Editorial: Dear Gov: Spread your passion
How will Gov. Peter Shumlin make up a $150 million budget deficit, grow jobs, initiate a renaissance in Vermont agriculture, improve educational outcomes, expand broadband to the last mile and reform the state’s health care system to stop double-digit cost increases year after year — and do it all without raising broad-based taxes?
Winning the lotto would help, but shy of that, keeping the focus on the big picture will be the governor’s most important role over the next two years. To do that, he must use his considerable skills as a public speaker to spread his passion and conviction that his ambitious goals are not only achievable, but effective and practical.
The Montpelier trap would have him closeted in his office working out the details of each initiative with the House Speaker and Senate Pro Tempore. He should resist that temptation. Rather, residents of Middlebury, Barre, St. Albans, Colchester and Essex, Bennington and Brattleboro, and many others need to hear the governor champion what Vermonters need to do to make our schools better, to create new jobs, to reinvent agriculture, to reform health care and more.
In his Inaugural Address last Friday, he laid out his vision. The next step is to formulate those ideas into action, and he has assembled a great team of visionaries and implementers to do that job. Let them.
It is important for the governor to understand that the success of his goals will not be won in the halls of Montpelier. He could have the best team in the land working on these issues, the most cooperative bipartisan Legislature and still they might not succeed if the people in this state are not willing to get on board because of fears, mistrust and not fully understanding issues that call for radical change. Revamping education, changing health care, reinventing agriculture, realigning tax structure: these are big ideas that need a thorough vetting and majority acceptance.
In education, for example, Gov. Shumlin was right on the mark when he called “for an end to the war of words launched from Montpelier that pits property taxpayers against our children, teachers, principals and school board members, and invite instead a respectful conversation on how to create the best education system for our future.” But it is not enough to stop chastising the schools.
Shumlin’s task is to teach Vermonters about the new demands on our students and the new job opportunities, school-by-school, town-by-town. If that’s done, the citizens, teachers, administrators and school boards will help mold the changes — along with legislators — that will make Vermont’s schools the best in the land. And while he’s visiting those towns and explaining why each of our schools need substantial reform, perhaps other questions will come up about how to better compete with our global counterparts — should we move to a longer school year, longer school day, and other measures that will lead to better student outcomes. Those are the conversations this governor could initiate.
The same is true with the governor’s goal to move to a single-payer health care system. That is a tall order that won’t be won in the capitol. Regardless of schemes that wizards of policy may develop, doubt at home will reign. The governor must address that doubt by holding conversations in hospitals around the state, by allaying fears and answering the queries of critics, and learning of problems policy makers may have overlooked. This is how to meet the public’s concerns and gain their trust.
Even in job creation, Gov. Shumlin can do more to grow jobs by being outside of Montpelier. Come talk to Middlebury, dear governor, and hear of plans to hire an economic director to recruit new businesses and entrepreneurs to build in our community. Encourage such enterprise, help overcome the doubts of some, and help us — and many other towns — create their own initiatives through their own optimism and can-do spirit. Tell us we can, stand by us, and hold up our successes as models for others.
That’s how governors can help grow jobs throughout the state.
We have hope that Gov. Shumlin and his team will be successful as he meets the extraordinarily tough challenges Vermont faces in the next couple of years precisely because he has passion behind what he supports and believes. We urge him to share that passion with as many Vermonters as he can reach through deliberate, focused community discussions.
People hunger for honest conversations and they will respond with respect and a willingness to sacrifice if they understand the truth and the consequence.
Angelo S. Lynn