Dear Candidates: Your top priority is not what you think it is.

When candidates wants to hammer home a rhetorical point, one of their favorite devices is to declare it “my top priority.” Or, weasel wordly, “a top priority.”

Either way, I’ma here to tall you not one of them has their top priority right. Whoever wins, their top priority has already been assigned.

Like it or not, the biggest single item on the next governor’s to-do list will be Lake Champlain. Thanks to our decades of consistent neglect, we are now under orders from the EPA to create an effective plan to limit nutrient flows into the lake, and take extensive action to clean up the lake.

Both will be costly. The former will impose tougher conditions for growth, tougher effluent standards for farms, developers, road contractors, and municipalities. The latter will require spending on a large scale. Which will require large-scale indebtedness, tax increases, or budget cuts elsewhere. Or all three. And it’s got to be done in a way that satisfies the EPA, no matter its effect on entrenched political interests.

Meanwhile, neither the candidates nor the media are giving this the attention it deserves. It promises to be the dominant issue of the next several years. But to hear the candidates tell it, Lake Champlain is nobody’s top priority.

What’s worse, the collective “top priorities” are a depressing lot, running the gamut from platitudinous to pandering.

The two Republicans, with the slightest of variations, beat the drum for improving the economy.

Bruce Lisman: “My top priority as governor will be to attract and retain business that will hire Vermonters and pay good wages.”

That’s from his campaign website. But on another page, there’s this:

As governor, I will make economic growth a top priority.

“The” top priority, or “a” top priority? Big difference.

Phil Scott: “…we need a governor who will make growing our economy the top priority. That’s why I’m running for Governor.”

Both Republicans make sympathetic noises about Lake Champlain, but neither shows any inclination to impose  regulations that will pass EPA muster. Their Champlain proposals are laughable — except I doubt the feds will be laughing. If the next governor is a Republican, best case, he’ll be tearing up his plan and starting over. Worst case, get set for another lengthy court battle.

The Democrats are all over the place on their top priorities, and none of them really make sense. They all seem to be using “top priority” as a pandering mechanism — trying to appeal to a key constituency or create some space between themselves and their rivals.

Sue Minter: “Democratic gubernatorial candidate Sue Minter says that gun control would be her top priority should she become governor.”

Minter makes an excellent point about the gun issue: that while Vermont generally has low rates of gun-related crime, it’s got an abysmal record in one specific area. Domestic violence. I applaud her call to address the issue. I guess it took a female candidate to take it seriously. But our top priority? Sorry, no.

Matt Dunne: He’s all over the lot. At his campaign launch last fall, he said his top priority was building a Vermont economy that “works for every person in the state.”

That was before Bernie Sanders became a national phenomenon, and Dunne decided to run as Bernie 2.0.

On another occasion, he said his top priority would be “building trust.”

And, of course, he has said that “the first thing” he would do as governor is “ban corporate money from politics, once and for all.” (Which he can’t do. A corporate money ban would require legislative approval. That won’t happen quickly.)

In short, Dunne is just burstin’ with top priorities. He should cut back on the Red Bull.

Peter Galbraith: In a thoroughly transparent pander, Galbraith answered a question from the state employees’ union by making their security his top priority. He referred to his record as a US ambassador, in which “my highest priority was the safety of the American and local staff who worked for the embassy,” and extended the principle to a hypothetical Galbraith administration.

… I would take the same approach to employee security as Governor. It will be my top priority.”

A noble sentiment, but it shouldn’t be top priority.

Not a word from any of them about Lake Champlain. It’s disappointing, and doesn’t speak well for their ability to discern the real challenges awaiting the next governor.

If a candidate came out and flatly stated that crafting an acceptable Champlain plan was top priority, that candidate would have my vote. As it is, I’m still making up my mind.


3 thoughts on “Dear Candidates: Your top priority is not what you think it is.

  1. Macy Franklin

    TOP Priority? Really? Why don’t you ask a family in Windsor or Bennington, or anywhere outside Chittenden County who are contemplating how to pay their property taxes, other bills, or how to send their kids to college what they think the top priority of our candidates should be?
    No one to blame here but the party in power.
    Your Patron Saint Leahy has a monument to himself on the shores of the Lake in Burlington, but what has he ever done to actually clean up the Lake in the 50 bizillian years he’s been in office? Lip service doesn’t count.
    Bernie doesn’t give dog-squeeze about the Lake because it doesn’t conveniently fit into his narrative.
    Shummy – he’s more toxic than the Lake itself.
    And while we’re at it, what about James Elhers, whose full time job has been for many years to clean up the Lake? Oh, that’s right, he’s been too preoccupied putting up pro-Bernie/anti Republican rants on social media.
    Anyone care for a dip in St Albans bay? Pat? Bernie, Peter? Peter? James?

    1. John S. Walters Post author

      Actually, Ehlers works for a nonprofit organization that advocates and promotes a cleaner Lake Champlain. His full-time job is advocacy, not to “clean up the lake” personally.


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