On 4-Year Terms, 2 Vermont Governors Disagree

Feb 8, 2016

  Vermont is one of just two states in the country that still have a two-year term for Governor. But there's an effort at the Statehouse to amend the state constitution to move to a four-year term.

But term length has become a hotly contested issue between two people with an intimate understanding of the issue — the current governor and a former governor.

For the first 80 years that Vermont was a state, governors were elected to a one-year term. In 1870, a two-year term was implemented and it's remained in place for almost 150 years.

Currently, Vermont and New Hampshire are the only states that have kept the two-year term.

This year, lawmakers are considering a constitutional amendment to extend the governor's term to four years. Former Gov. Madeleine Kunin strongly supports this change.

“Most tough problems are controversial and if you're before the voters after two years you might not have a chance to really build the constituency in support of these issues,” Kunin said.

But Gov. Peter Shumlin looks at this issue very differently.

“I personally have found as governor that it's particularly helpful when you're trying to do big bold things to be able every two years to get a check-in from Vermonters,” says Shumlin, “and say 'listen, I'm pushing ahead with what I think is right. I came here to get some really tough things done, I know they're controversial, I know you won't agree with maybe any of them or maybe most of them or maybe some of them but I'd just as soon know whether you want to fire me or not.”

"Most tough problems are controversial and if you're before the voters after two years you might not have a chance to really build the constituency in support of these issues." — Former Gov. Madeleine Kunin

Backers of the two-year term say that it's a good way to keep governors more in touch with voters. But Kunin doesn't buy this argument.

"You go to events, you get opinions, you get emails, you get phone calls, that's the virtue of being in a small state that everyone is intimate and very close,” Kunin says. “So I think a four year term would not diminish that."

"It's a controversial job. You do a lot, you get a lot of people mad and you can't have a six-year term without a two-year term any way I can figure out." — Gov. Peter Shumlin

Shumlin says he's also convinced that it's best for a governor to serve a total of six years in office.

"Because after six years folks tend to be pretty tired of their governors,” he says. “It's a controversial job. You do a lot, you get a lot of people mad and you can't have a six-year term without a two-year term any way I can figure out."

It's a long process to amend the Vermont Constitution. First, two thirds of the Senate must initially approve the proposal. Then it requires a simple majority in the House.

Then both chambers must approve the amendment in the next two-year Legislature session. If it makes that far, it's presented to voters in a statewide referendum.