Still the Luckiest Man in Vermont

Today’s State of the State Address was another exercise in Repurposed Content. Gov. Phil Scott is still leaning on the usual uncatchy catchphrases and political shibboleths, and recycling the same points he’s been making since 2015.

There ‘s not a lot new to say about this midwinter summer rerun, so I’m going to follow Governor Nice GuyTM‘s example and repurpose some old content myself. Because as Scott’s address made clear, it’s still true.

Last January, I wrote a post called “The Luckiest Man in Vermont,” which noted that Scott has rarely faced a political challenge in all his election campaigns. He floated to the top due to circumstance and his brand of bland, passive-aggressive charm. On top of that, the pandemic has given him a tremendous political gift.

I’m not talking about the credit he’s gotten, merited and otherwise, for his handling of Covid-19. I’m talking about the ever-flowing Niagara of federal relief funds buoying our economy and fattening public treasuries. Today’s speech re-emphasized that fact.

Scott even made an oblique reference to his own good fortune, noting the “silver lining” of federal aid resulting from the pandemic. Those federal dollars have allowed him to spend freely on a bunch of items he’d otherwise be rolling out so slowly that a tortoise would be tapping his wrist and rolling his eyes. This isn’t ending anytime soon; as state economists Tom Kavet and Jeffrey Carr noted last January, the federal flow is likely to continue for a couple more years at least.

Which should just about take Scott to the possible end of his governorship without any serious conflict. It’ll make him nigh-unbeatable this November unless something truly disastrous happens. (Omicron alone isn’t nearly big enough to do that.) It’s likely to make him unbeatable in 2024 if he decides to run for an historic fifth term.

For starters, the inevitable conflicts with the Legislature will be on lesser issues. There shouldn’t be any more budget vetoes. There shouldn’t be any tax increases — if anything, there’s talk of tax cuts. There’s a lot of common ground between executive and legislative on what kinds of investments to make with the Biden Bucks. There’s every reason to think that 2022’s budget will pass as easily as 2021’s.

Just imagine. Scott, who has permanently co-opted the Republican nomination for any office he chooses, will rightly be able to boast of record-high investments in climate change, housing, education, workforce training and recruitment, infrastructure, and more. If the communication union districts fulfill their promise, Scott will go down in history as The Man Who Made Universal Broadband a Reality.

How in blue hell does any Democrat run against all of that? Especially when Democratic leaders, right up to Pat Leahy and Bernie Sanders, happily stand next to Scott whenever another tranche of federal funds is approved? (Interestingly, Scott went out of his way to praise Leahy and Sanders today while not uttering the name “Peter Welch” at all. But nooooo, Phil Scott is not a politician, heh.)

I’m not saying that the pandemic is the best thing that’s ever happened to the governor personally. I’m sure it weighs heavily on him. He and his people have had to work very hard and make a lot of difficult choices. But in purely political terms, the pandemic IS the best thing that’s ever happened to Scott.

And it’s the gift that will keep on giving.

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