by Rob Roper
At the end of June shortly after the Democrat supermajority overrode almost every veto Phil Scott issued, including that of the budget, in what seemed like less time than it takes get a cup of coffee at Starbucks, a reporter asked the governor, “What are you going to do to get more Republicans in office?”
Editor’s note: Hear WCAX reporter Calvin Cutler ask this question, and see and hear the governor’s response, at 30 minute, 32 second mark of this Facebook video of the governor’s June 29 press conference. Also, a previous headline has been edited to more accurately reflect the message of this commentary.
Scott snapped back, “It doesn’t have to be Republicans. I just want more legislators with common sense. More centrists, moderates, that understand how to balance a checkbook.”
That response irked a lot of Republicans. Rightfully so. In the 105-42 House override vote, not a single Democrat supported Scott’s budget veto. (A handful of Progressives did, but not because they know how to balance a checkbook. They thought the budget didn’t spend enough.) But every Republican legislator backed the governor, and in the lead up to the vote, grassroots Republicans worked feverishly to rally public support behind Scott’s veto.
So, given this softball chance to simply acknowledge the effort and thank the people who stood with him, Scott chose to spit in their collective eye instead.
It is perhaps theoretically true that one doesn’t have to be a Republican to vote for fiscally responsible policies. But in the real world of Vermont politics? Does Scott really think there are Democrats in Vermont today who have common sense? Who are moderate centrists who know how to balance a checkbook?
If so, where are they? Under Vermont law if a legislator vacates a seat for some reason – they die in office or decide to step down – the governor gets to appoint that person’s replacement for the duration of the term. Tradition holds that the governor will replace a representative with member of the departing lawmaker’s party, though he is not legally bound to do so. Scott has abided by this custom. And it occurred to me that there are currently three sitting Democrats in the House of Representatives who Phil Scott personally appointed to their positions.
In 2019, Scott appointed Kristi Morris (D-Springfield) to complete the term of Representative Robert Forguites, who passed away. In 2021 he appointed Golrang “Rey” Garofano (D-Essex) to replace Marybeth Redmond, who left her seat due to health reasons. And just this year he appointed Melanie Carpenter (D-Hyde Park) to replace Kate Donnally, who resigned for financial/family reasons. (If I missed anyone, please let me know.)
So, given the opportunity to interview, vet, and hand pick some Democrats to serve in the legislature, the governor surely would have prioritized – dare we would hope insist upon — those checkbook balancing qualities outlined in his press conference before bequeathing a seat. But long story short, none of the Democrats personally appointed by the governor supported his veto of an $8.5 billion budget that increased spending by a whopping 13 percent.
Moreover, none of the three supported Scott’s veto of S.5, the “Clean Heat” massive carbon tax on home heating fuels. None supported Scott’s veto of the new $120 million a year (and sure to grow) payroll tax. On the “moderate,” “centrist,” and “common sense” side of the ledger, none supported the governor’s vetoes of bills allowing non-citizens and children 16 and 17 years old to vote in local elections.
Hmmm…. So, if the governor, with all his team’s experience, political insight, and resources at his disposal, can’t find a single Democrat to pluck from the population to fill a vacant seat who is willing to support policies that limit taxing and spending to moderate, sustainable levels (we’re not even talking about cuts!), what’s the lesson here?
I posit that the lesson is if you don’t want to see your payroll, property, income, sales, fuel taxes and fees painfully ratcheted up year after year to the point you can no longer afford to live here, you do in fact have to “get more Republicans in office.”
And, yes, in fact, they do have to be Republicans because just look at every Democrat’s voting record. (There are a few moderates in the Senate – not enough — but really none at all in the House.)
Even if there are some Democrats who are elected (or appointed) with thoughts and promises of fiscal responsibility, those notions will be quickly and thoroughly beaten out of them by an increasingly radical and politically vindictive Party leadership. Show me where I’m wrong.
So, governor, next time a reporter asks you, “What are you going to do to get more Republicans in office?” I sincerely hope your answer is, “Everything in my power!” If not out of polite courtesy to the only people who’ve backed you up time after time, how about in the name of common sense and the need to balance our state’s checkbook.
Rob Roper is a freelance writer who has been involved with Vermont politics and policy for over 20 years. This article reprinted with permission from Behind the Lines: Rob Roper on Vermont Politics, robertroper.substack.com