Hallquist And Scott Offer Competing Visions For State Of Vermont
The outcome of the 2018 race for Vermont's governor could have a profound effect on government policy for years to come.
Last Thursday, Gov. Phil Scott took his re-election campaign to downtown Barre, where hundreds of little kids in costumes roved the streets in pursuit of their candy.
Outside one storefront, Scott was the one handing out the candy.
“Barre’s my hometown,” Scott said. “I’ve been doing this for a number of years, and it’s always good to see people out on the street again.”
Scott said nights like this one remind him of when he was a kid growing up here. He said it’s also a reminder of why he first decided to run for governor in 2016 — to improve the economy in struggling towns and cities, like Barre.
“Yeah, lack of focus on the economy, and really making Vermont more affordable,” Scott said.
Scott said he thinks his Democratic challenger in this race, Christine Hallquist, also wants to make Vermont more affordable.
“We have different methods of getting there,” Scott said.
That’s putting it mildly.
The ideological chasm between Phil Scott and Christine Hallquist is deep. Scott has spent much of his first term in office trying to reduce the size of government’s footprint in Vermont. Most notably, he’s sought to curb the rate of growth in state spending, especially on the K-12 education system.
Hallquist, meanwhile, favors a government-mandated $15 minimum wage, paid family leave and a publicly funded universal health care system at the state or regional level. She is also calling for tuition-free public college and major public investments in a long list of state programs.
“Well, I think it’s pretty clear you have a clear choice,” Hallquist said outside a campaign event on the lakefront in Burlington last week. “If you want things to stay [the] way they are, you’re going to vote for Phil Scott.”
At a press conference two days later, Hallquist reiterated the starkness of the contrast between her and the Republican incumbent.
“Next Tuesday is a referendum. It’s a referendum on the direction of the state of Vermont,” Hallquist said.
At the very least, Tuesday is a watershed moment for policy debates that have consumed Montpelier over the past two years.
Lawmakers in the Democratically controlled House and Senate passed both a $15 minimum wage and paid family leave earlier this year. Scott vetoed both bills.
Eric Davis, professor emeritus of political science at Middlebury College, said Vermont can expect the same outcome if voters return Scott to the governorship in 2018.
“If the Legislature passed a bill increasing the minimum wage, the governor would most likely veto it, unless it were a very gradual increase to a number lower than 15 [dollars]," Davis said. "I believe he would veto the paid family leave program again.”
Middlebury College political science professor Matt Dickinson said there are a number of reasons to believe the policy horizon in Vermont would look significantly different if Hallquist were to win Tuesday.
“If Hallquist wins, and you take her at her word — and I don’t see any reason why not — about what she would like to do, the future direction is likely to be in a much more government-centric direction, I would think,” Dickinson said.
In Vermont, however, candidates’ stances on issues aren’t always the driving force behind voters’ decisions at the ballot box. During the last election for instance, the same voters who sent Democrats to the U.S. Senate and U.S. House also put a Republican in the governor’s office.
By Davis’ count, as many as 40 percent of voters who cast ballots for a Democrat in one statewide race chose Scott in another.
“And I think what that says is that the personal appeal of candidates has a lot to do with how people react to them, whether it’s Bernie Sanders or Peter Welch or Phil Scott,” Davis said.
And Dickinson said some voters want that kind balance in the halls of their political institutions.
“If I’m going to have a Democratically-controlled General Assembly, I want to balance that off with somebody from the other party in the governor’s office, because maybe I don’t like the direction either of sort of the more extreme versions of those parties are going,” Dickinson said.
Issues matter, of course, but so do other factors. Vermonters will be weighing them all when they head to vote.