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Editorial: Candidates in Lt. Governor’s race offer a distinct interesting choice

Vermonters have an interesting choice in this year’ race for lieutenant governor.
Incumbent Lt. Gov. Phil Scott, 56, is a Republican known as Mr. Nice Guy to many Vermonters. He’s a can-do, roll-up-your-sleeves kind of a guy’s guy who is co-owner of a construction firm. He races cars for fun, and rides his road bike for exercise. Progressive-Democrat Dean Corren, 59, is more the policy wonk. An engineer by training, and state representative for four terms between 1993-2000, he knows state policy inside out, just as he knows the business and science of energy technology. He’s the chief technology officer for Verdant Power Inc, a sustainable energy company that develops underwater hydropower systems.
Both candidates are leaders in their businesses, successful and motivated to do right by Vermont.
Scott’s appeal, ironically, is that he prefers to be the anti-politician. He avoids political battles, talks in vague generalities on the issues, and states flatly that he is not “an activist” — by which he means he is not one to take a leadership position for the GOP and toss hand grenades at the opposition. He may vote differently than the Democratic majority in the Senate, but he won’t get into a dogfight to champion his viewpoint.
Corren would, and fall on his sword if need be.
The chief issue Corren champions is health care reform. He is an ardent advocate for moving to a single paying system as quickly as the state can effectively manage it. Nor is that a reckless move, in his mind. On the contrary, moving too slowly would be more reckless and irresponsible. To prove his case, he uses the same math as Gov. Peter Shumlin: that is, we can’t afford not to change to a new system. With health care costs increasing at double or triple inflation, that’s simply not a sustainable rate for the state to absorb. Furthermore, if the health care system is changed from fee-for-system to preventative care, that’s the only long-range solution to eventually contain costs.
There are no “ifs or buts” about it, Corren says. It’s a change the state and the country need to make.
On this most critical of all issues facing the state, Scott remains noncommittal. While he doesn’t like the uncertainty of Gov. Shumlin’s proposed move to single payer, he says he’s open to learning more about it and even goes as far as to say that a single-payer system might be the best option out there for the long-term — a position that frustrates the state Republican Party to no end. Still, he won’t endorse the single payer option until he’s convinced that the details of the system will really provide the savings as promised, and he points out that unless the state-sponsored plans cover everything (dental, vision, etc.) the business community will still be in the business of covering much of the cost of those supplemental policies.
If you press what approach he most favors on health care reform, he’ll say he advocates following the national model under Obamacare and building a coalition with other New England states like New Hampshire and Maine — that is, if they’ll have us. But then there’s not a lot of detail to his thinking.
Ditto on school finance reform. If there is one issue that Scott makes a big deal of it’s that Vermonters are having a tough time dealing with the cost of living here. It’s an expensive place to live, he says, and we have to work to make Vermont more affordable. That means, in part, getting a handle on rising property taxes. The Legislature started to grapple with it last year late in the session, but it stalled. It was, Scott says, “too little, too late.” What’s his solution? Nothing that will motivate the masses.
He says the state’s funding laws, Act 60 and 68 need to be changed, but then again, says it won’t do any good just to tweak the system by adjusting the income sensitivity provisions of Act 68. He accurately says the state needs to “address the spending side in order to do any substantial good,” but then he’s not in favor of forcing consolidation. It should be encouraged, he said, but not made mandatory.
One point he did make on school spending was the need to curb new state mandates that add costs to the system, such as the new pre-K law in which every Vermont school district must provide 10 hours of quality schooling per week to all 3- and 4-year-olds whose families choose to enroll them. “It’s a worthwhile goal and maybe it will pay off,” he said, “but in the short term, it will be a real burden for Vermont taxpayers to bear.” So, would he advocate to cut such programs? Well, it’s not on his platform.
Scott did come out strongly for approving the natural gas pipeline from Chittenden County into Middlebury, as well as the Phase II project to the International Paper plant in Ticonderoga, N.Y., and Phase III on to Rutland.  “Anything we can do to reduce our costs is essential for Vermont,” he said. “If it bridges the gap to something else, it’s well worth doing.”
Corren has the opposite approach. Schools need financing, he says, so raise the money in a fair way. Period. Pre-school education is essential to students’ training and lifetime education; no question, just fund it. The legalization of marijuana is inevitable, he says, so do it now and reap greater tax benefits before other states jump in too. He wouldn’t stop Phase 1 of the natural gas pipeline into Middlebury, but he has serious doubts about Phase 2 to Ticonderoga and Phase 3 to Rutland because it increases the state’s carbon footprint, which is a move in the wrong direction.
In their style, Corren is articulate, sharp and well reasoned. Scott is more hesitant, practical-minded and less eager to appear as if he knows the answers.
Both candidates, interestingly, have an appeal for moderate, middle-of-the-road Vermonters. As a well-liked incumbent, Scott has the early edge. In less than a month, we’ll know which characteristics captured the voters’ trust and enthusiasm.
Angelo S. Lynn
 

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