Live Blog: Shumlin Reelected; Protesters Disrupt Inaugural

Jan 8, 2015

After lawmakers chose Gov. Peter Shumlin for a third term in office Thursday morning, he delivered his inaugural address to a packed chamber in the Statehouse. Shumlin's speech focused on new renewable energy policies and a redoubled effort to clean up the state's waterways.

Final update 2:32 p.m. Gov. Peter Shumlin focused on a stronger commitment to renewable energy and environmental issues in this third inaugural address Thursday.

The governor proposed a new “Energy Innovation Program,” that “will promote clean energy and less expensive total energy costs for Vermonters,” he said. The program will do that by targeting home efficiency projects such as a Green Mountain Power “eHome” program the governor highlighted. 

PDF: Read the full text of the governor’s inaugural address.

Shumlin also announced almost $7 million in new funding to clean up Lake Champlain in addition to a new clean water fund to help environmental efforts.

He said the new funding will help pay for a three-pronged approach to clean up  Vermont’s troubled bodies of water, including Lake Champlain and Lake Carmi, which both saw major toxic algae blooms over the summer.

Shumlin said the state should assist municipalities “implement modern storm water management systems that capture and treat the polluted runoff from dirt roads, streets, and parking lots.”

A group of lawmakers selected to be tellers tallies votes cast by a joint session of the Legislature to determine Vermont's next governor on Thursday, Jan. 8. Gov. Peter Shumlin defeated Republican Scott Milne, 110-69.
Credit Angela Evancie / VPR

He also called on the state to “direct significant new resources” to the “hardworking farmers and loggers” who “want to do the right thing.” The new funding, he said, would help farmers and loggers implement practices that prevent soil erosion from carrying pollutants into the state’s waterways.

Third, Shumlin called for stricter enforcement of existing water quality standards, including cutting down on the tax breaks farmers get on their land.

Shumlin said “farmers who are not following the required practices that prevent pollution should not enjoy the property tax reduction of current use until they do the work required of them.”

Shumlin said  his proposed budget “will include $6.75 million for technical assistance and direct investment in water quality projects around the state. This includes $1.6 million in state match which will leverage $8.2 million in federal EPA grants for a total of $9.8 million for low- interest loans to municipalities, and increase to $3.75 million funding for innovative storm water management projects, and $1.4 million for the Agency of Agriculture’s cost sharing program for livestock fencing and other measures.”

Protesters organized by the Health Care is a Human Right campaign repeatedly interrupted the afternoon's proceedings with songs, chants and banners held up in the back of the House chamber.
Credit Angela Evancie / VPR

Additionally, Shumlin said, “[m]y transportation bill also includes $3.2 million for projects that reduce polluted runoff from our back roads.”

Shumlin also referenced the close election that left some question about whether he would even serve a third term until Thursday morning, when the Legislature had to choose a governor.

“I heard clearly in the election this fall that Vermonters expect more from me and from the state to help improve their lives,” Shumlin said. “From jobs to the environment, I have an agenda for progress that I will partner with you to fulfill in this term and beyond.”

Some of those who "expect more" were present before the speech, chanting inside the House chamber and wearing stickers in favor of single payer health care. A number of groups that previously supported Shumlin based on his push for a single player system in Vermont have voiced dissatisfaction with the governor since he announced that he has putting single payer on hold indefinitely last month.

"If we work together to enact this legislation, it will mark our single biggest step so far toward reaching our climate and renewable energy goals." - Gov. Peter Shumlin

The jobs aspect was one Shumlin hopes to cover in part with his Energy Innovation Program that would replace Vermont’s Sustainably Priced Energy Development (SPEED) program in 2017. Shumlin said the proposal would create over 1,000 new jobs in the state and save Vermonters money through reduced energy costs in more efficient homes.

“If we work together to enact this legislation, it will mark our single biggest step so far toward reaching our climate and renewable energy goals,” Shumlin said.

The inaugural address will be followed by the governor’s budget address next week. He said that speech will expand on his economic vision for the state and outline steps to “grow our economy and protect our quality of life, in areas including education spending and quality, job training, and health care.”

