve a waiver for California’s stricter tailpipe-emissions standards. During debate on a higher-education bill, the House passed his amendment to require universities to report to Congress how they are using their endowment to reduce costs for middle-class families. He also won passage of his proposal to close a loophole that exempted overseas government contracts from federal reporting requirements. In 2009, he got a seat on the influential Energy and Commerce Committee.
At home, Welch secured his seat early and faced no serious re-election threat. Perhaps his most difficult challenge at home was a March 2007 protest outside his White River Junction office by anti-war activists who demanded the impeachment of Bush; they were arrested after failing to leave his office. Shortly after his first term ended, Welch remarried. In 2009, he tied the knot with state Rep. Margaret Cheney over recess. The couple held their reception at the Norwich Inn in Vermont, the setting for the 1980s television comedy series Newhart.