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Editorial: A practical call by Shumlin

In the week after Gov. Peter Shumlin’s surprise announcement that he would not seek a fourth term for governor, you could characterize the reactions in two camps: those who thought he made the decision because he didn’t want to lose what would be a tough contest, and those who were surprised he didn’t fight for a fourth term to cement his legacy on several key issues.
But Shumlin took a different tack: Since taking office five years ago, the major initiatives he had envisioned launching as governor are now in play, and he is realistic enough to understand that significantly changing the needle on health care reform was not going to happen in the next three years. Looking ahead, then, he saw a fourth term as following through on the details of what he had started, but which would be delayed by a year’s worth of campaigning and partisan politics. Alternatively, he could say six years was enough time in office and spend the next 18 months helping his staff implement the policies recently past and work to ensure progress made on a host of various issues were put in place. From that perspective, it’s not hard to understand why he chose to make his decision when he did.
Moreover, the worry the governor might lose political influence as a lame duck governor is nonsense. On the contrary, what is a disconcerting is that by bowing out of the next gubernatorial race early, the governor and several leaders in his administration say they will be able work more effectively without being second-guessed for his every move by the media, political organizations and potential opponents. When motives aren’t put through the meat-grinder of partisan politics, the surprise is how much more effective an administration can be in terms of implementing critical legislation.
And, as the governor says, there is a lot for his team to do.
In just this past session, the governor and Legislature passed an energetic economic development bill, initiated education reform, passed clean water and renewable energy bills, continued the fight against opiate addiction, passed paid sick leave legislation, and continued the statewide effort to expand broadband to every corner of the state.
And that’s just this year. In the previous five years, the Shumlin administration has launched early childhood education reform, jumpstarted Vermont’s solar industry, made it easier for Vermont high school graduates to attend college, spent the necessary money to reshape the state’s mental health facilities and get them in top form, and continue the work started by the Green Mountain Care board to hold down health care costs.
That Shumlin and this Democratic legislature has been able to accomplish so much, plus recover from the significant damage caused by Hurricane Irene, is an accomplishment glossed over by most of Shumlin’s critics. And he did it during the nation’s worst recession in 75 years.
And good news is trending Shumlin’s way. While budget deficits still lurk in the future, the state’s economy has picked up and continues to grow: Since Shumlin took office 16,000 new jobs have been created, 7,000 in just the past year. (That’s compared to 10,000 jobs lost in the last two years of the Douglas administration.) Unemployment today in Vermont is the fourth lowest in the nation, the state has taken a leading role in the renewable energy sector, and state tourism is on a roll. In fact, compared to other recent administrations, Shumlin’s six years in office will likely prove to be one of the most ambitious and productive. He didn’t push through a single payer health care plan, as he had hoped would be possible, but neither did he bankrupt the state trying to do what the numbers didn’t support.
Give the governor 18 months to make sure his legacy achievements are put into action and built upon — without being by distracted and undercut by the partisan politics that certainly would have faced Shumlin had he chosen to run —and he’ll put a shine on those accomplishments and many others.
Second-guess the governor all you want, but putting a capstone on his very pro-active agenda in six years instead of eight, is nothing less than a very reasonable and practical move with a huge upside: he gets back to his business, is allowed to resume a personal life, and avoids a tough political fight.
Some people would just call that being smart.
Angelo S. Lynn

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