The election of Phil Scott – a mild-mannered, but steely moderate – as governor of Vermont, presents us – and him – with great opportunity in the dystopian world of Trump.
Scott is the first governor who is not of the Madeleine Kunin/Richard Snelling era. Until now, much of the political leadership of Vermont hailed from that time. The Burlington business community, the environmental community, and much of the grassroots political culture and even our journalism – came of age under Kunin and Snelling.
Governor Peter Shumlin was appointed to the House by Kunin. Howard Dean and Jim Douglas both learned their trade there.
Here is hoping that Scott embarks on a new path. Scott represents a new generation of political leader. He has made his own way without the tutelage and guidance of Kunin-Snelling era people and developed his own political identity.
He has the opportunity to forge an alliance with Democrats that takes Vermont in a whole new direction. And he can do it by NOT taking on the large Democratic majorities over policy battles and ideology. Truth is, Scott and most Democrats are fairly close on policy issues.
The real opportunity for Scott is less ideological than cultural. Vermont is changing – and clinging to a glowing memory represented by the old Vermont Life Magazine on your night table will not create the vibrant Vermont our children need.
Scott can fulfill his promise of affordability in a variety of ways cultural and political. Here are a few:
1. Make sure that women are more than 50 percent of the administration. The election of Trump has scared women across this state. Make a bold statement on this subject by seeking out and hiring women at all levels of government. The immediate hiring of three Douglas era men – all very talented – is not a good first sign.
2. Broadband – We need fast Internet so we can attract people from other states to start businesses. I live 5 miles from Montpelier and have sub-par internet speed. It’s embarrassing. On this issue, Democrats agree. Summon the broadband providers to the governor’s office and read them the riot act. Appoint a new public service commissioner and a chair of the Public Service Board who will demand action.
3. Education – Don’t get bogged down in a fight over Act 46. The legislature needs to make some tweaks and things are working out at the local level. But talk loudly about keeping Vermont’s current school choice policy in place. People of all ideologies have a core belief that they should be able to choose the right school for their kids. It is a major economic development tool for towns.
4. Appoint good people – Resist the temptation to give all the jobs to your loyal supporters as reward for their hard work. We can’t afford that. The chair of the Public Service Board, secretaries of Transportation, Natural Resources and Commerce are really important. Don’t just give them away. For example, ask Matt Dunne to be your Commerce Secretary. He knows how to create jobs and do economic development.
5. Meet with the Speaker of the House on a regular basis. Most governors sit in the office and summon the legislature to meetings. The defining moment of the Snelling era was when he walked down the hall to visit the House Speaker in an effort to raise taxes to wipe out a budget deficit. Find a private place to meet with the Speaker and the President of the Senate regularly. Forge relationships. Ask for help. Do this together.
6. Be transparent with the media. Every administration treats the media as the enemy. And as times goes on, they slip into a reflexive crouch like a kicked dog. The media is not out to get you. They turn on you when you lie to them. The point is to generate respect. Scott already has that respect because he has proved himself an honest politician. He should keep that reputation at all costs.
7. Lastly, don’t treat this election as a mandate for partisan Republican policies. It wasn’t. This is not a chance for Republicans to grab power from overreaching, progressive Democrats who needed to be stopped. It’s a chance to move Vermont into the 21st century once and for all, creating the kind of opportunity that Vermont is uniquely positioned to host in a very uncertain future.
I hope Phil Scott seizes that moment.