Throughout the gubernatorial campaign, there were two very different Phil Scotts to be inferred. One was the good guy compromiser who wants to get everybody in a room and work everything out in a broadly tripartisan way.
The other? The business owner whose first venture ran afoul of Act 250, whose current company and favorite hobby are both heavily invested in fossil fuels, whose campaign kickoff took place at the annual convention of Vermont road contractors, who sometimes dog-whistled on issues like abortion, and who frequently made reference to consulting business leaders when making policy.
The first, a moderate in the classic mode. The second, a creature of the fiscally conervative business community.
The first, a candidate who attracted quite a few moderate and liberal voters. The second, a target for suspicion in many liberal circles, including this little tiny one. A suspicion fueled by his single-minded focus on reining in the budget without any tax or fee increases, at a time when (1) we might be in for significant federal cutbacks and (2) we still have an antiquated tax system with multiple revenue sources that aren’t keeping up.
So anyway, two Phils.
And so far since his election, there’s a rather scant mix of portents on view. Too Soon To Tell which Phil we’re getting, although I’m leaning slightly toward the optimistic side.
We’ll start with signs of the Good Phil.
There was that joint statement with Governor Shumlin, calling on Vermonters to “present a unified voice urging compassion, commitment to community and fierce dedication to equal rights and justice” during “this time of national discord.”
There’s the need to anoint a replacement for TJ Donovan as Chittenden County State’s Attorney. Seven Days’ Mark Davis reports that Scott will consult Donovan on his replacement; and a list of potential successors includes two Donovan deputies and a couple of Democratic or Dem-leaning attorneys. A more dogmatic fellow would see an opening to slip a Republican into a usually safe Democratic seat.
Less quantifiable but nonetheless noteworthy: a general tone of inclusiveness and a relative lack of hard-line markers. Lots of “we’ll sees”.
Signs of the Bad Phil: His transition team is larded with veterans of the Jim Douglas administration plus staffers from his campaign. He has yet to appoint any Democrats, Progressives, or independents to his team. It is still early, though.
There was his post-election claim of a “mandate,” and his assertion that the voters put the Legislature on notice.
By, um, re-electing almost all of them? And tilting the partisan balance slightly to the left?
At that same presser, Scott said he wants to create “a business-friendly environment,” which is a whole symphony of dog whistles.
In sum, there’s evidence for suspicion and for anticipation. The deciding factor for me, that makes me lean toward the very cautiously optimistic view?
Governor Scott will have to work with a Democratic Legislature. They don’t have a veto-proof majority, but they have plenty of power to block unpalatable proposals. If Scott wants to advance his agenda, he will have to find common ground with Democrats.
This will be even more critical if, as I suspect, the election of Donald Trump will bring cuts in federal funding. I think — I hope — that Scott is perceptive enough to see that his best chance for a successful administration is to reach across the aisles, rather than pursuing a conservative agenda.
And one more thing. I doubt that Phil Scott thinks in terms of bare-knuckle politics, but if he did, he’d know that he owes the Republicans nothing. He ran far ahead of the rest of the ticket, basically winning the race entirely on his own. If anyone in the VTGOP was inclined to press an agenda, he wouldn’t have any practical reason to abandon a centrist course in favor of conservative dogma.
On the other hand, you know about me and predictions.