Vermont using old system to pick National Guard chief
MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — The four candidates vying to become the next adjutant general of the Vermont National Guard through an antiquated election system that some lawmakers want to end are promising to change the organization, including making it more welcoming for women.
The candidates vying for the job to lead the 3,600 men and woman who are currently serving in the Vermont Army and Air National Guard have been working the halls of the Statehouse in Montpelier, seeking support from lawmakers who will elect the new leader in a secret ballot vote on Feb. 21.
Vermont is currently the only state in the country where the national guard chief is chosen by a secret vote of the Legislature. Now, all the others are chosen by the governor, said John Goheen, a spokesman for the National Guard Association of the United States, a private group that represents guard interests in Washington.
“Every state is a little bit different,” Goheen said.
While Vermont is the only state where the guard chief is chosen by the Legislature, for more than a century, South Carolina chose its adjutant general by a direct vote of the people, a process that is ending next week when Maj. Gen. Bob Livingston steps down.
After Livingston was first elected by a statewide vote in 2010, he pushed his state to change its constitution to have his successor chosen by the governor. He said he pushed for the change, approved by voters in 2014, because campaigning for adjutant general was hard since most people don’t understand the role. He also said he didn’t think it was right raising money to run a campaign to be a military leader.
“It turns very quickly into a political discussion versus a qualification discussion,” said Livingston, who is leaving office later this month, turning the office over to a deputy appointed last month by South Carolina’s Republican Gov. Henry McMaster.
In the Vermont race, two retired Air Force officers, Brig. Gen. Dave Baczewski and Col. Rosanne Greco, are seeking the post along with retired Army Lt. Col. David Graham and serving National Guard Col. Greg Knight. One of them will replace outgoing Maj. Gen. Steven Cray, an Air Force pilot.
They are all promising to change the culture of the guard to make it more accommodating to women and other members.
Vermont Democratic State Rep. Tom Stevens, the chairman of the House Committee on General House and Military Affairs, said lawmakers were considering legislation to change how Vermont picks its adjutant general to make the position more accountable to the public.
Legislation was proposed six years ago, the last time the Legislature was asked to fill a vacant adjutant general position, but it went nowhere. A bill that changes the process of selecting a National Guard chief is a priority for his committee, but it’s unclear what form that will take, he said.
He said he wants to change the system because there is currently no way in state law to hold the adjutant general accountable once he or she is elected.
“Sometimes when Vermont does these things, we’re very proud of it,” Stevens said of the state’s unique method of choosing the National Guard chief.
“Because we’re the only state that does this, you have to ask ‘why,’” he said. “You have to take the time to look at it and understand if you do change it, what are the known consequences? Are they intended or not?”