This commentary is by Myers Mermel, president of the Ethan Allen Institute. He resides in Manchester.
On Friday, April 21, we saw a softening of relations between Gov. Phil Scott and Republican legislators. To honor the vigorous debate held by Republicans on S.5, the Affordable Heat Act, Governor Scott invited a number of Republican lawmakers to meet with him in his ceremonial office in the State House.
What a welcome event that was. Thank you, Governor Scott.
Governor Scott was a massive winner with 71% of the general vote this past November but remarkably Republicans treat him horribly. He should be setting the agenda but sadly most Republicans refuse to follow him. They call him weak or label him a RINO, but somehow they don’t understand that Governor Scott is the best thing anyone on the right has going for them.
He is a masterful executive. He finds the middle ground and works to make policies acceptable to everyone. He works at uniting us, not dividing us. His veto has been instrumental in holding a Clean Heat Standard at bay and has protected thousands of low and middle income Vermonters from expensive taxes and surcharges which they cannot afford.
His recent gesture of reconciliation creates a bridge for many in the state house who want to follow him. But loyalty runs both ways. If we continue to want his help and want him to be loyal to those on the right, we need to be loyal to him. Or at least respectful and grateful. That time starts now.
His fiscal responsibility and social liberalism are a right fit for Vermont. Social liberals support civil rights and equality for all, principles we can all agree upon. Governor Scott often is the voice of forgotten Vermonters and has become the conscience of the state.
Anyone who thinks that social conservatism is a winning philosophy in Vermont ought to go meet his or her neighbors. Just go meet people in your town and you will find the majority of them are socially liberal.
Vermonters are socially liberal and have been historically. Revolution was popular here. It was so popular we fought two revolutions at once. It was a liberal idea. Abolition was popular here and willingness to fight for it by our men was unequalled. Another liberal idea. Temperance was popular here well before Prohibition. Liberal idea. Eugenics was popular. Again, another liberal idea. The Progressive Era and its regulatory, process, and governmental reforms were embraced here. All liberal.
Not all the liberal ideas were effective or honorable in hindsight, but most were. And the deficiencies of a few policies did not stop them from being popular at the time. Many of these policies grew into moral crusades. We see it afresh today as a new liberal policy, climate change, has become a type of moral crusade to some.
Yes, Republicans controlled the state for most of the 19th and the 20th century. But they were fiscal conservatives who at the same time presided over many socially liberal policies. Calls for us to return to the values of our ancestors miss the mark on what our ancestors actually accomplished.
Supporting a socially liberal Governor Scott doesn’t mean you have to abandon your principles. It means you realize that if you place social concerns above fiscal, we will see more legislation which imposes increasingly greater financial burdens and thereby punishes low and moderate income Vermonters. And we will continue to see the elitist takeover by the wealthy, operating as progressives, as exemplified by the changeover in Ascutney, where low and moderate-income Vermonters have been marginalized. Wealthy homeowners, many people of the valleys, have transformed the perennially cash-strapped village into a New England version of Williamsburg. This despite the fact that real people, not re-enactors, live there and can’t afford their only general store which now features Wagyu beef as a staple. Unchecked progressive power will only lead to more of this across our state.
Transfer of power from folk migrations is not uncommon in America. It’s happening here. It’s ironic that those Vermonters who complain of foreign invasion are often those whose ancestors utilized New Hampshire grants to seize land. Another example of folk migration was the displacement of New Yorkers in the early 19th century when Connecticut Yankees pushed the Dutch out of the way. To the New Yorkers it was an unwelcome event. New York in 1820 was becoming “a colony from New England” said President Timothy Dwight of Yale with some glee.
Today, Vermont under modern progressive leadership is becoming a colony of New Jersey and New York, eager to pursue their excessive spending and taxation. Without an executive exercising fiscal responsibility, like Governor Scott, this inevitable folk migration will destroy the paradise our ancestors have built, and the one others have come to find.
A number of large spending programs have been proposed this legislative session and a number of them will become law. It wouldn’t be this way if we had more Representatives and Senators to sustain the Governor’s veto. But Vermonters haven’t voted for Republicans, for a myriad of reasons. Can you imagine where we would be if the Governor was not there to veto S. 5 and to shape other bills?
In a recent poll taken by the UNH Survey Center and published last month, Governor Scott remains popular, but his approval ratings have dropped. The poll found that 58% of Vermont residents approved of his job performance, 39% disapproved, and 3% weren’t sure. Governor Scott’s net approval rating (the difference between those who approve and those who disapprove) is +19. This is down from November’s net approval of +39.
Surprisingly it is his own party who approves of him least. 75% of Independents, 62% of Democrats, and only 46% of Republicans approve his job performance. Yet in November, Republicans had given him an approval rating of 66%. Republican approval of Governor Scott has slid almost a third in just four months. Republicans are his most tepid supporters, but the Governor is seeking to change that. Republicans need to heed his overtures of reconciliation.
Last week, Governor Scott attended the State Dinner for South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol at the White House. He took his mother as his guest. It speaks volumes about how magnanimous his wife is in giving up her spot, but it also speaks to the kind of person the Governor is. How nice of him to take his mother. How well he represents our state. It is time for those on the right to get it together and follow his lead. Governor Scott, we appreciate you.