After six years in office, Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin is heading into his final weeks in office. Shumlin sat down with VPR to discuss this year's election results and the impact his administration has had on Vermont.
VPR: How are you feeling after the election of Donald Trump as president and especially about his promise to repeal the Affordable Care Act? What do you think that would mean for the health care initiatives that you introduced in Vermont over the past six years?
Shumlin: “What I'm feeling is probably what a lot of Vermonters are feeling — a mixture of disbelief, fear and apprehension about the future and the hope that it's not going to be as bad as his rhetoric. We got to move forward.
“In terms of health care, what we've accomplished in Vermont is a part of the vision of President Barack Obama. We embraced the Affordable Care Act [and] we've signed up 20,000 Vermonters since I've been governor who now don't wake up in the morning without health insurance.
"And we, with Massachusetts, have the lowest uninsured rate in the country. We've literally cut our insured rate from about 13 percent uninsured down to 2.6 percent.
"If the Affordable Care Act is in fact repealed, it's going to take those 20,000 Vermonters and put them back in the situation they were in before. I just think that's untenable and I hope beyond hope it doesn't happen.”
It's no secret that Vermont state run health exchange had a bumpy ride. For those who may be frustrated, why should they not welcome a change in health care from the Trump administration?
“I'm the governor of Vermont, I’m not the governor of other states. Therefore, I can tell you that what you just said is not really true anymore.
“We had a terrible time getting our exchange working, as did President Obama and as did every other governor that chose to set up their own exchange, however our exchange now is working beautifully. It’s is probably one of the best functioning exchange in the nation right now.
“We're reenrolling without the kind of glitches that we had before [and] most Vermonters are finding that they're having a seamless process.
"Most importantly, there has not been a Republican or Democratic governor for generations in this state that hasn't pleaded for universal coverage. We got it done because of President Obama's good work and Congress’ good work.
“If we go back to a situation where folks are uninsured, where they go to emergency room for more expensive care, where we all pay for that — and in a state where we care about each other — how can we make this kind of progress and then turn back … and hurt 20 million Americans and 20,000 Vermonters?”
The Republican Governors Association ran some ads that were tying Democratic gubernatorial candidate Sue Minter to you, saying that she would be a continuation of your policies and the ads indicated that would be bad for Vermonters. How did it feel to see your legacy tied to a negative ad aimed to help someone you’d been working with for years?
“I look at these things pretty objectively and I'd suggest that this is nothing new. If we look back at this recent history in Vermont, when Gov. Dean retired and there was some Dean fatigue, which there always is when a government is done, they [Republicans] did the same thing to Doug Racine and Gov. Douglas prevailed.
“When Gov. Douglas had served a long term and there were some Douglas fatigue over his vetoing marriage equality and other issues, we [Democrats] suggested that it was time for change.
“Vermont has a long tradition of, since 1962 when Phil Hoff was the first elected Democratic governor of Vermont, [switching] parties every single time and this year is no different.
“Now having said that, we have an extraordinary record to be proud of and I would suggest that some of the Shumlin fatigue … is centered around the fact we've gotten so much done, not that we've gotten so little done.
“When I first came in I had a $171 million budget deficit I had to fix, and we were using $171 million of one-time money … We fixed that.
“We literally had an unemployment rate that was twice the rate that it is right now; we've created over 19,000 jobs in this state since I became governor … Now, employers' biggest problem is finding people to do the work.
“[We're] the first state to have universal pre-K for four year-olds, which I promised to do. We've doubled the number of Vermonters in early college and dual enrollment.
“We have moved to renewable energies with more enthusiasm and success than probably any state in America. We have literally 12 times the number of solar panels over the last six years. We've got 22 times the amount of wind power, had some criticism of that, but it's working for Vermont.
“You know you can understand why there's a yin and yang here; we do this every time. We're now moving to a governor who, frankly, has a less ambitious agenda.”
You met with Governor-elect Phil Scott last week. What did you talk about in that meeting?
“The beauty of Vermont is it isn't Washington. Phil Scott and I served together in the Senate [and] we've been friends for a long time. He did the excavating work on my house, he built my driveway [and] he put my foundation in when I built the house.
“We were having this meeting at the same time that Trump and President Obama are meeting and I said ‘you know I'm glad that even though my mother was born in Holland, Phil Scott's never questioned my citizenship and I have never said that he is unfit to be governor of the state of Vermont.’
“But the bottom line is in Vermont we're much more focused on getting things done on a bipartisan basis, so I'm going to do everything I can to help Phil and his team get ready for what is the toughest job in the state.”
Were you disappointed that Democratic gubernatorial candidate Sue Minter did not win the election?
“Absolutely. Sue Minter was an extraordinary secretary of transportation for me.
“Let's talk about gender here for a second, forgetting how qualified she is. When I was chair of the DGA [Democratic Governor’s Association] we were down to one woman Democratic governor, Maggie Hassan [of] New Hampshire. So I went out and I recruited women all over America to run for … Democratic governorships and every one of them lost in the primary.
“Now we've just seen Hillary Clinton once again not be able to break the glass ceiling. I think we have to acknowledge that part of our sadness is the fact that we still discriminate against women when we choose chief executives.
It's kind of an extraordinary thing to suggest that people that elected Phil Scott over Sue Minter may have just been looking at the fact that she was a woman.
“I think there's no doubt, and we can live in denial if we wish, that the reason it's so difficult to elect women governors and that we've never elected a president the United States is a woman is because we hold them to a different standard when we're hiring a chief executive.”
What does the future hold for Peter Shumlin in politics, if there is one?
“I am a business person first. I was born and raised in this state … and I've never wanted to live in Washington D.C.
“Most importantly, I see the governor's office as a way to give back to a state that gave me so much and my family so much. I didn't see it as a way of life.
“So my pledge to my family … was I'm going to go all out and give this all I've got for six years [and] then I'm coming back to be Pete Shumlin.
“The last governor we had from Putney was George Aiken and I remember as a kid we always called him ‘governor’, even though he was a U.S. Senator [at the time] because he wanted to be called 'governor'.
“I want to be called Peter starting the first week in January and I'll just add, you won't see me hanging around looking for a lukewarm chicken supper somewhere.
“It's been a great experience, biggest honor in my life. We've done great things for Vermont and I now look forward to going back and being a private citizen.”