Can Vermont Be a Model for the Rest of the U.S.?

BURLINGTON, Vt. — Vermont is one among the bluest states within the nation. It gave Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden two-thirds of the choose 2020, providing Biden together with his single biggest winning margin in any state. Vermont sends a socialist, Bernie Sanders, to the U.S. Senate, and it’s one among the few strong left-wing third parties of any state.

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Yet for 3 elections running, Vermont’s voters have chosen Phil Scott, a Republican, to be their governor – by increasing margins. Scott won his first two-year term in 2016 by 9 points, his second in 2018 by 15 points, and in 2020 by a shocking 41 points.

How is it possible that an equivalent state has given politicians as diverse as Biden, Sanders and Scott overwhelming victories? Political observers in Vermont credit Scott’s savvy and his moderate approach to governing, also as his location during a state that’s sufficiently small and independent that private appeal can trump national politics.

Former Vermont Gov. Jim Douglas

Former Vermont Gov. Jim Douglas(LOUIS JACOBSON)

“Getting trapped in national issues doesn’t work here,” says Michael Donohue, a Vermont Republican State member and former chairman of the Republican Committee in Chittenden County, which incorporates the state’s biggest city, Burlington.

Before becoming governor, Scott co-owned DuBois Construction and was a stock car enthusiast. He was elected to the state Senate in 2000, then in 2010 won the lieutenant governorship. That office is elected separately from the governorship, which was won that year by Democrat Peter Shumlin. Then, in 2016, as Hillary Clinton was winning the state by a 27-point margin, Scott won the primary of his three gubernatorial terms thus far .

In Vermont, the default is for Democrats to win statewide office. In fact, Scott has been the sole Vermont Republican to win statewide office in additional than a dozen years. That said, GOP candidates who take a practical approach tend to tend a good hearing in Vermont, and that they could become favorites if they’re facing a left-wing candidate during a statewide race. Vermont’s recent Republican governors – Richard Snelling (1977-1985 and 1991) and Jim Douglas (2003-2011) – have, like Scott, emphasized moderation and bipartisanship.

“Vermonters have historically voted for the person, not the party,” says Lt. Gov. Molly Gray, a Democrat who is credited with working effectively with Scott. “Again and again,” she says, Scott has “shown a willingness to cross partly lines.”

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This is possible due to Vermont’s small size. With 643,000 residents, it is the second-smallest state in population, and it’s more compact than the littlest , Wyoming.

In a typical state Senate district, where Scott cut his political teeth, “it’s manageable to urge to understand an honest portion of your constituents,” says Corey Parent, a second-term Republican senator .

In Vermont, “voters like politicians who can connect well on a retail level and are kind of everyday citizens,” says Neale Lunderville, who has been tapped for various positions by Douglas, Shumlin and Scott and is now CEO of Vermont Gas Systems. The state’s small scale “makes it harder to urge to the political fisticuffs we see in Washington.”

Indeed, Conor Casey, the previous executive of the state Democratic Party and a council member within the capital of Montpelier, recalls trying “everything” against Scott in campaigns and failing to form a dent.

Vermont Lt. Gov. Molly Gray

Vermont Lt. Gov. Molly Gray(LOUIS JACOBSON)

“We tried being nice, we tried being mean, but nothing stuck, because voters knew him,” he says. “If you attack Scott, your own favorable rating goes down.”

Another reason for Scott’s success is Vermont voters’ penchant for political balance. Whenever Vermont’s governorship has come open, it’s changed partisan hands whenever since 1961. “People say, ‘maybe one party shouldn’t have all the marbles,'” says Douglas, the previous Republican governor.

Because Democrats have strong majorities in both chambers of the legislature, voters see Scott as providing a brake on an enormous leftward lurch.

“Scott’s big word is ‘affordability,'” says Philip Baruth, a six-term senator who affiliates with both the Democratic and Progressive parties. “He’s generally pro-economic development and low-tax, and doesn’t like things he views as not within the government’s purview or as costing an excessive amount of , like universal health care.” (Even Scott’s Democratic predecessor, Shumlin, considered a universal health care plan for Vermont but backed off amid cost concerns.)

Before the coronavirus pandemic, Scott’s biggest battle with the legislature was over family leave. Scott wanted a voluntary system and vetoed a Democratic-backed mandatory proposal that might have accompany a $29 million payroll tax-increase . Scott and therefore the legislature also sparred over the size of a wage hike.

“He said, ‘Look, this is often the hard job of budgeting, and that we got to do that within the truth of a decent budget,'” says Donohue, the state GOP official. “That may be a message that resonates with tons of parents who consider themselves Democrats.”

At an equivalent time, Scott has gone much further than Republican governors elsewhere to tolerate Democratic priorities. He signed a bill to guard abortion rights, and he allowed bills to legalize marijuana sales and to overhaul the principles for the utilization of deadly force by police to became law without his signature.