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Eric L. Davis: Minter vs. Scott presents a philosophical duel

The victories of Sue Minter and Phil Scott in the primary elections last week demonstrate that in Vermont it is still possible to win elections without running negative advertisements and in spite of being outspent at the end of the campaign.
Of all the candidates seeking the governorship, Minter and Scott had the highest approval ratings in pre-primary polls. They also received the largest proportion of their financial support from in-state donors contributing $200 or less. Other candidates relied more heavily on out-of-state donors, large contributions from Vermonters, or self-financing.
The Minter and Scott campaigns are likely to remain positive through November. That might not be the case for their surrogates and supporters.
The Vermont Democratic Party might pick up Bruce Lisman’s theme that Scott’s co-owning a business that contracts with state government represents an unacceptable conflict of interest. The Vermont Republican Party might pick up Peter Galbraith’s theme that Minter’s campaign contributions from the wind energy industry show that she is too close to industrial wind interests.
The Republican Governors Association and the Democratic Governors Association might each spend about $1 million supporting their party’s candidate, and are likely to broadcast advertisements focusing on the candidates’ weaknesses as well as their strengths.
The RGA will try to connect Minter to all of the areas where the Shumlin Administration has underperformed, such as Vermont Health Connect, and a Vermont labor force that has fewer people working today than before the Great Recession. The DGA will claim that Scott’s record in the Senate and as lieutenant governor includes few if any accomplishments, and that he would be, at best, a caretaker governor.
With only 12 states electing governors in 2016, the RGA and DGA will both have relatively more money to spend in a small state such as Vermont than during the off-year election cycle. None of the large states in which gubernatorial campaigns are the most expensive — California, Texas, Florida, New York, Illinois, Ohio and Pennsylvania — will be electing governors this year.
In spite of all the sound and fury associated with what could be aggregate spending of $4 million on behalf of each major-party gubernatorial candidate, I see four large issues that will, in the end, determine the outcome of the election in November. These issues represent profound philosophical differences between the two candidates and their parties.
Minter, and most Democrats, believe that a larger and more active state government is needed to reduce economic inequality in Vermont, to deliver more social services to low-income Vermonters, and to encourage economic development, especially outside Chittenden County. Scott, and most Republicans, believe that state government is too large, and that state government needs to get out of the way of the private sector, which is the best source of economic and income growth in Vermont.
Minter and the Democrats believe that there is spare tax capacity in Vermont, among both upper-income individuals and the business community, to fund new initiatives. Scott and the Republicans believe that Vermonters are overtaxed, and that increases in taxes and fees on middle-income households in recent years are one of the reasons why the state has become less affordable.
Minter and the Democrats believe that, in spite of the difficulties with Vermont Health Connect, state government has the administrative and technical ability to implement complex new programs successfully. Scott and the Republicans believe the emphasis should be on making current programs work well before taking on any new responsibilities.
Finally, Minter and the Democrats believe single-party control of the executive and legislative branches can lead to continued progress for Vermont. Scott and the Republicans believe there is a need for both parties to share power, with a Republican governor checking and balancing a Democratic legislature.
Eric L. Davis is professor emeritus of political science at Middlebury College.

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