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Editorial: Knowledge, experience are why Shumlin is the better candidate

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Posted on December 31, 2014 |
By Angelo S. Lynn



Next Thursday, the second day of the 2015 legislative session, one of the legislators’ first tasks will likely be their most important vote of the biennium: to decide whether Gov. Peter Shumlin will return to a third term or whether Republican Scott Milne would unseat him in a vote of the Legislature.

The vote has become an issue for two reasons: 1) Milne has not conceded, despite losing the popular vote by 2,400 ballots or 47 percent to 45 percent, and continues to press the Legislature to decide the election in his favor; and 2) neither candidate won by 50 percent, it was a close race, and Milne carried more towns and legislative districts than did the governor.

It is, nonetheless, a specious argument that undermines the premise of a demographic vote for governor, in which every vote cast counts equally. Historically, the last time the Legislature went against the public vote was in 1853, and most pundits agree that it is unlikely this Legislature, which is predominantly Democrat, would vote to unseat the governor.

Nonetheless, it remains a crucial vote and one that has potential drama. Part of that drama lies within another tenet of the state Constitution, which allows the vote to be held by secret ballot. Specifically, it says the vote maybe kept secret, but not that it mustbe secret.

To that end, we embrace an idea proposed by Stowe Reportercolumnist Dave Mattews who suggests legislators agree to make their votes known by publicly stating, as they cast their paper ballots, one of three scenarios: 1) “I vote for Mr. Shumlin,” or 2) “I vote for Mr. Milne,” or 3) “I choose not to disclose my ballot,” and let their constituents follow up accordingly.

Setting a new tradition of making this vote public (such votes have happened 23 times before, including 2010 when Shumlin beat Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie by 49.5 percent to 47.7 percent) would be an important step forward.

**********

As to whom legislators should support, the argument is less subjective.

The primary reason legislators should cast their vote to re-elect Gov. Peter Shumlin is that he won a plurality of the popular vote. In a democracy, the premise that every vote counts equally is a crucial concept. The governor is a statewide candidate and is elected by every voter in the state, not by who wins which town or which district. To reject that premise is to undermine the democratic process. It is also grating to hear legislators hide behind the false call of representing one’s constituents. If ever there were a political cop-out, it’s using that excuse rather than having the political spine to reject flimsy ideas and make decisions based on solid principles. If, for example, a district’s people wanted the state to secede from the union, would legislators vote that way just because a razor thin majority of their constituents supported the idea? Hopefully not.

So, if candidates want to argue that Milne would be a better governor than Shumlin, let them make that case and defend it; but to argue that they should cast their vote for Milne because of how their district voted is nonsense.

Shumlin remains the better candidate for governor for several reasons:

• He has the experience needed to run state government. Not only does he have the administrative team in place and has been in the job for four years, he has served in the Legislature for the better part of two decades and knows how to get things done. Milne has no similar experience.

• Milne has made flippant comments about how easy it would be to run the state as governor, but that’s either bravado or pure ignorance. The state serves many constituencies and one job of the governor is to appease each of those constituencies while balancing the budget. That’s hard enough when the budget is growing; when $100 million in cuts are needed, it’s a task that takes political skill and an intricate knowledge of the smallest details.

• While the governor has postponed the push for single payer, there is still much to accomplish in terms of containing health care costs and creating a system based on patient outcomes rather than on the fee-for-service model. Shumlin has a game plan in motion; Milne had no plans going into the campaign and has made no efforts since the election to suggest what he might do to keep costs contained or how he would go forward.

• Shumlin has also made significant process on the economic front. He has jump-started the state’s solar industry, set the stage for economic growth in start-ups within the tech sector (Burlington is a hotbed of activity along the East Coast), continues to help develop the beverage and food sectors, and his team helped IBM navigate a successful transition to new ownership under GlobalFoundries, which will finally provide some stability and growth to that business instead of the past dozen years of continued decline. Vermont Yankee has shut down and in the process the governor secured a good economic package for decommissioning the plant and providing tax incentives in the region to help spur growth.

• Shumlin has made great strides on improving early education to thousands of Vermont families and creating better opportunities for students moving on to higher education via student loans, grants and programs that lessen the cost of higher education. Milne, on the other hand, proposed a half-baked plan that was widely panned by anyone knowledgeable of the economics of education. Knowledge really does matter. You can’t have the head of the state monkeying around with large systems like education without potentially causing some real problems.

• There’s the cleanup of Lake Champlain, the drug crisis, school finance and, literally, hundreds of other issues that face the administration in any given year. It’s a lot to manage. Anyone who thinks it’s a piece of cake is just not paying attention.

Mr. Milne is a well-intentioned candidate, but he pales in his knowledge of how to run the state government compared to Mr. Shumlin. Moreover, if Milne were serious about his candidacy, one would think he might have prepared a transition team to make the leap. He has not. What that tells legislators is that he’s playing his near-win to the fullest political advantage he possibly can, but without making much of an investment.

Finally, no analysis of the governor’s race this past November would be complete without also noting that voter turnout was near a record low and that the broad consensus was that it was a vote of no-confidence in the governor, not a vote for Mr. Milne. To interpret the vote as support for a candidate most Vermonters still know very little about would be a grave mistake.

 That’s the calculus legislators must review as they cast their votes next Thursday.

Angelo S. Lynn

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