Gov. Phil Scott sent a letter to Legislative leaders on Thursday that was a tour de force of passive aggressiveness. In it, he said he was signing H.720 despite “a significant error” (italics his). What’s more, he alleged that this was just one of a series of unacceptably typo-ridden bills that has him questioning the Legislature’s basic competence.
As usual with his periodic coruscations of outrage, it’s overstated, mean-spirited and misses the point.
Funny thing for Mr. Nice Guy to be doing over and over again.
Scott felt compelled to express his displeasure despite the fact that the Legislature had already acknowledged the error and promised to fix it in 2023, via a well-established process to correct a bill that didn’t quite hit the bullseye.
The letter is pure condescension through and through. After slamming the Legislature over H.720, he goes on to infer that there were a bunch of bills with typos and mistakes. He doesn’t enumerate them, of course; I interpret that to mean it’s a pretty short list with picayune problems.
Scott concludes by expressing his hope that the 2023 Legislature “will resolve to have a better managed process with greater attention to detail.”
Well, la di da, Mr. Perfect.
The letter ignores the fact that lawmakers themselves are not responsible for drafting bills or proofreading them; that the people who do draft legislation are expected to achieve perfection under ceaseless pressure; and that the lawmaking process is inherently flawed and rushed.
Phil Scott knows this. He served in the Senate for ten years. His letter tries to depict this particular Legislature as uniquely flawed. It’s not. This was, in fact, a pretty darn productive session as these things go. Lawmakers faced a huge agenda full of weighty decisions. They accomplished more than I would have predicted.
Let’s go into some detail. Bills are not written by lawmakers — ever. They are written by a team of lawyers in the Office of Legislative Counsel, who are some of the most impressive public servants I have seen. Routinely, they produce incredible amounts of highly technical writing on short notice. As a bill goes through the committee process, it is often (usually) amended over and over again. Each time, someone in Legislative Counsel has to rewrite the bill. make sure it all works together, and make sure it doesn’t conflict with existing state law. They do all of this with unfailing patience and good grace.
The pressure gets more intense as adjournment approaches, which brings us to Scott’s complaint about “a poorly managed rush towards adjournment.” The former state Senator knows full well that every session of every legislative body ends with a rush to the closing gavel. This session was absolutely normal in this regard. In the rush, some mistakes will inevitably occur.
Which is why the Legislature has an established process to fix mistakes.
Which they have promised to follow.
The error in H.720 cannot be attributed to incompetence on the part of our current legislative leaders. Indeed, Speaker Jill Krowinski and Senate President Pro Tem Becca Balint have had a close working relationship that has kept things moving along much more smoothly than has often been the case.
He knows that, too.
But that doesn’t fit Scott’s narrative. Several times this year, he has presented himself as “the adult in the room,” the political and emotional counterweight to the “children” of the Legislature. That’s an insult to a whole bunch of smart, accomplished, dedicated, well-meaning people.
And he knows it’s an insult. And he wrote it anyway. Wrote it in a formal letter, which is going into the official record for all time.
Usually, the longer a governor stays in office, the more insular and arrogant they become. They get to thinking they are irreplaceable and that the office is theirs by right, not by the sufferance of the people. I don’t know if that’s the case with Phil Scott, but it’s starting to look like it.
Can we please stop calling him a “nice guy”?