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Lt. Gov. Phil Scott Announces Bid For Governor

Gov. Phil Scott won the Republican nomination for governor on Tuesday. He'll face Democrat Christine Hallquist in November.
Peter Hirschfeld
Lt. Gov. Phil Scott kicked off his gubernatorial campaign at a South Burlington hotel conference room Tuesday night.

The best-known candidate in the 2016 gubernatorial race kicked off his campaign Tuesday evening. Lt. Gov. Phil Scott has been the Republicans’ only candidate to win statewide office over the past five years. Now, the 57-year-old Berlin resident says he’s ready to take his winning brand of politics all the way to the governor’s office.

Scott’s campaign launch was a stunningly polished production, by Vermont standards at least. Filtered flood lights lent a soft green hue to the capacious South Burlington hotel conference room where the event was held.

The lighting evoked the color scheme of Scott’s familiar late-model race car which, as it happens, was parked behind the podium he spoke from.

By 5 p.m. several hundred supporters had filled the space. And when a chart-topping pop hit “Fight Song” signaled the candidate’s arrival on stage, the crowd erupted.

The impressive turnout was perhaps owing to the fact that Scott’s campaign coordinated the launch with the annual meeting of Associated General Contractors of Vermont. 

In an age of political dominance by Democrats in Vermont, Scott has been the notable outlier. On Tuesday evening, he said the approach that’s worked so well for him in down-ticket races will serve him well in the campaign for governor.

“I believe our state needs a leader who listens instead of lectures, someone who’s been in the shoes of the people who are struggling, and … who will never forget where they came from,” Scott said.

Scott’s speech included specific policy proposals. He says he wants to pull the plug on Vermont Health Connect, and transition to the federal version of the online insurance marketplace. Under his administration, state budget increases won’t exceed annual average growth in Vermont wages.

Wages have grown by less than 5 percent in Vermont over the last three years for which data is available, according to the Vermont Department of Labor. General fund budgets, by comparison, have gone up between 3.5 percent and 5 percent annually.

Scott didn’t detail about where in government he’d make the cuts necessary to adhere to his pledge.

“Budgeting is about making choices, and I have no illusions about how difficult some of these choices will be,” Scott said. “But they are necessary.”

Credit Peter Hirschfeld / VPR
Phil Scott was surrounded by family as he announced his campaign for governor.

Scott’s surrogates made it clear that it is his personal style, as much as his policy substance, that makes him the right candidate for Vermont.

His mother, Marian Dubois, said her son’s quiet leadership style was born from a resilience that came from losing his father when he was 11. A friend, Melissa Mazza-Paquette, praised his level-headed pragmatism.

“Unlike other politicians, Phil Scott isn’t going to promise us the sun, the moon and the stars,” she said. “But he is going to bring us all together.”

Scott got a key endorsement from the state GOP’s highest profile luminary, former Gov. Jim Douglas.

“Phil is one of the most respected people under the 'golden dome,' " Douglas said. “He reaches across the aisle to get good ideas passed, and to resist bad ones.”

Scott said his platform is about soaring new initiatives, and but keeping government bureaucracy on the rails.

“There’s no question, things are challenging right now,” Scott said. “In fact, some have said that the state’s economic struggles are so complex that the next governor could easily spend their entire administration reforming state government and getting us back to the fiscal fundamentals. If that’s the case, that’s all right with me.”   

Conor Casey, executive director of the Vermont Democratic Party, says Scott’s appearance in the gubernatorial limelight will bring needed scrutiny to his record. He says Scott’s opposition to increasing the minimum wage or paid sick leave, and his support for parental notification laws on abortion, are out of step with the Vermont electorate.

“And it’s a fabrication that he’s the moderate that he paints himself as,” Casey says. “In fact, Phil Scott is very close to some of the national Republicans on the issues.”

"There's no question, things are challenging right now. In fact, some have said that the state's economic struggles are so complex that the next governor could easily spend their entire administration reforming state government and getting us back to the fiscal fundamentals. If that's the case, that's all right with me." - Lt. Gov. Phil Scott

Casey also questions Scott’s ability to make difficult decisions in the pinch. He pointed to Scott’s recent handling of the Syrian refugee controversy, wherein Scott called for a “pause” on allowing Syrian refugees into Vermont before later saying federal vetting protocols were sufficient to address his security concerns.

“We don’t need this kind of governor who waffles on the issues,” Casey says. “We need someone who knows what they’re doing, does their homework right off the bat, and can make decisions as chief executive of Vermont.”

Scott faces former Wall Street executive Bruce Lisman in the GOP primary. Lisman says Scott has been in elected office for 15 years now, and is part and parcel of the political establishment that has made voters so hungry for change.

“Phil is a really nice guy, but he’s been lieutenant governor, he’s been close to what’s happening, and I think they want a different kind of person,” Lisman says.

Scott’s campaign says the two-hour launch event cost about $16,000, including $5,000 for a technical set-up that allowed for a live stream of the proceedings from the campaign website.

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