Vermont Public is independent, community-supported media, serving Vermont with trusted, relevant and essential information. We share stories that bring people together, from every corner of our region. New to Vermont Public? Start here.

© 2024 Vermont Public | 365 Troy Ave. Colchester, VT 05446

Public Files:

For assistance accessing our public files, please contact or call 802-655-9451.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Gov. Scott on his approach to a fourth term, relations with the Vermont GOP

Angela Evancie
Vermont Public file
Gov. Phil Scott won re-election to a fourth term by a comfortable margin this year.

Gov. Phil Scott will begin his fourth term in office in January with a host of key issues on his agenda — and he has a strong mandate after a convincing victory in November’s election.

At the same time, Democrats at the Statehouse also have an election mandate. They significantly increased their majority in the House and maintained a strong majority in the Senate.

Vermont Public’s senior political correspondent Bob Kinzel recently talked to the governor to learn if Scott is approaching this new session any differently than he has for the past six years. He shared his reporting with Vermont Public's Mary Williams Engisch.

Mary Williams Engisch: Gov. Scott feels like he has this mandate. Democratic leaders think they also have a mandate from the election. How does all of this impact the approach that Scott plans to take in January?

Bob Kinzel: Mary, it's going to be fascinating to see how this all unfolds. Now, the governor told me he's not planning any big changes as he deals with the Legislature in January. He's issued a record number of vetoes in his six years in office — more than any other governor in history. But he says he's adopted an approach with these vetoes that he intends to continue. And that approach is to outline specific changes in his veto message that would make the bill acceptable to him.

"Treat people with respect and civility and find ways that we can work together. And that never changes. And as a reminder, I've never served in the majority; I've always been in the minority. So this is not anything new to me. So the approach stays somewhat the same," Scott said.

So Mary, one big question is whether the governor and the Democrats will be any more willing in January to reach compromise solutions, or will they hold out for most of what they want? Stay tuned.

Well, is there some kind of overlap between the governor and the Democrats over the really big priorities that they have for this session?

I think there really is. For instance, they all agreed on the need to make childcare more affordable, steps to address climate change, proposals to expand broadband services, affordable housing initiatives and programs to enhance workforce development.

The differences emerge on how to pay for these programs. Do you consider raising new revenue? Or do you use existing revenue sources? Now, paid family leave is a good example. It's a common goal. But the governor wants the program to be voluntary. Democratic leaders want it to be mandatory for all workers.

"I think we're all willing to at least agree on the goals, then we can talk about how to get there. And there's sometimes a path forward. And other times there isn't. And then we just have to respectfully agree to disagree," Scott said.

Mary, it might appear that the Democrats have veto-proof majorities in both the House in the Senate, and so that they can do pretty much whatever they want to. But there aren't a lot of issues that break down totally along party lines. So I think this concept of having a veto-proof majority is a little overstated sometimes.

Bob, you also had a chance to talk to the governor about the future of the Vermont Republican Party. And also his role in the party, and of Vermont's eight elected statewide offices. Scott was the only Republican to win in November. So what did you find out from him? What are his thoughts about how the party should move forward?

Mary, this is a very complicated issue because Scott has been so critical of former President Donald Trump. And at the same time, supporters of Trump in Vermont have been very upset by Scott's comments.

Well, the governor made it very clear to me that a number of Trump backers in Vermont have strongly urged him just to leave the party, the way that former Sen. Jim Jeffords did in May of 2001.

"You know, that would be the easiest thing for me to do," Scott said. "That would be easy because then I wouldn't have to worry about anything. I'd just run as an independent and I wouldn't have to cater to anyone. But I don't think that's healthy for democracy. So at the end of the day, my core values are still Republican. So you can throw me out of the party — I'm still going to be a Republican."

And as the only elected statewide Republican official, I asked Scott if he feels some responsibility to help rebuild the party, so it can be more competitive in the future.

"My first responsibility, first of all, is to the people of Vermont — those who voted for me and those who didn't. So that's my number one responsibility and priority. Secondary to that is making sure that we have some balance," Scott said.

Do you expect that Scott's going to take a fairly active role to strengthen the base of the Vermont Republican Party, or maybe not?

Mary, I would bet on the "maybe not" part of that equation. Scott says he's tried in the past and he has not been successful. He told me he needs to see the party move away from Trump before he tries to get involved.

"It's not as though I don't care about rebuilding the party, but I'm not going to be able to do it alone. First, the party has to understand they have an issue. They have to be comfortable with being open minded, to take any different approach. And thus far, that hasn't been the case," Scott said.

Mary, it's really interesting to note that in a recent survey of all 50 governors, three of the top four with the highest ratings are Republican governors who serve in blue states. That would be Charlie Baker in Massachusetts, Larry Hogan in Maryland and Phil Scott here in Vermont.

Scott told me that these ratings show that these Republican governors have developed what he calls "an effective playbook to govern." And he thinks this playbook serves as a national model for Republicans to be successful. But so far, this approach doesn't seem to be very popular outside of the northeastern part of the country.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message.

Bob Kinzel has been covering the Vermont Statehouse since 1981 — longer than any continuously serving member of the Legislature. With his wealth of institutional knowledge, he answers your questions on our series, "Ask Bob."
Mary Williams Engisch is a local host on All Things Considered.
Latest Stories