Shumlin explains decision not to seek re-election
MONTPELIER — Gov. Peter Shumlin says he decided to stand down in 2016 because he “didn’t have the fire in the belly for a fourth term.”
Shumlin made the remark on WDEV’s “The Mark Johnson Show” on Tuesday in a 34-minute interview.
The governor announced on Monday he would not run for re-election to the state’s top job. While Shumlin’s decision not to run was not a surprise — he was nearly beaten by political unknown Republican Scott Milne last fall — the timing caught many in Montpelier by surprise. The governor has completed just five months of his third term.
In the interview with Johnson, Shumlin said his decision had nothing to do with his narrow win in November. He insisted that because 2016 is a presidential election year it’s a “good year for Democrats,” and he believes he would have won.
Shumlin described himself as a fighter who has won close races, and the almost loss to Milne will be his last fight in the ring for governor. But entering the 2016 race merely to prove he could win by a larger margin “is the wrong reason to run,” he said.
“I am convinced if I had run for a fourth term I would have won a fourth term,” Shumlin said. “I’ve always had close races. I’m a fighter. When I go out and try to do something, I win, that’s been my history. Not often by big margins, but we win, and frankly I just didn’t have the fire in my belly to do a fourth term because I felt like we’d accomplished the things I’d set out to do in the first place.”
Shumlin said he always thought he would serve three terms. That said, he would have pursued a fourth term if he had been able to implement a singlepayer health care system.
“Yes, if I could have gotten the full singlepayer that would have been a reason to run for a fourth term — to implement it,” Shumlin said.
The governor explained that he “pulled the plug” on singlepayer last December because it would have required a 16 percent payroll tax increase. In addition, income tax rates would have gone up by 9.5 percent. The tax increases would have been necessary, he said, “just to match the money we’re spending now.”
“I don’t think many Vermonters thought I should or could get that through the Legislature,” Shumlin said.
“I’ve seen the press clips that say the governor deserted singlepayer financing,” he said. “I did the research on that more than anyone in America. I saw there was no way we could do it, spending like we are.”
Not one single lawmaker, Shumlin said, decided “the governor’s wrong on this, I’m going to introduce a bill to pass it.”
“Everyone understood that we weren’t going to get that kind of tax through the Legislature,” the governor said. “I mean, my God, I couldn’t get a seven-tenths of 1 percent payroll tax through the Legislature to start finally reimbursing our Medicaid providers at a rate that they deserve.”
Shumlin said his administration has “the luxury” now of focusing on health care cost containment, renewable energy initiatives and education reforms because his commissioners and secretaries won’t have to worry about politics over the next 19 months.
“We now have an opportunity to complete the work we’ve done, and to do it without saying, ‘oh you’re try to make your boss look good,’” Shumlin said. “We’ve got a lot to do. I want to make this economy work for every single Vermonter. That’s why I ran in the first place, and we’re not going to say mission accomplished until we get it done a year from January.”
He is determined, he said, to deliver on “what the exchange was intended to do, what I wish it had done and will do.” The governor has said the dysfunctional Vermont Health Connect exchange website, along with the decision to drop the singlepayer initiative have been the biggest disappointments of his career.
Shumlin ticked off a list of his accomplishments that he says overshadow the health reform failures that have dogged his administration. He pointed to the 16,000 new jobs that have been created in the past four and a half years, the increase in the minimum wage, the GMO labeling mandate, the death with dignity law, investments in substance abuse treatment programs that have kept offenders out of jail, universal PreK for all 3- and 4-year-olds, Internet access “for every single Vermonter,” transportation infrastructure investments and the buildout of renewable energy.
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