Editor’s note: This is the first in a two-part series of profiles on Vermont’s five gubernatorial candidates by the St. Albans Messenger leading up to the August primary. See Democratic candidates Matt Dunne, Peter Galbraith and Sue Minter in next week’s Colchester Sun.
By TOM BENTON, Messenger staff writer
This election season’s early polls favor Lt. Gov. Phil Scott in the Republican gubernatorial race. He holds a 45 percent lead over newcomer Bruce Lisman in the most recent poll.
“Vermonters want a steady hand on the wheel,” Scott explained.
Scott knows a few things about this. He’s served as lieutenant governor for five years and maintains a 70 percent approval rating, according to a recent Castleton University survey.
But he’s raced stock cars much longer. Scott said his racing philosophy is as simple as treating people the way he wants to be treated. It’s won him five track championships and earned him the most wins at Thunder Road track in Barre.
Scott said he applies the same philosophy to politics. Though he’s always served in the minority, he said, he’s learned how to work successfully with the Democratic majority.
“It’s about trust. It’s about how you treat each other,” he said. “I don’t play political games. It’s not about ego or power. It’s about public service. “
Scott pointed to nine unsolicited endorsements from Democratic senators in the last election.
“That tells me that I’m willing to listen, to work together — that I give credit where credit’s due,” he said.
Scott has presided over the Senate for the last five years, using fairness as his guiding principle, he said.
“There are some times when I’d love to rule a different way, because of the way I feel in my own heart — but I resist that,” Scott said. “I try to deal with it as judicially as possible. You have to gain faith and trust in people.”
Scott thinks people want authenticity in their leaders.
“They don’t see the legislature living within its means,” he said. “They see the legislature having these overoptimistic projections on where we’ll be. We need to put people on the same page, to pull them in the same direction.”
How do you do that? First and foremost, Scott said, you focus on the economy.
“We haven’t paid attention to the economy in the last seven years or more,” he said. “Two years ago, we had 1,200 bills introduced in the legislature. We found 30 bills that would have had a positive effect on the economy. Three of those passed. That doesn’t tell me we prioritize the economy enough.”
Scott means to attract a crucial demographic of people aged 25 to 45, a population that has steadily declined, a trend he realized during his “Everyday Jobs” initiative, when he spent days working multiple jobs to better understand his constituents.
For Scott, the answer is affordable housing. He pointed to the 10,000 students who annually graduate from Vermont colleges and universities, calling them a captive audience.
“We have to find ways to keep them here,” he said. “We have to recognize that people are changing, and we have to change with that.”
Scott also reflected on health care, saying the proposed all-payer system “sounds good on paper.” The state is negotiating with the federal government for permission to implement the model, which would give providers a set amount of funds to care for residents of a specific area.
“This type of model could pull us back towards taking care of the patient,” Scott said.
Still, he believes Vermonters have lost faith after the failure of Gov. Peter Shumlin’s proposed single-payer system, which proved too expensive, and the widely lamented Vermont Health Connect website.
“I worry [all-payer] could create a monopoly among health care providers in this state. I’ve been assured that isn’t the case, but the fact that that isn’t clear just shows we need to be better educated before we sign off on anything,” he said.
Scott was quick to clarify the state’s controversial school consolidation law, Act 46, “wouldn’t have been a piece of legislation I would have crafted.”
He called the landmark legislation a “hurried” fix for property tax relief, but said if it hadn’t passed, “we wouldn’t be having these difficult conversations.
“It needs incentives, and it needs flexibility,” he said.
Scott hopes his proposals will result in 700,000 new residents within the next 15 years, more than doubling the state’s population.
He also emphasized what he sees as the core values of Republicanism — frugality, volunteering, giving back and efficient government.
Scott said he’s never run a negative campaign, and calls fellow candidate Lisman’s jabs “disappointing.” Lisman has called Scott ineffective and connected him with Gov. Shumlin’s policies.
“With Bruce, what bothers me the most is it’s not factual,” Scott said. “It’s petty. Bruce says, ‘I’m not the usual politician, I don’t do the usual things.’ It sounds pretty typical to me. It sounds like D.C. politics all over again.”
Instead, Scott emphasizes the need for Vermonters to “pull in the same direction.”
But that’s not to say he won’t rev his engine. Scott described his self-defensive philosophy like — what else? — driving.
“On I-89, when someone cuts you off, and they do something really stupid, your first reaction is to get angry,” he said. “Maybe you want to go up beside them, give them the finger, cut them off — people do that. If it’s a mistake, I let it go. But if they do it to me a couple times, then I take action.”
He insists he takes the job of governor “very seriously” — but he’d still like to race occasionally if time allows.
And when it comes to racing, Scott said, he’s ready for any challenge.