Gov. Peter Shumlin chats with Vermont Press Bureau Chief Neal Goswami about the 2016 election, and what it means for Vermont and the country.
MONTPELIER — Outgoing Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin pledged his full support to Republican Gov.-elect Phil Scott Wednesday whom he praised for running a good campaign, but was extremely critical of Republican President-elect Donald Trump and the campaign he ran to win the White House.
Shumlin announced in June 2015 that he would not seek re-election after nearly losing his bid for a third term in 2014. With his approval rating under water, Shumlin avoided the campaign trail as Democratic gubernatorial nominee Sue Minter sought to succeed him. But, perhaps weighed down by Shumlin’s six-year tenure, she was handily defeated by Scott on Tuesday.
Shumlin said he was not all that surprised by the outcome of the gubernatorial election in an interview Wednesday with the Vermont Press Bureau.
“Let’s remember that there’s a long tradition in Vermont when we switch governors, as long as we’ve had Democrats that actually can win elections back in 1963, that we switch parties when we switch. That’s a tradition that Vermonters have upheld for a long time and I suspect they may into the future,” he said.
Shumlin praised the campaign Scott ran, and said he would help the state’s current lieutenant governor ease into the state’s top elected office.
“Phil ran a good campaign. He’s a friend of mine. We’ve worked together for years, both in the Senate and he was on my cabinet throughout my governorship. So, my job now is to ensure that we do everything we can,” Shumlin said. “It helps that we have a friendship. We know each other well. We’re just going to be available to them in any way that they wish. They already have a transition headquarters. I know some of their transition team are meeting with my staff right now. I’ll be meeting with the governor-elect tomorrow and we’re here to help. I made very clear to Phil after congratulation him that I’m here any time he needs me in terms of advice.
Serving as governor is a difficult job and requires the counsel of others who have served in that role, according to Shumlin. Shumlin said Scott will aided by he and others who have the experience.
“I’ve found that I needed other governors. This is one place where partisanship tends not to get in our way. The 50 governors work together in a pretty bipartisan basis still. The help and knowledge of current governors and former governor is really helpful as you prepare to do the job,” he said.
Shumlin demurred about whether his own low approval ratings weighed on Minter. He said his administration has accomplished a lot, but expended plenty of political capital in the process.
“Governors make lots decisions and every time you make a decision someone disagrees with you and we’ve gotten more done in this administration than I ever imagined. It’s been an extraordinary record on energy, on opiate addiction, on early childhood education and higher education, balancing budget without raising broad-base taxes I pledged to do, we’ve done it,” Shumlin said. “Triple A bond ratings maintained. We’re leaving the state in good fiscal shape. We didn’t rely upon one-time money on an ongoing basis in the last budget. And we’ve made great progress on health care.”
“We’ve got a lot to be proud of,” he added.
Shumlin noted that in New England he is among the more popular governors.
“When you actually look at the numbers, you know, governors at the end of their terms, you tend to have some fatigue, no matter who you are, but in the last poll I think it was 40 (percent) approve 48 (percent disapprove), hate to say it but in New England, in the northeast … among incumbent governors those are pretty good numbers right now.
Ultimately, voters examine the candidates on the ballot and make their selections based on who they believe will serve them best, Shumlin said.
“I think Vermonters are smart and they assess gubernatorial candidates very carefully and they make a different judgment about gubernatorial candidates than they do folks they’re going to send to Congress, folks they’re going to send to other places,” he said. “So what they want is someone who’s fiscally responsible, someone who’s run a business, someone who understands the limitation of taxes, which I do, and I think they really look at both candidates and make a judgment. That’s what they did.”
Shumlin’s legacy may rest on the outcome of the all-payer model he has ushered in — a system that will replace the current fee-for-service health care payment system with one that pays health care providers based on health outcomes. Scott, or the federal government, could nix the plan next year before it even gets off the ground. But Shumlin said he believes Scott, who said he must learn more about the system before backing it, will come to recognize its value.
“On the all payer model I think that’s a judgment the new governor has to make, but I would be surprised when you have the hospitals, many of the doctors, nurses, providers, mental health folks, so many people unified that this is a better system than one we have right now and should be an option — don’t forget it’s an option for providers — that this probably rises above partisan politics,” Shumlin said.
Meanwhile, Shumlin expressed deep concern about Trump’s election Tuesday.
“My heart is bleeding as we wake up this morning, and I suspect a lot of Vermonters join me in looking in the eyes and recognizing that our president-elect is Donald Trump. He doesn’t represent the values of Vermonters, which was reflected in the vote, and it’s a tough day for minorities, it’s a tough day for women, it’s a tough day for people of color, it’s a tough day for many folks of varying religious backgrounds,” Shumlin said. “This is a difficult moment, and it hurts. Having said that, what we all need to do now is help unite behind the president-elect, that’s what we all do, and hope that we get better than what we expect.”
An early backer of Democrat Hillary Clinton in the presidential primary, Shumlin said Trump was also likely to prevail over Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who lost the Democratic primary to Clinton.
“I’ll leave that one to the political pundits. What I think we have to remember is that when you watch how Donald Trump campaigned from Day 1, through personal attacks, name-calling and nastiness, he took out, one-by one, his Republican opponents, many of whom were more qualified to be president than he. When he was up against the Democratic nominee, he did exactly the same thing to Hillary Clinton, and I suspect he would have done the same thing to Bernie Sanders. That’s how he operates,” Shumlin said.