The Governor Sounds Retreat

The Detritus of Gov. Scott’s Emergency Housing Policy, Left Behind In His Retreat

What a stouthearted guy. What a champion of principle.

What a fraud.

All it took was a few days of bad publicity to induce Gov. Phil Scott to execute a complete 180 on the state’s emergency housing program. After days of resolute insistence that the program had to expire as scheduled this Friday, he turned tail and ran — announcing in a written statement (courage!) that he will allow the program to continue until the end of this year. Between now and then, the federal government picks up the entirety of the tab. Which meant that his now-inoperative stubbornness on ending the program was nothing but a bit of fluff, a purely political stance, since ending the program now wouldn’t have saved the state a dime.

And really, the year-end deadline is equally meaningless since, as VTDigger reported, the Legislature has already apportioned $36 million in federal Covid relief money to keep the program running indefinitely into the new year.

It’s not often that Scott gets caught in a purely political act. But that’s exactly what this is. There can be no valor, no respect, in this abject retreat.

And this is the second time he’s pulled this maneuver. He did the same in September: Insisting on an end to the program only to capitulate when things got a little hot.

The real shame is that it would have been simple for him to retake the high ground.

All he had to do was walk a half block from the Pavilion Building to the Statehouse steps, where a group of housing advocates have been camping out in protest, credit them on their dedication, and humbly announce that he had seen the light on the issue.

And don’t tell me he’s incapable of stdoing so. It’s exactly what he did in 2018 when he signed a series of gun restrictions in front of the Statehouse in full view of supporters and opponents. Some of those most upset with Scott were only a few feet away as he signed the bills into law. If he can face hundreds of angry gun owners, why not a small group of housing advocates?

Instead,, he turtled and let a written statement speak for him. I guess the specter of Brenda Siegel and a few allies in sleeping bags was just too much for him.

The governor is trying to pull the politician’s favorite trick: Seeing which way the crowd is going and quickly running to the front so he can seem like A True Leader.

Well, bunk.

He has reached the correct decision, but deserves no credit for it. His brinksmanship put hundreds of homeless Vermonters in imminent risk of losing their temporary housing. And for what? Just to maintain a little suspense? To give him an appearance of leadership that vanishes in a puff of smoke when he retreats?

This makes Scott look weak both ways. He established a strong position only to abandon it at the first signs of trouble. Will he be taken seriously the next time he claims to stand on principle?

His announcement Monday included some bells and whistles designed to make him look like a leader. He called for a new program to let the homeless apply for longer stays in motel rooms. He called on the Legislature to act on a series of efforts to maintain rental housing and boost construction. (He also wants some handouts for landlords and motel operators because they’re the real victims here, right?)

This won’t be enough for the advocates on the Statehouse steps or their progressive allies inside. They want the clock turned back to June, when hundreds more were kicked out of the program. Are they sleeping on the streets or under overpasses or on Sears Lane in Burlington? Have they dissipated into the mists?

Wherever they are, they’re nothing but an inconvenience to the administration, proof that Scott’s blather about protecting the most vulnerable is just that and nothing more.

If it takes an imminent deadline and strong political pressure to make him care, then he doesn’t really care at all.

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