Op/Ed

Editorial: The case for Dean, while Scott’s burden is heavier

ANGELO LYNN

Could this year’s “tough” legislative session have been less bitter, more productive, and had a better outcome with a different dynamic between the Legislature and the governor’s office? Is the stalemate between the two hurting Vermont’s economy? Is Vermont a stronger, more vibrant state than it was eight years ago?

Those are a few of the questions former Gov. Howard Dean must ask himself as he ponders a run for governor against four-term incumbent Gov. Phil Scott. Scott recently announced his intention to run for a fifth term, just as Dean sent hints he was considering entering the race. 

Dean’s interest has sparked excitement among statewide Democrats simply because what the party has in depth among rank-and-file legislators, it lacks in political chops at the top. Dean not only has the name recognition, fund-raising ability, and political clout, but could add an interesting proposition: Could a party that rules the legislature and the governor’s office govern with a greater sense of fiscal responsibility, while also finally tackling the state’s most crucial issues?

There’s good reason to think that’s possible. 

First, Gov. Dean was a fiscal pragmatist (some would say conservative) during his years in office. He was credited with reducing a huge deficit at the time and setting the state on a fiscally responsible path. Yet he made significant progress on health care with the launch of Dr. Dynasaur, and he was governor when Vermont became the first state in the union to legalize same-sex civil unions. 

He also knows the levers of state government. He was first elected to the Vermont House of Representatives in 1983 and served through 1986, when he was elected Lt. Governor, serving from 1986-1991. He took over as governor upon the death of Gov. Dick Snelling in 1991 and served to 2003. 

While some Republican strategists think Dean might be hurt by the passage of Act 60 during his administration, they may forget prior to Act 60’s rebate program for lower-income households, Vermonters on fixed incomes were being forced out of their homes because of high property taxes. Act 60’s rebate program halted that injustice. Furthermore, Act 60 was the initial result of a State Supreme Court ruling mandating the Legislature find an alternate source of funding education that provided an equal opportunity for all Vermont children. 

That task remains formidable, and several iterations of Act 60 have been made over the past 20 years to try to find an equitable and affordable way forward. Today’s challenge is no different. Similarly, the challenge of affordable housing and affordable health care are crucial issues to address. 

What’s lacking in Montpelier today is a willingness for government to work together to solve the problems. The Scott administration, in particular, has used the past two terms to check the legislature’s initiatives. Scott has been all defense, with too little effort to propose realistic options.

Rather, he touts feel-good slogans like his “affordability agenda,” as a counter to the Legislature’s initiatives, which basically has meant opposing almost everything because it costs money. 

It’s this stalemate in Montpelier that has stymied Vermont’s economy and forward progress on many of the state’s most pressing issues. 

With Dean’s penchant to live within our means, he would be an effective brake on the Legislature’s penchant to overspend while working with them to determine top priorities and affordable solutions.

It’s certainly a more promising scenario than a repeat of what we’ve seen for the past eight years — a period in which Vermont has fallen further behind in many of the most important metrics, and that’s a political burden Scott now owns.

Angelo Lynn

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