On Tuesday afternoon in the Statehouse, Republican Phil Scott gave his first news conference as the governor-elect of Vermont, and he says his resounding victory over Democrat Sue Minter gives him a clear electoral mandate.
A giant bust of Abraham Lincoln peers out at Statehouse visitors as they enter through the building’s massive double-front doors. Phil Scott stood directly in front of that century-old marble sculpture on Tuesday, the 16th president’s head hovering directly over his own. And he said it’s time to unite an electorate that is, as Tuesday’s election demonstrated, sharply divided.
“And whether you voted for me or for someone else, I am here to serve all of you, all Vermonters, and I will do my very best not to let you down,” Scott said.
Scott, however, says his nine-point margin of victory was an unambiguous directive for a more fiscally-conservative approach in Montpelier, and that the budget he unveils in January will reflect the new political order in the executive office.
“My election was a mandate, in terms of this crisis of affordability is real,” Scott says. “They want some action on the economy. They don’t want to have to struggle. They don’t want to have to work two and three jobs to make ends meet.”
The process of putting together a new gubernatorial administration is already underway, and Scott has tapped Tim Hayward, the former chief of staff under Republican Gov. Jim Douglas, to lead the transition team.
Scott says he’s also appointed businesswoman Debbie Winters and Independent state representative from Brattleboro, Laura Sibelia, to head up a leadership advisory committee.
“So we can find the best and the brightest minds to lead us,” Scott says.
Scott spent his campaign promising to limit growth in government spending to the rate of growth in the Vermont economy, or the increase in workers’ wages. Adhering to that pledge will require significantly less spending than lawmakers and the Shumlin administration have adopted over the past five years.
Scott also has some critical policy decisions awaiting him in the fifth floor office he’ll occupy beginning in January. The state, for instance, just signed onto to a massive all-payer health care reform initiative that Scott has voiced concerns about.
“We need a full vetting process. And I think it should have been done before it was signed, but it’s already signed, so we’ll move forward and we’ll try to find out if it’s good for Vermont,” Scott says. “And if it’s good for Vermont, we’ll continue.”
Scott was not a supporter of Donald Trump, and has condemned some of the president-elect’s more inflammatory rhetoric over the course of the presidential campaign. Scott says he remains confident however in the integrity of the nation’s institutions.
“I have a deep amount of faith and trust in the process, and I think it will be okay,” Scott says.
It’s clear that under a Scott administration, many of the initiatives sought by Minter and other Democratic candidates for House, Senate and statewide office are off the table, for now at least.
Scott wouldn’t explicitly promise vetoes of specific legislation on Wednesday. But he made it clear that items like universal background checks on gun sales, or raising the minimum wage to $12.50 an hour, would be viewed unfavorably if they come across his desk.
But House Majority Leader Sarah Copeland-Hanzas says the election of a Republican governor doesn’t mean that Democrats are ready to give up on their agenda.
Copeland-Hanzas says Democratic candidates have talked to tens of thousands of Vermonters over the last year.
“We as House members feel like we have a fairly clear mandate of what they would like us to work on,” Copeland-Hanzas says.
Copeland-Hanzas says college affordability, access to affordable childcare and other issues remain priorities for most Vermonters.
“We will have to sit down with a Phil Scott administration and talk with him about places where he sees that we can work together to provide those opportunities,” she says.
Scott says he looks forward to seeking common ground with legislators soon.