SOUTH BURLINGTON — Highlighting his blue collar upbringing, Republican Lt. Gov. Phil Scott formally launched his campaign for governor Tuesday with a promise to rebuild the state’s economic foundation.
Several hundred supporters joined Scott, 57, at the Sheraton Hotel Tuesday evening for his long-awaited campaign kickoff. Known for his nice-guy image and message of creating a more affordable Vermont, Scott delivered many familiar themes.
He promised to “set a steady, more predictable and less political course.” He said some Vermonters feel “trapped” and “even victimized” by an economy that has left them behind. “We have to be willing to do things differently if we want different results,” Scott declared.
He began his remarks by laying out his humble roots in Barre and Elmore, with a father who died when he was a young boy. After starting a lawn-care business in high school, he worked as a construction worker, flagger and pipe layer in college, Scott said. He now co-owns Dubois Construction with his cousin.
It is his life experience, Scott said, that has him ready to take over at the helm of state government from Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin, who announced in June that he would not seek a fourth term.
“As the owner of an excavation business, I’ve spent the better part of my life in the trenches. I’m perfectly comfortable taking on a tough job that doesn’t offer a lot of headlines or make a good platform to run for higher office,” Scott said. “But no road, no bridge and no building — certainly no economy — can stand for any length of time with a weakening foundation. So let me be clear: I am running for governor to rebuild Vermont’s economic foundation.”
Scott, who was elected lieutenant governor in 2010, made clear he would approach things differently than Shumlin.
“I believe Vermont needs a governor who is humble and willing to learn from others. But we also need a governor who is motivated to do the tough, unglamorous work — the everyday jobs — that need to be done to get our state back on track. And I know that, with your support, I can be that leader,” he said.
Scott spoke in a room filled with reminders of his stock car racing hobby. His race car sat off to the side, while many of his campaign signs featured a checkered flag. His mother, Marion, who introduced him, claimed Scott got his desire to race from her.
Before delivering his own speech, Scott was preceded by several speakers who offered their own ringing endorsements, including former Republican Gov. Jim Douglas, Associated General Contractors President Cathy Voyer Lamberton and Democratic state Sen. Dick Mazza.
Scott joins former Wall Street executive Bruce Lisman in a Republican Party primary. Two Democrats are facing off in their own primary — Sue Minter, the former secretary of the Agency of Transportation, and Matt Dunne, a former legislator and an executive with Google.
Prior to his statewide election in 2010, Scott served five terms in the Senate representing Washington County. During that time he served as vice chairman of the Transportation Committee and chairman of the Institutions Committee.
He laid out several principles he said his administration would focus on:
— Setting aside any legislation that increases the cost of living.
— Supporting public policies that have clearly defined goals.
— Creating a sustainable education system.
— Fixing the state’s health insurance exchange and eliminating a mandate requiring businesses to use it.
Scott promised to be “unyielding” in his principles, including holding the line on state spending.
“If a proposal decreases the costs of living and doing business here we will support it. If it increases costs we will resist it,” he said.
His administration will be focused on “delivering core priorities as efficiently as we can.” And it will empower the state’s workforce “to think outside the department silo.” The state’s investments will focus on job training, higher education and infrastructure, Scott said.
Vermont Health Connect, the state’s online health insurance marketplace, was directly in Scott’s line of fire. He said it is “long past time to pull the plug” on the exchange. The system has seen numerous technological problems since it launched in October 2013.
“Just days ago the Shumlin administration declared once again that the exchange was fully functional, and once again, we learned that Vermonters are showing up at the doctor or pharmacy and finding out their coverage is canceled,” he said.
The latest setback is “another reminder that what Gov. Shumlin called a ‘nothing burger’ has turned out to be a big, old McWhopper,” Scott said.
Scott’s kickoff easily featured the highest production value of the four announced major-party candidates, and the largest crowd. The campaign has also embraced technology to gather supporters’ data, asking them to text “I support Phil” to a number.
A campaign aide said Scott would soon detail how he plans to separate himself from Dubois Construction if elected. The company bids on and sometimes receives state contracts. Scott has said he plans to create a “firewall” between himself and the business but does not plan to sell his portion of the ownership.