The Best Part of It Was This Guy

After almost an hour of pomp and circumstance (as befits the Green Mountain Boys’ home turf, actually no), Gov. Phil Scott was sworn into office on Thursday and delivered his fourth inaugural address.

We’ll get to all that, but first let’s deal with the highlight of the day: François Clemmons, actor, singer, writer, teacher, the friendly cop in Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, and Vermont treasure, singing the national anthem with joy, spirit, and power. Good stuff.

(Skip to the 28th minute and enjoy.)

As for the inaugural… on the Phil Scott “Meh” Scale, it was… slightly better than “meh.” He laid out a series of issues that went beyond the usual stuff about workforce and demographics. Oh, those things were in there too, but so were climate change, housing, the opioid epidemic, mental health, and “accountability” in law enforcement. (Trigger warning: His vision of that issue comes straight out of the law ‘n order playbook.)

There was a blessed lack of snide remarks about those who disagree with him, but his customary implication that “working together” means abandoning your ideas in favor of his.

The unifying message of the speech was that we must do more to help rural Vermont catch up with the bigger communities in quality of life and economic opportunity. As I listened to him, I started to realize something: This is a false dichotomy.

We’ve heard “Two Vermonts” rhetoric before from politicians of every stripe. And yes, rural Vermont lags behind in jobs, education, infrastructure, and a whole lot more.

But the cities have problems of their own. They may have broadband, they may have a wide range of opportunities (for many, but not nearly all), but there isn’t a small town in Vermont that has to worry about traffic, density, the challenges of diversity, large-scale drug trafficking, and how to pay for the kind of robust government that people need and expect in a larger community.

Example: There isn’t a place in Vermont that has a worse housing situation than Burlington.

Scott’s address implied that his focus would be entirely on rural Vermont, while the cities can go hang. That includes deeply troubled cities like Barre, St. Johnsbury, Rutland and Bennington. Really?

That’s my big disagreement with Scott’s speech. There are others.

When he spoke of “law enforcement and accountability,” there was no talk of, well, accountability. Instead, we heard about “well-intentioned reforms that have unintended consequences” (lookin’ at you, Sarah Fair George) and “divisive rhetoric” that hampers recruitment and retention in police departments. Apparently the only people evading “accountability” are justice-reformin’ liberals.

Scott had some strong words on addressing climate change. But when you look at what he actually said, you realize that he hasn’t changed his position by an inch. His entire focus was on electric vehicles and housing. No talk whatsoever of developing renewable energy, which is one of the surest bets for creating and sustaining new jobs in Vermont. He spoke of the need to meet our climate goals, but he didn’t specify which ones. His administration has already signaled that he isn’t much concerned about hitting our 2025 and 2030 greenhouse gas reduction targets, and that isn’t going to change.

On housing, his prescription was regulatory reform. There was no talk of further investments in housing development. We’ll just cut all the red tape and let the free market solve our problems.

He also hasn’t budged an inch on taxes. He still opposes any new taxes or tax increases. “This is not the time to increase the burden on anyone,” he said, which makes it seem as if all Vermonters are equally stressed by taxes. Our system is less regressive than most other states’, but it still needs work. Top earners can definitely afford to pay more. Let’s not allow him to paint this issue entirely in terms of hard-workin’ Vermonters shakin’ their heads over their tax bills.

His answer to limited public resources is the same as ever: economic growth. “More taxpayers means more taxes,” he said, as if a bigger workforce is free revenue. In truth, a larger Vermont would also be costlier to govern. Relative state tax burdens seem to have little to do with size or growth.

Scott also returned to a favored theme: We were doing great until that darn pandemic came along. His policies were working a treat, see? He was well on his way to making Vermont a paradise, but then the virus came along and wrecked everything. Yeah, sorry, it’s not nearly so simple. We had plenty of problems in February 2020; Covid just made them worse and more obvious.

“Cradle to career” made its inevitable appearance. He’s been talking about an education/child care system that starts at birth and extends through job training or higher learning. He’s entering his eighth year of “cradle to career,” and he has yet to deliver an actual policy proposal. That’s because for him, “cradle to career” means taking from K-12 public education to spend more on pre-K and post-12. The details of such a proposal would be (a) dead on arrival in the Legislature and (b) political poison. So, he just keeps on repeating the empty phrase.

And yes, Scott still opposes a universal paid family and medical leave program. He won’t go beyond his voluntary approach, with its limited reach and inadequate benefits.

After all of this, Scott ended with a plea to “work together.” Sounds nice, but he’s drawn so many hard and fast lines that there’s precious little room for compromise. Nope, his vision of bipartisanship is the same as it ever was: let’s work together on my policies, not yours.

Finally, a parting gift: Once and future Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman doing what everybody does in our smartphone-crazed society: Experiencing a big moment through the lens of his phone.


1 thought on “The Best Part of It Was This Guy

  1. montpelier28

    I’ve been waiting for all the “free” money to run out and see what happens in Montpelier as well as all the towns when that money is spent, and they are loving spending it.


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