Nice Guy Sets Record for Not Being Nice

The inevitable has finally happened. Gov. Phil Scott has bested Howard Dean’s all-time record for gubernatorial vetoes — and he did it in less than half the time it took Dean.

On Tuesday, Scott issued his second and third vetoes of 2021, bringing his total to 22 in four-and-a-half years in office. Dean was in office for 12 years, and racked up a total of 20 vetoes. (In its story on Tuesday’s vetoes, Seven Days did not mention the record.)

Tell me again how nice a guy Scott is, and how much he values cooperation across the aisle.

Scott’s latest rejections were on charter changes for Winooski and Montpelier that would have allowed noncitizen residents to vote in local elections. He would prefer a uniform statewide policy — which, not for nothing, he knows will never happen.

These vetoes will raise hackles in communities that believe the state has too much authority over local charters. It does seem awfully paternalistic, especially when voters in Winooski and Montpelier had approved the changes by overwhelming margins. But hey, “local control” in Vermont is essentially a myth, albeit a deeply cherished myth.

Dean and Scott’s records are similar in many respects. Both issued some truly substantive vetoes, such as Scott’s three budget vetoes. Both wielded the big red rubber stamp for some curious or seemingly insignificant reasons. For instance, Dean’s very first veto was on a bill to legalize sparklers, which the good doctor saw as a looming threat to life and limb.

Scott’s unique contribution to the literature is the objection on legal or constitutional grounds that are visible to him and his chief counsel Jaye Pershing Johnson, and no one else. He has vetoed multiple bills that would have established commissions or other boards not completely under the governor’s control. For example, 2018’s S.281, a bill to address issues of systemic racism. Among other things, it would have set up a Racial Equity Advisory Panel with five members, only one of whom would have been appointed by the governor.

In his veto message, Scott asserted that such a panel would be unconstitutional. The office of Legislative Counsel didn’t see any such issue, and Scott didn’t advance this argument earlier in the legislative process, when it might have received thorough consideration.

That’s often the path Scott chooses: To stay at a remove until a bill reaches his desk, and then producing — sometimes out of nowhere — a rationale for blocking the bill. Legislative leaders have often complained about this strategy. They say many of Scott’s vetoes could have been prevented if only he’d raised his concerns earlier.

But hey, Phil Scott’s gonna Phil Scott. Still, it ought to put some serious dents in his reputation as a go-along, get-along compromiser and all-around good guy.


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