The Phil Scott conundrum

Two truisms at war:

1. Vermont faces big challenges, and Vermonters are hungry for a new direction.

2. Phil Scott is the apparent front-runner for governor.

Does anybody else see anything wrong with this picture?

Just about everyone agrees that we face a bunch of big problems. Some solutions are in process, more or less successfully (Lake Champlain, school reorganization, health care reform) and others lie squarely in front of us (the annual budget gap, an outmoded tax system, soaring Medicaid costs, bad demographics, wage stagnation).

Vermont Republicans offer an apocalyptic vision of a Vermont bankrupted by Democratic mismanagement and prodigality. Democrats and Progressives acknowledge a long list of challenges we face.

And yet Phil Scott, a man who’s made his political bones by being inoffensive, and whose “platform” so far is about as radical as a bowl of oatmeal, looks to be leading the field. And those Republicans, who view Vermont as teetering on the brink of disaster and in need of far-reaching, fundamental change, would be perfectly happy to elect good ol’ Phil.

Er, that’s the same Phil Scott who happily served in Governor Shumlin’s cabinet and worked with the administration on a variety of issues. At least, he happily did so until he got the gubernatorial itch himself, and started distancing himself from the incumbent.

And then there was last week’s VTDigger Dialogue, bringing together the gubernatorial candidates to discuss our economic challenges. That dialogue produced “general agreement between the Democratic and Republican candidates.”

“What struck me was the amount of agreement there was,” said Eric Davis, a retired professor of political science at Middlebury College who attended the event. “I think there was more consensus than disagreement, it didn’t come across as a partisan event at all.”


The Republicans yammer about an affordability “crisis,” the Dems’ “fiscally irresponsible” ways and “failed policies,” and yet Phil Scott and Bruce Lisman were largely on the same page as Matt Dunne and Sue Minter.


This is the Phil Scott who talks, on his campaign website, of working cooperatively across the aisle, of open-mindedness, of “practical leadership.” Sure, he utters generalities about “a different direction,” but he offers no specifics on what kind of direction he has in mind. And there’s nothing in Phil Scott’s political record to suggest that he’d suddenly become a firebrand in the corner office.

Besides, if he has to work with a Statehouse full of Democrats*, how different could his leadership be? Especially when he comes to the Digger Dialogue and offers the same views as the rest of the field?

*The Republicans picked up some ground in 2014, but they’ll face a much larger and more liberal electorate in 2016, plus they’ll be distinct underdogs in most districts, plus it’s been years since they managed to assemble anything like a full slate of candidates.

So what does it all mean? Well, on the Republican side it means they’re so desperate to win the governorship that they’ll back anyone with a chance to win, even if the candidate is a poor fit with their own rhetoric. As for the electorate as a whole? Here’s what I think.

Voters are of two minds. They want change. They want a fairer economy. They want life to be less of a burden. They want more opportunities and the chance to make their kids’ lives better than theirs.

At the same time, they’re tired. They’ve been through a lot in recent years: a great recession, Tropical Storm Irene, Vermont Health Connect, annual budget crises, contentious debates on a wide range of issues. A whole lot of Vermonters are barely making ends meet. Even in liberal circles, there’s a strong conservative streak: a lot of people fear any change that might alter the essential character of Vermont*, including renewable energy or any kind of development that offends them.

*And that “essential character” is apparently so weak that the slightest breeze could pulverize it into dust.

Besides all that, the prospect of significant change in any aspect of government sparks more fear than hope. Just look at recent debates over tax reform or school governance: the naysayers always come out in force, and their loud, united voices are hard to ignore.

Put all that together, and maybe the desire for some stability — even stagnation — outweighs the push for positive change. Maybe Vermonters would rather have that steady hand, that consultative leader who values community and avoids conflict.

Maybe they’ve had too much spicy food in their politics, and enter The 2016 Café thinking a nice bowl of oatmeal would really hit the spot.

4 thoughts on “The Phil Scott conundrum

  1. James Maroney

    Hi John: I am a recent subscriber to your newsletter and I enjoy your insight and brevity. In this latest about Phil Scott, I agree that he is so soft focus, it might make JimDouglas look like a go getter. You mention that Vermont is on track to solving certain problems like the lake but it is nowhere near in process to fix this problem only to shield the real cause, which is conventional agriculture. If you would care to know more, here is a link to a paper I wrote recently in which I expand upon the point.


  2. Wallace Nolen

    I think that after all of the facts get aired about Phil Scott, I am sure no one will wish to vote for him for even dog catcher. For 13 years he claims he has run his “Wheels For Fuel”

    According to the VT Secretary of State he only registered that name as a d/b/a [doing business as] in 2013. That means for 11 year he violated Vermont’s general business laws by doing business under any name other than his birth name.

    He makes it appear in all his radio, television and print ads that he is running some sort of not for profit corporation. As above he cannot be a not-for-profit corporaton unless he has formed a true duly constitute corporation. Go to the Vermont Secretary of State’s website and see for yourself. He is still a “d/b/a”.

    Go to the Internal Revenue website and check for not-for-profit corporations that are legally not-for-profit organization. Neither Phil Scott individual not any of his variation names which the program has gone by are listed. Hence he does not nor has ever had not-for-profit status!

