Is Peter Shumlin starting to act like a lame duck? It would seem so. To judge by this week’s paltry trinkle of news, he looks to have one eye fixed on the past and the other on his post-gubernatorial future. And he’s already given up on fixing one major debit in his administrative ledger.
As VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports, Shumlin opposes any tax increases to pay for Vermont’s burgeoning Medicaid bill, but he doesn’t want to cut eligibility or benefits either. In fact, he’s washing his hands of the whole mess.
“I don’t know which governor is going to get to solve this problem,” he added. “But I hope a governor gets to solve it soon.”
“…once I’m safely ensconced in the private sector with my lissome new bride,” he might have added under his breath.
Yeah, screw the 2016 session. The Governor, you see, proposed a Medicaid fix last year and the Legislature ungratefully rejected it. So he’s done his duty, and hereby washes his hands of the matter.
You might recall his proposal for a payroll tax, which he sprung on the Legislature in his January budget address and then watched as it slowly sank beneath the waves.
It was just the most recent instance of a recurring theme throughout his administration: announcing a major proposal with great fanfare in January only to witness its death of a thousand cuts under the Golden Dome. (See also: proposed cuts in Reach Up and the Earned Income Tax Credit, and the slow-motion death rattle of single-payer health care.) From the outside, it appeared as though he did little to prepare the ground for his big ideas, and did almost as little after their introduction to overcome legislative obstacles.
It’s funny in a really sad way, since one of Shumlin’s great strengths as Senate leader was his ability to keep a finger on the pulse. He lost that golden touch upon his ascension to the corner office, and it only seemed to get worse as time went on. Which is One Neat Trick for squandering a historic opportunity with one-party control of the legislative and executive branches.
Well, to be fair, he didn’t squander it. He just failed to accomplish nearly as much as he could have. Just as a f’rinstance, the tax system and state government itself badly needed reinvention in an age of diminishing revenues and an increasingly stingy job market. Instead, it’s been five-plus years of patch-and-fill, with another year in prospect.
Speaking of accomplishments, the day after Shumlin disavowed any responsibility for a Medicaid fix, his administration unveiled its effort to write the first draft of history: a website chronicling all the positive aspects of Shumlin’s governorship.
Including plenty of graphs with conveniently limned Y-axes, dramatizing the progress and minimizing the setbacks. Or ignoring them altogether; “single payer health care” was relegated to the dustbin of his bespoke web designer’s vocabulary.
Granted, the Governor has had some notable accomplishments. Strides have been made in energy policy. The social safety net has been preserved or even expanded in tough budget times. Some economic progress has been made in the face of strong headwinds. Health care is available to many more Vermonters, and Vermont Health Connect seems, finally, to be on track to success.
There’s more as well. But when I look at the golden opportunity presented to the Democrats in the 2010 election and extended through two more election cycles, it’s hard not to be underwhelmed. The Democrats earned a genuine mandate that afforded them the chance to introduce real change — while remaining basically immune from the short-term political blowback involved in taking radical steps.
Some of the responsibility belongs at the feet of our ever-timorous lawmakers, who were basically safe from electoral challenge but still acted as if any hint of bravery would result in an overwhelming backlash. But Shumlin was the leader, the executive, and he gets the lion’s share of the blame.
His “2016 State of the State” website makes the case for Shumlin as a successful, pathbreaking Governor. It tells part of the story from a single point of view.
Will it help to define Shumlin’s legacy? Naah.
And neither will the 2016 session, if the Governor continues to dodge the tough issues and shift responsibility elsewhere.