If I Were Governor

I think often about running for governor of Vermont. 

Why?

  • Because the state where I have lived for 25 years is at a dangerous fork in the road. We can take one fork toward denial, irrelevance, and decay. Or we can take the second fork toward transformation, prosperity, vitality, and resilience.
  • Because the state is stagnating. Our population is shrinking. Our young people are leaving for better jobs and cultural diversity in cities. This trend will leave us in a Vermont of under-educated dependency on the one hand and wealthy retirees on the other. 
  • Because our citizens are increasingly powerless to build lives of prosperity and happiness in the face of the global marketing machine that sells us junk without regard for our health and well-being. Facebook does not care about our privacy. Coca-Cola and McDonalds don’t care about our health. But they are happy to profit from our hard-earned dollars.
  • Because of I have something to say and a desire to give back.
  • Since World War II, we have created the most powerful economic engine in world history. It has lifted millions out of poverty and created broad opportunity. But we have reached a point where that economic engine is too powerful and creates wealth for the few and not the many. 
  • I am not talking about the Burn it Down approach or the nihilistic approach of the Trumps, or the right-wing approach of the congressional Republicans. I have too deep a reverence for the role of state government and the great people who have served to criticize past efforts.
  • I am talking about a return to a market capitalism that creates opportunity and prosperity for all – and regulated by a proper referee. It is the job of the referees to bring fairness to the market system. 
  • Our need in Vermont is to bring more of that prosperity to more people.

HOW?

By transforming this state into a modern example of resiliency in an uncertain world. 

In 1962, Phil Hoff came to office promising a new approach. Vermont was emerging from the  sleepy 50s and needed to move from the poor farm and one-room schoolhouses to a modern economy and a modern government.

So Hoff spent months rethinking how Vermont works and he delivered a new style of activist government – unified school districts and a modern welfare system. We still govern ourselves largely on that model. But the time has come to modernize what Hoff and his generation built. 

At the core of this transformation is resiliency. The climate crisis is real. In everything we do, we must build in resiliency – in our buildings, in our systems of transportation, education, natural resources, energy, and agriculture. We can no longer afford to throw up buildings along strip highways in Barre-Montpelier or Williston Road. These are failures of planning and community building. 

Act 250 must screen all projects through a resiliency lens for how a project would build community and prosperity in a climate change world. 

Our education system needs to get more resilient. Less test-taking, more critical thinking, and team-building. 

Our transportation system needs to get more resilient. Fewer roads, highways, and cars. More bike lanes and smart-transit to move us around in a quality of life we want. 

Our health care system needs to get more resilient – too many hospitals trying to do too many things. 

Our colleges need to get more resilient. Too many colleges with unclear missions vying for student dollars. 

But more than anything – we need to grow Vermont into a place where people will come to raise families and build productive lives. 

How do we do that?

A lot of good work has already been done. Stephen Kiernan’s manifesto on Vermont was a great start. It is a document I signed along with many others of diverse backgrounds and persuasions. It is here:

https://www.stephenpkiernan.com/vermont-to-the-tenth-power

The author Bill Schubart over the last five years has laid out a roadmap. Read Schubart here:

The legislature is trying mightily, although it could take a more holistic approach. And Gov. Scott has rightly sounded the alarm on what is coming if we don’t take action. 

Here is what I would do. (Phase1)

  1. Move beyond the era and thinking of no new taxes to one of investment and innovation. 
  2. Modernize our tax system to stop subsidizing 70-year-olds and outmoded farming practices. Pay for schools, services, and innovation via income – not property wealth. And tell companies that profit from selling junk food, using our natural resources or invading our privacy that they must pay for that privilege.
  3. Open Vermont to new citizens of all backgrounds. These are the next generation of entrepreneurs and job creators. The Syrians in Rutland, the Africans in Burlington/Winooski. These are the Irish and Italians and French Canadians of the last century who built Vermont. We can do that again. 
  4. Execute an economic development plan for Vermont that touts our attributes to the entire world.  This includes bragging about our paid family leave law. (Not yet passed)
  5. Get healthier. We all know our health care spending is out of control. We must revamp the system to promote health and penalize those who do us harm. Junk food companies like Coke and Pepsi are the Big Tobacco of this generation and they need to pay for the harm they do to our health. We successfully made smoking uncool in the last 20 years. Let’s do the same with the latest killer. Same with opiates.
  6. Promote women, people of color and LBGTQ friends at all levels and remove all barriers to their health and advancement. Start with removing the sales tax on menstrual products. 
  7. Reckon with large dairy farms and the damage they do. If we are going to subsidize dairy farms, let’s pay them to stop polluting and stop producing a product fewer people want.
  8. Modernize Act 250 for a climate change world.

Vermont has all the attributes it needs to become the place where people want to live and prosper. Clean air and water, human-scale communities, honest government, community-minded business leaders, real farming, arts, and a strong non-profit sector and on and on. 

Let’s put a welcome sign at each entrance to Vermont and on social media and tell the world we are open for business.  

 Oh – One more thing. Part 2 next week. Part 3 is also live.

2 thoughts on “If I Were Governor

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