MONTPELIER — Lawmakers are already speculating as to what affect Gov. James Douglas’s impending political retirement will have on the 2010 legislative session.
While his decision officially makes Douglas a lameduck governor for the next 16 months, he warned legislators that he will not be a pushover.
“Those who presume there will be an absentee landlord in the corner office will be mistaken,” Douglas said. “I will focus as intensely as I always do on the needs of Vermonters. And I will continue to fight every day to put this state on firm footing. Now is not the time to rest on our laurels.
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“I will continue the good work that my administration has done to advance an agenda of affordability — an agenda centered on growing good-paying jobs while protecting our cherished natural resources.”
Douglas added he believes that, unencumbered by campaign pressures and the political pitfalls of candidacy, he will be able to be an even more forceful advocate for his agenda.
“I hope and believe I can be even more successful, more assertive and more candid in my dealings with the Legislature and make it clear that whatever I say or do is without regard to personal political consequences,” Douglas said.
Rep. Michael Fisher, D-Lincoln, is one of the county’s most veteran House members who has served during the entirety of Douglas’ tenure as governor.
“It strikes me that (the announcement) will have an impact on the coming session,” Fisher said. “Jim Douglas won’t have to calculate on what any action will have in facing the voters. It could play out that he could be bolder, a tougher negotiator; he could also have some concerns about his legacy, how he wants to be remembered.”
Fisher added he was not surprised to hear that Douglas won’t be seeking another term.
“I think in the last year, his tone has been different,” said Fisher, who will remember Douglas for being “very good at politics, packaging ideas and proposals in a way that sells.”
Sen. Claire Ayer, D-Weybridge and the Senate majority whip, agreed with Fisher that impending political retirement could make Douglas more hard-nosed on his dealings with the Legislature.
“In a way, if he is on his way to other things, I’m guessing he won’t be as committed to negotiate with us,” Ayer said.
Asked about what she considered to be Douglas’ strengths, she listed his “ability to make people know that he cares about them and knows them. He has a phenomenal gift of remembering people’s names.”
Looking forward, Ayer said Douglas’ decision will create a very interesting 2010 campaign, one that should give Vermonters “lots of choices.”
Ayer said her plan right now is to run for re-election to the Senate, where she serves the county along with Sen. Harold Giard, D-Bridport.
Current and past Republican lawmakers said they were disappointed to hear about Douglas’s decision, adding his departure will create a void that will be tough to fill.
“I am very surprised; my assumption was that he would run again,” said Rep. Greg Clark, R-Vergennes. “His service to the state is unmatched and can’t be questioned. He has been a great leader.”
Clark said Douglas was particularly effective in lobbying for fiscal restraint at a time when the state’s revenues are drying up.
“His bottom line was, ‘I am going to do what I think is best for the people of Vermont,’” Clark said.
Former Rep. Connie Houston, R-Ferrisburgh, recalled Douglas as someone “who has spent a lifetime in public service. He’s listened to folks, and shown a lot of interest in what happens to Vermonters.”
Former Rep. Mark Young, R-Orwell, said he had heard some indications that Douglas might not run for re-election, and was “sorry to hear” confirmation of those rumors on Thursday.
“In my opinion, Jim Douglas has done a wonderful job,” Young, longtime president of the First National Bank of Orwell, said. “The fact that he is not running is unfortunate for Vermont.”
Like Clark, Young said Douglas’s fiscal approach would be missed during the coming years.
“With these tough economic times, I frankly wish he was still going to be there to help us,” Young said.
“I think we need to thank (Jim and Dorothy Douglas) for what they have done for us,” Young added.
Local business leaders credited Douglas with being a supporter of many economic development initiatives.
Lawrence Miller is the CEO of Danforth Pewter in Middlebury, founder of Otter Creek Brewing, and the former chair of the Vermont Economic Development Council. He said the governor was able to advocate for business growth, but not at the expense of the state’s environmental laws.
G. Kenneth Perine, president of the National Bank of Middlebury, also credited Douglas with helping guide the state through some choppy financial waters.
“He was very fiscally conservative, which is very important given a legislative body that has been far less so,” Perine said, adding the governor had provided a strong “check and balance” on budgetary matters.
“I think that has been his greatest legacy, in an increasingly liberal state, making sure that spending doesn’t get out of hand and that things are kept in perspective,” Perine said.