For Governor-elect Peter Shumlin on this post election Wednesday in Vermont, the sun is shining and the mood is upbeat. The Democrat won a narrow race for the state’s top spot and he will be greeted by a Legislature firmly in the control of his party on a scale Vermont has not seen since the domineering days of the Republican Party several decades ago.
But with such political dominance comes a need for restraint and humility. Shumlin’s particular challenge will be to govern from the political middle, to keep the progressive wing of the party content to make progress step-by-step and to avoid over-reaching. Liberal supporters must be convinced that progress cannot be made on many of the social issues without first creating a vibrant economy.
Shumlin’s more immediate task is to assemble a team and coalesce around an agenda that is ambitious, while remaining fiscally responsible. The first challenge is to deal with a $112 million fiscal deficit in the upcoming budget. The second is to pare down his list of pre-election priorities to those most important to Vermont’s fiscal health and to his first two-year term.
As importantly, Shumlin must work to rebuild common cause among Vermont’s electorate. This was a negative campaign that has split the state into more disparate factions — including those completely disgusted with state politics — than we are accustomed. Humility will help heal those wounds, as would a diverse cabinet that brings in unexpected points of view, particularly from within the business community regardless of political favor.
Shumlin’s biggest challenge, perhaps, will be learning how to connect to Vermonters in that personal, neighbor-to-neighbor kind of way that puts people at ease. That’s not to say that Shumlin is not a personable guy — he is, and those who know him best praise his integrity and generosity. But his public persona is more of the “mover-and-shaker political tactician who gets things done,” as opposed to the “Mr. Smith goes to Washington” persona of Gov. Douglas or Mr. Dubie. One of the biggest worries opponents have of Shumlin, as noted in the campaign, is that “he gets things done.” But that’s not quite it; rather it’s how he gets it done that creates a sense of unease and wariness.
To that end, Shumlin will have to work extra hard to have his administration be fully transparent, while quietly striving to achieve what one astute observer of the political scene describes as the “sincerity quotient” — that sense that what he says at the moment is what he truly believes, not just what he needs to say at the moment to advance his agenda. No one expects the governor-elect to change skins, but if he’s to become a great governor over the next several years that will be one of the milestones he’ll want to achieve.
Angelo S. Lynn