    Then we go to the way he operates this “program”. He does not provide any receipts for any purchases or for the $4 for disposal of any tire that doesn’t meet the road safety requirements. This constitutes a violation of the general business law even if he was a not-for-profit.

    At none of these events has he posted (as required) any certificate to collect sales tax on the tires he sells nor on the tires that people wish to get rid of that do not meet the safety requirements. Again even if he is a not-for-profit (i.e. Salvation Army) he must collect sales tax at the rate of 6% and he must remit all of the money collected. HEY PHIL SCOTT – – – – – LET”S SEE PROOF THAT YOU PAID 6% SALES TAXES AS REQUIRED! If you didn’t charge and collect the 6% from the buyer – YOU AS SELLER MUST PAY THE SALES TAX! LET’S SEE THE RECEIPTS TO PROVE YOU PAID THE SALES TAXES REQUIRE MR. SCOTT!!

    Then let’s look at the parking at both the Mendon and Middlesex locations. The Americans With Disabilities Act (“ADA”) requires even for events like these that there be at least one properly lined and signed VAN ACCESSIBLE PARKING SPACE which is closest to the event as possible. Even on non-event days at both locations he and Casella Waste have a single space which the blue/regular signs are not at least 60 inches from the bottom of the sign to the ground upon which they are mounted but not the required “VAN ACCESSIBLE” sign. Neither locations have the required pavement markings.

    The ADA requires that for every 25 spaces he must have a regular handicapped parking space properly lined and signed. For every 150 spaces that space must be a properly lined-signed VAN ACCESSIBLE PARKING SPACE!

    Go to either his Construction company site or Casella’s Mendon site and see if he is in compliance with the ADA handicapped parking requirements.

    Now the biggest question of them all! Is Phil Scott going to give up professional or even amateur race car driving? Imagine you are one of his competing race car opponents in a racing event. In front of you is Phil Scott the elected governor of Vermont. Your goal is to win the race, but if you try to pass the “Gov” and something goes wrong do you want on your conscious for the rest of your life that you may cause serious injury to the Governor simply because you wanted to win the race? I cannot see why someone hasn’t raised this issue even since he became Lieutenant Governor. [Talk about questionable decisions.]

    If Mr. Scott cannot prove beyond any doubt that I am wrong about any or all of these facts, then he ought to resign as Lieutenant Governor and definitely should never again try to be in any official capacity – not a dog catcher and certainly not as Lieutenant Governor never mind GOVERNOR!

  3. newzjunqie

    I fail to recognize how any of the ‘charges’ makes LG Phil Scott a criminal, unfit for office or soils his reputation.

    I would guess the charges have been forwarded to the proper authorities. If not that is the place for reporting abuse of office, malfeasance and dereliction.

    The numerous fine details give the appearance of a hatchet job. I would guess ya don’t like Phil Scott! Different strokes I reckon.

    Facing an uphill battle if attempting to paint VT’s beaming ray of sunshine as a closet career crim.

  4. Wallace S. Nolen

    As the television show ‘Dragnet’ character – Sergeant Joe Friday use to say – “. . . just the facts . . .”. One would think that someone running for public office — never mind the sitting Lieutenant Governor who is running for Governor would comply with any and all federal and state laws! The Americans With Disabilities Act celebrated 25 years old in July 2015.

    Interesting enough despite the complaints filed as well as these postings neither Mr. Scott nor Casella Waste have corrected these (and other) ADA violations.

    What does Mr. Scott have that gives him the right to violate federal and state laws? Regardless what intent Mr. Scott had for these violations wouldn’t you think that he would at least comply with the laws in the future? Why doesn’t he want to produce receipts that show or tend to show that he paid sales tax as required by state laws? Why wouldn’t he comply with the requirements that he have properly lined/signed van accessible and regular parking spaces at his Middlesex offices?

    Why would anyone want to vote for any candidate that not only cannot comply with federal and state laws but who is totally silent as to providing proof:

    1) That he paid sales tax that he was/is required to collect for the 13 years that he has been running this program?

    2) That he provide a valid excuse for not registering his assumed business name that for 10 years (until 2013) and only after I filed a formal complaint against him with the Vermont Secretary of state did he file?

    3) That he paid to the Vermont Secretary of State the penalties required for not having filed for 10 years as required by state law.

    4) That he (and CASELLA WASTE) have complied with all of the requirements of the Americans With Disabilities Act?

    5) That he has informed the general public that his program isn’t ((AND STILL IS NOT) properly registered as a “not-for-profit” corporation meaning that if it isn’t a “not-for-profit” company than it must be a “for profit” company.

    Perhaps there should be some kind of investigation as to why Mr. Scott has been allowed to violate state and federal laws without any ramifications whatsoever!

    I happen to be a disabled individual who was unable to get to either of his locations in a timely manner because of the multitude of violations of the Americans With Disabilities Act. I would consider supporting anyone else other than Mr. Scott or other individual who thinks that he/she can violate federal and state laws.

    You will note that I have provided by real name unlike newzjunqie . What motive do you have for aiding and abetting Mr. Scott (and other governmental officials) misdeeds? What do you have to gain for supporting someone regardless of their position who repeatedly violates federal and state laws?


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