Update 1:09 p.m. Dozens of demonstrators took to the statehouse steps at noon to put pressure on lawmakers to increase support for homeless Vermonters during this legislative session.

While some past demonstrations haven’t been well-received by lawmakers, the group of legislators that addressed the protestors in the bitter cold Thursday said they appreciated the continued pressure.

House Speaker Shap Smith greeted the demonstrators without a jacket on, and Rep. Tom Stevens encouraged the advocates to keep pressuring lawmakers to the point of discomfort so homelessness remains a priority.

Rep. Ann Pugh, the chair of the House Human Services Committee said the 4,000 Vermonters who called emergency shelters home in 2014 need to be better served, and said the legislature needs to do more to reduce that number.

Rep. Ann Pugh addressed demonstrators in the six-below-zero cold on the statehouse steps Thursday.
Credit Taylor Dobbs / VPR

The legislature faces a $100 million budget gap this year, and will have to make some tough decisions about cutting program funding or finding new sources of revenue, but Smith and Senate President John Campbell said they would not allow assistance for the homeless to be “on the chopping block.”

Update 10:49 a.m. Shumlin released the following statement after he was elected by the legislature:

It’s been an incredible honor to serve as Governor of Vermont, and I am so grateful for the opportunity to continue serving this state I love. I expect this will be a productive session addressing the issues Vermonters care about so deeply. In my Inaugural and Budget Addresses, I will offer my proposals to help expand our economy, grow jobs and increase affordability, because I know that many in Vermont still are not feeling the benefit of our economic recovery. I will also propose ways to address the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead in making sure state government operates at a price Vermonters can afford, while providing critical services to our most vulnerable. Vermont continues to be the best place in America to live, work and raise a family, and we need to fight hard every day to make that a reality for every single Vermonter. I look forward working with Vermonters and legislators to do just that.

Update 10:45 a.m. One of the strangest and most drawn out elections in Vermont’s history finally came to an end Thursday when lawmakers delivered Gov. Peter Shumlin to a third term in office.

The Democratic incumbent was the top vote-getter in the November election, and received over 2,000 more votes than GOP runner-up Scott Milne. But Shumlin failed to win a majority of votes. And when no candidate gets more than 50 percent of the votes, Vermont’s constitution throws the fate of the contest to the 180 legislators in the House and Senate.  

In a Joint Assembly in the House chamber Thursday morning, they cast their secret ballot votes. Shumlin won handily, 110-69.

But the unusually high number of votes for Milne – in these instances, lawmakers tend to vote overwhelmingly in favor of the first-place finisher – underscores the strength of opposition to Shumlin’s among many residents of the state. Today’s vote caps a two-month period during which Milne and his supporters sought to turn residents’ disdain for their incumbent governor into an unlikely win for the Republican challenger.

After the vote, Milne, who got about 2,400 fewer votes than Shumlin in the general election, said issues like rising property taxes and health care costs now lie with Democrats alone.

“They own it together now,” Milne said. “And if it doesn’t go in a good way for them, I think it’s going to be tough for them to really credibly articulate that they’re the right team to go forward after the next election.”

Scott Milne was surrounded by media after his defeat by legislative vote.
Credit Taylor Dobbs / VPR

A newly formed group called Vermonters for Honest Government, spent $30,000 to run television ads over the past two weeks, urging residents to contact their representatives, and ask them to vote for Milne.

Milne himself spent “a few hundred dollars” on social media advertising over the past week, and has been in the statehouse Wednesday and Thursday morning to talk with legislators about their votes and about what kind of administration he would offer.

The media buys generated heavy volume to lawmakers’ phones, according to several legislators who say they’ve been fielding constituent calls since the TV ads began airing.

House Minority Leader Don Turner said before voting that this year’s election led to more constituents reaching out to him than he’s had in years in office.

Senate Secretary John Bloomer, left, confers with Lt. Gov. Phil Scott before Scott announces the results of the vote.
Credit Angela Evancie / VPR

But in a Legislature controlled overwhelmingly by Democrats – they have 85 seats in the 150-member House, and 19 in the30-member Senate – an upset wasn’t in the cards.

