Lt. Gov. Phil Scott’s announcement that he will run for governor came with a side dish of confusion, for those who scanned more than one account of the event.
At issue: what he will do with his half-ownership of Dubois Construction, which frequently bids on state contracts. Keeping an active hand in the business would be a pretty clear conflict of interest; the still-hypothetical Governor Scott would, after all, be filling positions in the Agency of Transportation and could presumably bring influence to bear on his firm’s behalf. Or even, perish the thought, provide inside info that would help Dubois submit winning bids.
But we all know Phil Scott, the golden boy of Vermont politics, would never do such a thing. Everybody knows good ol’ Phil, right?
Yeah, just like the State Senate didn’t know it was harboring a[n alleged] serial rapist until state troopers arrested good ol’ Norm McAllister on the grounds of the Statehouse. Point being, you never really know, do you?
That’s why we have ethics rules and laws. Well, most states do, anyway.
Apparently, when asked about the conflict question, good ol’ Phil gave different answers to different reporters.
Scott told the Vermont Press Bureau’s Neal Goswami that “he is still finalizing a plan” to deal with Dubois Construction.
Scott said he has still not “put all the pieces of the puzzle together” concerning his business but feels “good enough now to move forward” with a campaign.
Okay, fine. But he told VPR’s Peter Hirschfeld that he’d settled on a plan: keeping his ownership, but creating a firewall:
“Well, it’s to actually put a blind trust in… that I would put somebody in my place to take over, if I was successful, until I decided to not be governor anymore,” Scott says. “I would absolutely have no control and no input into the operations of the business.”
Hmm. And then we turn to VTDigger, where we get yet another variation on a theme.
Scott, who has run the company for 30 years, says he will step down if he is elected governor. He said the plans for who would take his place in the interim are still underway. “It’s not like flipping a switch,” he said.
Curiouser and curiouser.
Well, it’s possible to see the VPR and Digger accounts as kinda-sorta similar, if you squint real hard. Both refer to some sort of “interim” leadership, although “he will step down” implies far greater finality than “blind trust.” And even if you rationalize the VPR and Digger versions, that still leaves Goswami’s “I haven’t figured it out yet.”
Scott pleads for understanding, because Dubois is his livelihood and his retirement plan: “I don’t have stocks and bonds, I don’t have any other investments.” Which sounds nice and wholesome, except that a former Governor will never have a hard time making ends meet. There are always opportunities for people like him. I very much doubt you’ll ever see Ex-Gov. Scott begging for spare change.
I’ll tell you this: if he opts for some sort of “blind trust,” the ethical questions will not go away. Well, they shouldn’t, anyway.
If Scott goes with a blind trust, he wouldn’t know how the business is being managed or its money is invested. But when Dubois bids for a state contract, that’s easily accessible information. He would obviously know that Dubois — and his investment therein — are significantly dependent on winning state business. There would be nothing, except for Phil Scott’s essential goodness, to prevent him from influencing the process.
And if you’re comfortable believing in a politician’s essential goodness, even Phil Scott’s, then I’ve got a bridge to sell you.
In recent years, Vermont Republicans have been staunch supporters of ethics reforms. We’ll see if they change their tune because their golden boy wants to keep his money in the construction business.
Of course, Scott’s situation could induce the heretofore reluctant Democratic Legislature to actually create some ethics standards with muscle. Perhaps even an independent Ethics Commission, whose first case might just be the legality of Phil Scott’s “blind trust.”
And then there’s Bruce Lisman. For years, he’s been banging the drum for ethics and transparency. By all rights, he should seize on the issue and put pressure on Scott. Lisman can claim the high ground on ethics, and he must be looking for ways to positively differentiate himself from an extremely popular rival. Of, to put it another way, sling some mud on the Incorruptible Phil.
I have a feeling we’re just getting started on this question. Or we should be.