|Jill Krowinski Works Tirelessly for Social Justice|
|by Kate Mueller|
Jill Krowinski has been toiling away at the Vermont State House for over a decade, with a bright focus on supporting families and women's rights. Krowinski represents the Old North End (D-Burlington 3-6), where she and her partner, Jim Farbisz, live.
Krowinski grew up in a suburb of Buffalo, New York, and attended the University of Pittsburgh, which she graduated from in 2002 with a major in urban studies and minors in political science and sociology. For someone who has spent her entire working life engaged in social justice and politics, I wondered if there had been a family influence, as is often the case. But Krowinski didn't grow up in a politically active household. She credits her college internships for shaping her interest in politics: "One internship was with a social justice organization, and my project was to help organize a Rock Against Racism concert. My internship at Carnegie Mellon's Center for Economic Development was also influential through the research I was doing and the conversations I had around the office."
Krowinski originally moved to Springfield, Vermont, to work with 21st Century Democrats at the urging of a friend: "A good friend suggested I work on a political campaign since it was a short time frame and I'd get some great experience grassroots organizing. I had admired Vermont for passing civil unions and—long story short—ended up working on a couple of legislative races in Windsor County."
Her political life at the State House began in 2005, when she became assistant to Democratic House Speaker Gaye Symington.
In 2006, Krowinski was field director for Peter Welch in his successful 2006 campaign to become Vermont's US representative. After that campaign, she became executive director of the Vermont Democratic Party and then moved on to work on Symington's unsuccessful bid for governor in 2008.
In 2008 Krowinski began working for Planned Parenthood of Northern New England (PPNNE), initially as communications director and later as vice president of Education and Vermont Community Affairs: "Working at PPNNE was an incredible experience, and I believe the high-quality health care they provide is critical to our communities. As a young woman I thought it was important to work to protect and expand access to health services that generations before me had fought so hard for."
She began serving in the House as a representative in February 2012, replacing Rachel Weston, who stepped down. Krowinski initially resisted replacing Weston as House rep: "I had been working at PPNNE for several years when Rachel Weston resigned her seat. When a friend called me and suggested I put my name in for the appointment, I said no, my role is to help and encourage women to run."
True to that role, Krowinski was one of the key people to help launch Emerge Vermont, founded by former governor Madeleine Kunin in 2012. Emerge Vermont is a local chapter of Emerge America, a nationwide organization that encourages women in the Democratic party to run for office. Emerge has an intensive, cohort-based, six-month training program, with graduates who have gone on to achieve political success. Among the alumnae of the program is Becca Balint, now Senate majority leader in the Vermont State House.
But in 2012, Krowinski herself needed that nudge. She acknowledges her response "didn't fly with a lot of my friends and my partner. They pointed out I should practice what I preach. I thought about my community and the challenges we face around poverty, access to drug treatment, growing jobs, and the environment. After going on a long hike to think about it, I decided to throw my hat into the race."
Krowinski has remained in that post, running unopposed for reelection in 2014 and 2016. In 2015, she was the clerk of the House Democratic caucus.
In December 2016, Krowinski was elected unanimously for a two-year term as Democratic majority leader in the House. As the majority leader, she will work closely with Speaker of the House Mitzi Johnson to get legislation passed.
"Working with Mitzi is a wonderful experience," said Krowinski. "She's incredibly smart and understands the State House very well. It's a great opportunity to work with her."
Krowinski said that she and Johnson have been engaging members of the Democratic caucus, asking them what their priorities are. "The message coming from them is the need to create and promote a healthy future for Vermonters, to come up with policies that create a healthy community and economy," she said.
Of particular concern is helping families get ahead. "The word that I keep getting from my constituents," Krowinski said, "is that people are having a hard time juggling family and work."
Krowinski listed several key issues relevant for helping families: paid family leave, raising the minimum wage, and, for women in particular, equal pay for equal work and a flexible working schedule. Housing is another component of this, she said, with proposals to invest in affordable housing for low- and middle-income families. What is also of concern to Krowinski is access to justice, making certain that all Vermonters have equal and easier access to the court system.
The larger concern hovering over the state and the legislature is no one knows what to expect from the new administration in Washington, DC. Krowinski said that legislators are closely monitoring DC so that Vermont can be prepared. In response to the travel ban, the House, the Senate, Governor Scott, and Attorney General T. J. Donovan have been working together to find ways to protect the immigrant and refugee population in Vermont, she said.
After becoming House majority leader in December, Krowinski left her job at PPNNE. "I needed to take time to fully engage in my new role as majority leader," she said. What's next? "Once I'm set in that new routine [as majority leader], I'll get on with a new chapter—not sure what that will look like just yet," she said.
Kate Mueller, editor of Vermont Woman newspaper, lives in Montpelier.