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Sen. Leahy announces he won't seek reelection next fall

Vermont PBS

Updated 4:42 p.m.

Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy has announced he won't seek reelection next fall. He's the longest-serving Senate Democrat, first elected in 1974.

"It's time to put down the gavel," Leahy said. "It's time to pass the torch to the next Vermonter, who will carry on this great work for this great state. It's time to come home.“

Watch Vermont PBS' coverage of the Nov. 15 announcement:

Leahy, 81, shared the news at a press event Monday morning at the Vermont Statehouse in Montpelier before returning to Washington. It was held in Room 11, which is where he said he announced his first run for U.S. Senate in 1974.

"At that time I was a 33-year-old, fourth-term Chittenden County state's attorney," he said. He added that he launched his campaign despite Vermont never sending a Democrat to the Senate before then, and despite his relatively young age.

"But I felt that I understood the needs, the values of Vermont," Leahy said. "I thought it was time for my generation to address them."

In an interview with VPR, Leahy said he and his wife, Marcelle, have been talking about deciding to not run for reelection for a long time now.

"And we basically made it this summer, you know, walking around the fields and the woods at home," he said. "But I had an awful lot legislation I wanted to get through, especially helping Vermont."

Leahy is chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee and senior-most member of both the judiciary and agriculture committees.

On Monday, he recounted his accomplishments from serving in those capacities, including:

  • Expanding the Green Mountain National Forest by more than 100,000 acres
  • Establishing a national organic standards and labeling program
  • Securing money for the cleanup of Lake Champlain and Lake Memphremagog
  • Advocating for SNAP benefits to be used at farmers markets and the creation of farm to school programs
  • Supporting the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children
  • Helping pass the Innocence Protection Act, the Justice For All Act and a reformatted Freedom of Information Act
  • Pushing for the first update to the 1994 Violence Against Women Act
  • Recommending and working to confirm judges like Vermont U.S. District Judge Christina Reiss, who was the first woman to serve in the federal district court in Vermont, and Beth Robinson, who recently was confirmed to fill the seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, and is the first openly LGBTQ+ woman to serve on any federal circuit court
  • Writing small state minimums in various laws to secure a baseline amount of funding for first responders post-9/11, for communities after Tropical Storm Irene and for those impacted by the opioid epidemic
  • Securing over $2 billion for Vermont in response to COVID-19

Leahy also noted his involvement in writing and passing the first law in the world banning the export of landmines, as well as the Leahy Law, which requires America to withhold aid from countries violating human rights.

Watch a 2003 interview with Sen. Patrick Leahy and his wife Marcelle from Vermont PBS:

"Representing you in Washington has been the greatest honor," Leahy said. "I will forever carry with me the enduring bond with my fellow Vermonters whose common sense and goodness are what I strive to match as their representative."

As for what he plans to do after his current term is over, Leahy told VPR he looks forward to having more time with Marcelle. The couple will celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary next summer.

"We got kids and grandkids," he said. "We love to snowshoe if it's wintertime up here. We love to go scuba diving, which is not normally what one thinks of as a senator, but — there's a lot of things, that we'll have far more time with each other... I never could have done this without Marcelle, and she deserves to have my undivided attention."

Reaction from Vermont officials and community members poured in on Monday.

Sen. Bernie Sanders and his wife Jane wished the Leahys a "wonderful and well-earned retirement."

“I know I speak for all Vermonters in expressing the deep gratitude we feel for the extraordinary role that Pat Leahy has played in representing Vermont in the U.S. Senate for the last 46 years," Sanders wrote in a statement. “He has been a towering figure ... He leaves a unique legacy that will be impossible to match."

Rep. Peter Welch called it a "historic and bittersweet day."

"No one has served Vermont so faithfully, so constantly, so honestly, and so fiercely as Patrick," he wrote in a statement. "Patrick loves Vermont and Vermonters love Patrick. While Patrick has been a giant in the U.S. Senate, consulted by presidents and world leaders, he is always happiest on his farm in Middlesex and being with his fellow Vermonters. He never left his roots in Montpelier or the values of his parents, who instilled decency, honesty, and service."

Gov. Phil Scott said Leahy has been "an incredible champion for Vermonters."

"It is thanks to him, and the funding he’s secured for our state, that Vermont is in a position to come out of this pandemic stronger than before and tackle big challenges from broadband and infrastructure to the opioid crisis," Scott wrote in a statement. "We are indebted to him."

Lt. Gov. Molly Gray wrote in a statement that Leahy's public service has been an inspiration.

"From human rights and civil liberties to international engagement and humanitarian relief, Senator Leahy has served as Vermont and our nation’s north star," she said.

Chittenden County Sen. Kesha Ram Hinsdale said in a written statement that Vermont will need leaders to carry on Leahy's legacy of authentically representing and fighting for the needs of Vermont.

"Stepping aside to let the next generation step up is yet another act of visionary leadership," she said. "We will not let you down."

Several Vermont officials reminisced about interning for the senator back in the day, including the Vermont attorney general's chief of staff Charity Clark and Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger:

Other Vermonters remembered meaningful moments with their senator:

And at least one person looks forward to what Leahy will do when he comes back home:

Leahy's announcement Monday opens up the question of how the makeup of Vermont's Congressional delegation will change come the 2022 midterms.

Gov. Phil Scott's spokespeople said Monday that he will not be running for Congress in 2022.

And Lt. Gov. Molly Gray said at a press conference that it is too early to discuss the next election.

"We'll talk about the future in the future," she said.

State Rep. Tanya Vyhovsky, however, wrote in a statement that she intends to "explore a campaign" on a "people powered, democratic socialist platform."

"I believe Senator Leahy understands that the time is now for a new generation of leaders to step up," she said.

Some Vermonters are excited for the potential for sending a woman to Congress, which would be a first for the state.

"Let's get some great female candidates for both House and Senate!" wrote Benjamin Carlson on Instagram.

Others wrote on the same platform that they were glad to see an impending change in Vermont's congressional representation:


But at least one person — Vermont Community Foundation President Dan Smith — hoped the focus, at least for today, would be on thanking the Leahys.

Have questions, comments or tips?Send us a message or tweet us@vprnet.

Copyright 2021 Vermont Public Radio

VPR Staff