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Editorial: Note to Mr. Lisman: Less Donald, more substance

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Posted on October 22, 2015 |
By Angelo Lynn



Candidates running for political office can no longer claim the banner of anti-politician. Even the status as “outsider” is dubious for most. Hence it was this past Monday that Republican candidate for governor Bruce Lisman admitted to a reporter’s question that, yes, he supposed he was — since the launching of his campaign — a politician.

That should not be something to despise, or use to tar and feather an opponent as at least some candidates do on the national stage. Generally, in Vermont, we appreciate the men and women who serve in our state legislature and in the executive branch and respect their considerable work and fortitude. Hopefully, Lisman will not follow the lead of Republican presidential candidates who pompously bellow ‘I’m-better-than-you-are’ bravado with empty promises as ammo, but his announcement speech was not promising.

A former Wall Street executive, Lisman, 68, criticized the four other candidates in the race, including fellow Republican Phil Scott, as being either wrong-headed or uninspired and suggested he’s the only candidate with the ideas to get the state moving in the right direction. Shades of Donald Trump.

And yet, as if channelling The Donald’s rhetoric, Lisman said the state’s tax system was “busted,” proclaimed the growing state budget was “the enemy of the people and the economy,” and called Act 46, the recently passed education reform bill, “a package of misery.” Admittedly, that’s a nice turn of phrase, but it’s the result of two years of debate following a statewide clamoring to slow down the run-away costs of education. If the new law is misery, had we been suffering under a system of nightmarish oppression that beggared us into poverty? Or perhaps the harsh criticism is a bit overblown?

 But let’s be gracious and chalk up Mr. Lisman’s opening salvos to a rookie mistake (it’s his first go as a politician, after all) and assume he responded to the excitement of the moment with boyish enthusiasm, instead of clear and rational proposals.

But even when he focused on policy, he missed a few steps. Not only did he bemoan the loss of local control of our schools, but also the more restrictive regulations to help clean up Lake Champlain and the state’s waters, and the initiatives that have helped jumpstart the renewable energy sector. Granted, Vermonters are losing a tad of autonomy by having to comply with stricter water quality measures and the growth of the renewble energy sector, but both are attempts to better the common good. Is he really suggesting that our personal loss of control on either issue is more egregious than trying to achieve a greater good? Probably not. Sounds like his campaign was trying to tie the issues to a hot-button touchstone (loss of local control), rather than talk straight about policy. Another rookie mistake.

What would he propose, if governor? Here’s his quick list:

• he would repeal Act 46 and leave us with what we had — soaring school costs, increasing school taxes and no plan to change that dynamic;

• he’d place a two-year moratorium on large-scale renewable energy projects, and work on devising a new regulatory system (similar to, but in addition to the Act 250 district boards) that could more effectively regulate renewable energy projects;

• he’d cap state spending at 2 percent for the next three years;

• and he’d abandon the Vermont Health Connect exchange and move onto the federal exchange.

Here’s a reporter’s quick response:

• Act 46 was passed precisely because state residents were complaining of rising property taxes, declining student bodies, class sizes of fewer than a couple handfuls of students in many smaller schools, and a governance-heavy system that added to costs and hindered innovation and coordination within the larger school systems. If not Act 46, then what? A better response is to allow Act 46 to move forward and tweak it where and when it needs.

•  Placing a two-year moratorium on larger renewable energy projects would delay the handful of controversial wind projects, but it wouldn’t address the smaller and far more numerous solar projects that are popping up all over the state. The idea of creating a separate board to administer renewable energy projects, however, has been making the circuits and has merit.

• Capping the budget at 2 percent cuts spending, but does it boost the economy? There’s ample evidence that further state cuts in spending (austerity measures) will restrict economic growth, not enhance it. Lisman is right to spend within our means, but budgeting is a fluid process that requires flexibility and creativity, not lines drawn in the sand two years out.

• Abandoning the state health connect system on the verge of its successful implementation and switching to the federal exchange might cost taxpayers more, not less. In retrospect, Vermont should have gone with the federal exchange from the get-go, but now that the state site is almost ready, information we’ve seen suggests it would cost hundreds of thousands more to switch to the federal exchange. The wisdom of that suggestion all depends, of course, on how well the state exchange works, but it’s generally unwise to switch horses in the middle of the stream.

Lisman can do better and he will. He’s a smart man, loves the state, is well-intentioned and far more humble than Trump. We look forward to more thoughtful policy initiatives as he rolls out his agenda, and prepares to discuss substantive ways to improve the state’s economy. In the meantime, friends should encourage him to resist any Trump-like bravado — the Apprentice didn’t play all that well in Vermont.

Angelo S. Lynn

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