A victory for the second-place finisher wouldn’t have been unprecedented, but it’s only happened three times in Vermont history, and not once since the 1800s.

Shumlin secured about 46 percent of the vote in November, and Milne argued that while he may have gotten fewer votes, a majority of Vermonters had “voted for change.” He also said the 4.4 percent of voters that cast ballots for Libertarian Dan Feliciano in November likely would have voted for him, had the third-party candidate not been in the race.

Milne had the support of several high-profile Republicans, including the minority leaders of the House and Senate.

On the floor of the House chamber, shortly before the debate, Turner thanked Milne for giving lawmakers a ‘legitimate choice’ in their vote. And he said Milne’s decision to stay in the race had been “good for Democracy.”

But support among the GOP was hardly universal. Former Gov. James Douglas and Lt. Gov. Phil Scott, notably, said the highest vote-getter represented the will of the people, and that in their opinions, lawmakers should vote accordingly.

Senators Dick Sears, left, and Dick McCormack, jokingly predict the outcome of the vote while waiting for tellers to count the ballots.
Credit Angela Evancie / VPR

The buzz surrounding this election has spawned a debate over a call to revise the Vermont Constitution. Many lawmakers say the 50-pecent mandate is a relic of a bygone era, and have thrown their support behind a constitutional amendment that would require legislative votes only in instances in which no candidate gets more than 40 percent of the vote.

Turner sad such calls are premature, and that the tradition of the legislative vote has “stood the test of time.”

Update 10:27 a.m. Lawmakers have voted and Lt. Gov. Phil Scott has directed the appointed tellers to collect and tabulate the ballots.

Sen. David Zuckerman reveals his ballot, with a vote cast for Peter Shumlin, to the camera.
Credit Angela Evancie / VPR
Ballots cast by lawmakers await collection on Thursday morning.
Credit Angela Evancie / VPR

  Update 10:22 a.m. Lt. Gov. Phil Scott informed members that no one will be allowed to enter the chamber after ballots are distributed and announced the rules for the election.

Ballots are now being distributed for the election of a governor. Lawmakers must choose between the three top vote-getters: Dan Feliciano (Liberterian), Scott Milne (Republican) and Gov. Peter Shumlin (Democrat).

Update 10:13 a.m. With Lt. Gov. Phil Scott presiding, the joint assembly is starting the formal process of electing a governor.

Members of the joint assembly now have an opportunity to speak about the vote.

Update 9:59 a.m. The Vermont House of Representatives is in recess now as the state Senate joins them in the House chamber for a vote to decide the governor's race.

Because no candidate got the majority of votes in November's election, the Vermont constitution requires lawmakers in joint assembly to choose a governor.

House Minority Leader Don Turner confers with colleagues before the vote for governor begins on Thursday morning.
Credit Angela Evancie / VPR

Gov. Peter Shumlin narrowly received the most votes in November's election, but Republican challenger Scott Milne refused to conceed the race to Shumlin, and is still hoping for a victory when lawmakers vote this morning.

The vote is expected to being shortly after 10:30 a.m.

Original Post 9:17 a.m. Single-payer activists are planning to swarm the Statehouse today to demand that lawmakers resume their years-long push to adopt a publicly-financed health care system. But House Speaker Shap Smith says the debate is over, for this biennium at least. And he says efforts to replace private premiums with public revenues ended when Gov. Peter Shumlin decided to abandon his single-payer proposal last month.

Shumlin made the shocking political turnabout after determining the single-payer system would require a payroll tax of 11.5 percent and a sliding-scale income tax of up to 9.5 percent. Those rates would inflict undue economic shock on businesses and individuals, Shumlin said.

But the single payer activists who generated the groundswell needed to elevate this issue to center stage in Vermont say lawmakers must proceed toward single-payer, with or without the Democratic governor’s support. And they’ve vowed to turn out in force today in Montpelier.

Smith, however, says the policy machinery needed for a system-wide overhaul of the state’s $5 billion health care system needs to come from the governor’s office. And he says the citizen legislature lacks the resources needed to move forward without massive assistance from the executive branch.

“There are so many issues unresolved and the staffing that we have to try to address those issues is not sufficient for us to take it up this year,” Smith said.