Gov. Peter Shumlin announced Monday that he appointed Michael Sirotkin, a registered lobbyist, to fill the vacant Senate seat of Sirotkin's late wife Sally Fox.
Fox died of a rare form of lung cancer Jan. 10.
A press release from Shumlin's office said Sirotkin will start work in the Senate on Feb. 11. The Senate has been operating with 29 members instead of its normal 30 since the legislative session started at the beginning of the month.
Sirotkin said in an interview that he will be leaving the lobbying firm he founded, Sirotkin and Necrason, permanently. The firm represents a variety of clients, including labor unions, Comcast and organizations advocating for housing and land conservation.
"There is really no other way to approach something like this when you're dealing with the public trust," he said. "You shouldn't have any business interests that affect your decision making."
Sirotkin said he hopes to continue the work of his late wife, who was seen in the statehouse as an ally for underprivileged Vermonters.
He said Fox, before her death, encouraged him to fill her seat.
"She and many other suggested that I put my name into nomination if I felt capable of doing it," he said, "and after a lot of soul-searching, I came to what was obviously a very hard and bittersweet decision. But I think I can serve Chittenden County well, and I look forward to continuing the work of my wife."
Senate President John Campbell said Sirotkin brings to the body a sharp mind and compassionate heart. The two men have battled in the past, most recently on the death with dignity legislation, which Sirotkin’s firm pushed through the body last year despite strident opposition from the Democratic pro tem.
Campbell said Sirotkin’s lobbying clients – they include the Community of Vermont Elders – reflect his longstanding commitment to humanitarian causes. And Campbell said that makes him a fitting replacement for a woman known best for her advocacy on behalf of vulnerable Vermonters.
“He has been an advocate, as Sally had been, for those in need and those vulnerable citizens, especially the elderly in the state,” Campbell said. “So I am hoping that he’ll be able to continue to contribute to Sally’s legacy.”
Campbell and Sirotkin met in Campbell’s office Monday afternoon to discuss a range of issues, including possible committee assignments. Campbell said he would also speak with Sirotkin about the possible conflicts of interest arising from his sudden transition from lobbyist to lawmaker.
Campbell said he’s confident that Sirotkin will handle any potential conflicts openly and honestly.
“He’s always been above board,” Campbell said, “and I’m sure that if Michael sees a situation where one of his former clients, the issue is before us, that he would in fact recuse himself from that vote if he feels there is a conflict.”
Updated Jan. 27 at 3:45 p.m. with comments from Campbell.