Take a close look at the governor’s race this year. You’re looking at two different Vermonts.
Old Vermont is Republican Phil Scott, the current lieutenant governor. He’s a state native, longtime legislator, owner of a construction company and the winningest-ever race car driver at Thunder Road International SpeedBowl.
New Vermont is Democrat Sue Minter, from “away” but a longtime state resident who got her first Vermont job with the Conservation Law Foundation, was a legislator and later ran VTrans.
Scott has recently decided that humans probably play a role in causing climate change – decades after overwhelming scientific evidence made that obvious.
Minter, by contrast, talks about growing Vermont’s green economy and calls climate change “the greatest challenge of our generation.”
Old Vermont is the way Scott drives a piece of heavy equipment in his TV ads. The guy clearly knows his way around an excavator, and he looks great in a $5 wool hat pulled low over his ears on a cold morning.
New Vermont is Minter in one of her TV ads, smartly dressed and standing in the middle of a revitalized Waterbury. She wants that to be a model for bringing other Vermont towns and cities into the 21st century. She knows the effects of climate change first-hand after leading the state’s recovery from Hurricane Irene.
Old Vermont is Scott tweeting from a gun shop.
New Vermont is Minter calling for background checks on all gun purchases.
Jim Douglas – oops, I mean Phil Scott – is an old school moderate Republican of the kind only New England still produces. He says this election is about “affordability.” He’s got “a plan” to spur the state economy and not raise your taxes.
But as veteran political columnist Jon Margolis has noted, it’s not really a plan. Because Scott is short on details and “keeping spending down” is an idea, not a plan.
Nonetheless, Scott is riding his reputation as a race car driver, enthusiastic bicyclist, business owner, sensible Republican and all-around nice guy, to what looks like it will be a photo finish against Minter in an otherwise heavily Democratic state.
We may not know the winner of this race until well into next week.
Scott’s primary foe, Bruce Lisman, did a good job of roughing him up in the primary. In particular, Lisman raised the perfectly appropriate question of whether it was ethical – or not – for Scott’s construction company to take millions in contracts from the State of Vermont while Scott was first in the Legislature and then serving as lieutenant governor.
Scott says it was all legit. There’s been no smoking gun. But anybody who thinks it hurt Scott’s construction business for him to be a prominent state official should take off the rose-colored glasses.
Bernie Sanders – oops, I mean Sue Minter – says she’ll “put Vermont families first.” She wants to keep our young people in state after high school by providing two years of free technical or community college education, funded by a new tax on the banks.
A PAC tied to Planned Parenthood has anted up hundreds of thousands to support Minter, while Scott is backed by big money from a PAC underwritten by the notorious oil-fueled Koch brothers.
Phil Scott opposed requiring most Vermont employers to provide their employees with a minimum of paid sick days. Minter supported that new law.
Minter wants to raise the Vermont minimum wage and talks about achieving equal pay for women.
Scott is against any increase in the Vermont minimum wage — which is now $9.60 an hour and in 2018 will rise to the munificent sum of $10.80 an hour.
$9.60 an hour is less than $20,000 a year.
You try living on that. Then tell Phil Scott how you feel about affordability.
And while you’re at it, ask him about his vote to raise the state sales tax – the one levy that hits lower-income people the hardest – by 20%.
New Vermont Minter has been a stalwart supporter of marriage quality for gays and lesbians.
Scott voted for marriage equality as a state senator. But when it came time to narrowly override then-Gov. Jim Douglas’s veto of marriage equality – well, Scott took a walk. He says now that he had another engagement.
Aside from their policy differences for the state they both love, Minter and Scott seem to bring a very different sensibility to governing.
It’s the Old Vermont way to leave well enough alone. That’s served us well when it comes to traditional ways of life and preserving our world-famous beauty.
But it seems inevitable that Scott’s ascendancy to the governor’s chair would bring us a period of not doing much. No more bold initiatives on the environment, healthcare, marijuana reform, non-dairy agriculture and a green economy that has grown so enormously in the past decade.
Take a load off, Vermont. You’ve worked hard lately. Time to back off for awhile. As state Sen. Chris Bray puts it skeptically, “Take one Phil and call me in the morning.” That’s the message from the Scott campaign.
Minter is clearly more willing to innovate and, in the classic words of the marriage quality campaign, take Vermont forward.
It’s anybody’s guess how this race will end. But I’ll stick my neck out and say that I think Minter will squeak out a victory.
It’s a good year to be a Democrat. And at a time when the Republican presidential nominee has essentially confessed to repeated sexual assault, it’s a good year to be a Democratic woman candidate.
Bernie Sanders has been campaigning hard for Minter and the popular David Zuckerman, the Democratic/Progressive nominee for lieutenant governor.
Does it matter that Minster and Sanders have spent much of the past two weeks barnstorming the state?
Well, let’s just say that Vermont voters love their Bernie.
Many of us thought Minter was an underdog in the Democratic primary. Then she creamed Matt Dunne by 13 points and Peter Galbraith by an even larger margin.
Expect another New Vermont surprise on November 8.
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