Our opinion: Vermont needs more disagreement in Montpelier

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Phil Scott's first two-year term as governor of Vermont has been nothing if not interesting.

Two years ago, Scott, then a Republican lieutenant governor, sought the state's highest office on a platform of addressing what he called the state's affordability crisis and pledging to work across party lines to get things done.

Much of what catapulted him to election were previous oversteps by the Shumlin administration and the Legislature: An attempt at a single-payer healthcare system Vermont simply could not afford as it was designed; Act 46, the state's school consolidation law; and a carbon tax proposal that would have kicked the working poor in the knees to the tune of 88 cents per gallon of gas and $1.02 per gallon of fuel oil. Not only did the electorate give Scott the job, they also gave him enough Republican House members to sustain a veto.

Two years later, has he done enough to keep the job? Or is it time for someone new to take over?

Christine Hallquist, the Democratic nominee, has put forth a credible campaign, and a brave one. As the first transgender person ever nominated for governor in this country, she has stayed true to herself, personally and politically. No matter what happens Election Day, she's to be commended.

Hallquist's advocacy for "last mile" broadband service as an economic driver makes a lot of sense. While we worry about the unintended consequences for rural small business if the state raises the minimum wage to $15, as she supports, it would certainly multiply more money through the economy. And the paid family leave she also supports would be a net bonus for a state desperate to attract younger workers who could fill existing jobs and grow tax revenue.

But despite all that, there's been something missing from Hallquist's campaign, something that is, in many ways, out of her control — a compelling reason to make a change after two years.

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To be sure, there have been times when Scott has made us wonder if he's taking advice from the wrong people.

Twice in two years, Scott has turned in education funding proposals or initiatives late in the session, and vetoed reasonable budgets many members of his own party have previously voted to approve, creating a budget showdown where there didn't need to be one. Twice in two years, the results have included a reliance upon one-time money. And there have been complaints, particularly from Democratic/Progressive leadership in the state Senate, that the administration has been difficult to work with, if not adversarial. That's unnecessary and needs to change, if for no other reason than it's cost him good will under the dome.

But, Scott has kept taxes stable, through a combination of good fortune, fiscal restraint and cooperation from the Legislature. He's stayed focused on a problem Vermont needs to solve: reversing the exodus of its young people and aging of its workforce. And he has resisted his national party's casual cruelty against the environment, women, minorities, immigrants, journalists and LGBTQ people.

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Perhaps it's because Hallquist and Scott are alike in some ways (while politically very different) that it's harder to make a case for a change. They're both moderates, closer to the center than the legislators and activists in their respective parties. They're both from business backgrounds and see the value in applying the best practices they've learned on the job to improve efficiency and outcomes. And they come across in person, where Vermont elections are won and lost, as authentic people, rather than phony self-promoters.

Given those similarities, we're left with ideology and party affiliation, distasteful as they might be, because this is politics. And we think there's real value in having all three parties involved in the process in Montpelier, working together to solve problems and worrying about who gets the credit every two years, rather than letting one run roughshod over the other.

Despite what we like in Hallquist's positions, we're troubled by the prospect of going back to a Democrats-only club where there's insufficient attention to how much things cost, and who's paying, and no need for meaningful cooperation. No party has all the answers, but working together, all three stand a better chance of passing legislation that helps the majority of Vermonters than any of them do on their own.

Then, there's Scott's action on gun safety in Vermont following the allegations of a planned school shooting in Fair Haven.

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Where Scott really shined the most in his two years in office was when he recognized the state's gun regulations needed to do more to help prevent mass shootings — not as a cure-all, but as reasonable steps that might keep weapons out of the wrong hands.

Scott surely knew that Second Amendment absolutists, many of them within his party, would regard any regulation of access to weapons, no matter how measured, as an act of treason., despite the fact the laws he signed effectively banned zero weapons. It cost him votes and support; it's probably made his re-election race closer than it would have otherwise been; it even brought on a primary challenge from a single-issue opponent. But we are thankful that instead of lamely tweeting out "thoughts and prayers" like so many in his party, Scott saw a clear and present danger in the alleged Fair Haven plot and responded like a grown-up. That sort of courage should be rewarded.

And that leads us to what a second term for Scott might look like.

We wonder if Scott would do better for the state — and in the long run, be a better governor — if he had to actually deal with a Democrat/Progressive majority he could not overrule by pulling the veto card. His administration might be more engaged in January and February and less apt to rush to the floor with a detail-challenged proposal in March or April if it's clear that the Legislature can do as it wishes, without his cooperation, and go over his head to make it stick.

Our hunch is that's the Legislature he's going to get in January.

And two years from now, we'll know a great deal more about how effective Gov. Scott can truly be, and whether there's a need for a change.


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