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MONTPELIER — With just over a month to go before he takes office, Gov.-elect Phil Scott has yet to name any top cabinet positions, but promises his deliberative selection process will result in a full cabinet by early January.
Since winning the governor’s office on Nov. 8, Scott, a Republican, has appointed four people to serve on his staff. But top-level cabinet positions remain unfilled. Six years ago, outgoing Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin named several such appointees within a couple of weeks of his election.
For Scott, the transition window is moving quickly, but in an interview with the Vermont Press Bureau Wednesday, he said he will not allow the short time period between the election and his swearing in to dictate his selection process.
“When you have hundreds, literally hundreds of applications, it takes a little time and I don’t want to leave anything on the table. I want to make sure that we fully, fully take a look at their backgrounds, what they could bring to the table … and talent is very, very important,” Scott said.
His transition team has received about 700 applications. Scott has encouraged people from all backgrounds to apply for positions, and the transition team is reviewing applications to find the right people to serve. Scott said he is looking for talent and people he believes will fit in with his goals and the people around him.
“Having that chemistry is equally important as I’ve learned in my years of building a team, whether it’s on the race track, business or politics, it’s all the same,” he said. You have to have the right people in place and work together for a common good and that takes a little time, but we’re making tremendous gains and I just want to make sure that we are fully investigating all prospects.”
Scott said he is relying on the advice of governors who have gone through their own transitions, all of whom have recommended that he takes the time he needs to select the right people.
“There’s a lot going on in a short period of time. But do I feel the crunch? I know it’s there. I’m not going to let that dictate hurrying the process because it’s incredibly important. The advice that I’ve been given by other governors of both sides of the aisle throughout this process, it’s universal — don’t hurry the process,” Scott said. “They’ve gone back and they’ve thought about their first days when they were in office and they said that if they had to do it over again they’d slow it down, don’t let people push you into making decisions just for the sake of making a decision. Do it for the right reason. Make sure.”
So far, nobody has turned Scott down for a position. But, some people have been approached about different positions than they sought — requiring further conversations that, so far, have not been finalized.
“When we’re looking at different applicants, they may be applying for a certain position. We may see the merit in them maybe being better suited for a better position that they haven’t even contemplated. That takes another interview to explore that. It’s hit some by surprised. We haven’t made commitments, but we’re encouraging them to think outside the box as well,” Scott.
Transition officials say Scott is likely to begin naming some appointments next week. Scott is looking beyond applicants’ experience on paper and at the circumstances that led them to apply.
“It doesn’t really matter if they’ve had a wealth of experience in that one particular area, but it’s maybe what has led them to being here in Vermont or led them to applying for this administration,” he said.
Scott and his transition team are also balancing budget and policy development with the task of filling government posts.
“You have to understand, this isn’t just about filling positions at this point. There’s a lot of other processes happening as we speak,” he said. “We have a budget team and that’s with people that have offered their services to come on board to help us through this transition time to build a budget. But there’s policy as well.”
Scott said he is also focused on developing policies that are consistent with what he promised voters on the campaign trail.
“I fully intend to keep my promises. They weren’t empty promises. We intend to move forward with some of the ideas that we had during the campaign, so we have to listen … and make sure that we’re focusing on that area and looking at different legislation that’s been proposed in the past and what may be contemplated in the future,” Scott said.
One of Scott’s promises to the electorate was that he will not sign a state budget that grows faster than natural economic growth in Vermont. Honoring that promise may rely on the formula that Scott uses to determine economic growth. During the campaign he said it would include the growth of the state’s economy and the growth of wages. That formula is still being developed, however.
“We’re still working on that formula as we speak because what I want to be sure of is that we establish a formula that will survive the test, because there will be many who will test this. We want to make sure it works. We want to make sure it works for everyday Vermonters,” the governor-elect said.
Scott said he wants to ensure that the formula is now skewed by a few high-earners. That could make it seem that the state is faring better than it actually is, he said.
Scott said the members of his transition team helping him craft the 2018 state budget proposal remain confident that they will meet his campaign promise.
“I believe we can. Will it be challenging and difficult? Absolutely. This is going to take a little time and we need everyone to be objective. We need to make sure we prioritize what’s important. Taking care of the most vulnerable is important,” he said. “I believe that we’re going to be able to accomplish what we’ve set out to do and I was sincere about that during the campaign.
“Nobody has said we can’t do this. That’s encouraging,” Scott added. “They have all admitted that this will be difficult, but we’ll persevere.”