The "blue wave" that Democrats had been hoping for nationally on Tuesday crashed over Vermont a long time ago, but one Vermont Republican has somehow maintained his foothold in this otherwise left-leaning state.
By a wide margin, voters on Tuesday gave incumbent Gov. Phil Scott a second term in office. And in an Election Night victory speech in Burlington, Scott reiterated the call for "affordability" that has long defined his gubernatorial platform.
“And I know that the high cost of living and doing business — energy, health care, education and taxes — are forcing too many to look elsewhere for opportunity,” Scott said.
By Republican standards, Scott is about as socially liberal as they come. By Democratic norms, he’s a staunch fiscal conservative.
In Vermont at least, that combination has been a formula for political success.
As of midnight Wednesday, Scott led Democratic challenger Christine Hallquist by 15 percentage points on a night when Democrats notched convincing victories in every other statewide office that was up for grabs.
During his first two years in office, Scott mostly made good on his campaign pledge not to raise taxes or fees. And while he’s signaled some openness to raising revenues during his second term, Scott’s call for fiscal restraint is as loud now as it’s ever been.
Scott so far has focused his cost-cutting efforts squarely on a K-12 public education system that now costs taxpayers $1.7 billion a year. His controversial proposals have included caps on school budgets and mandatory reductions in school staff, though the House and Senate Democrats that control the Legislature rejected both.
But Scott made clear in a post-victory-speech interview Tuesday that reigning in education costs will remain at the forefront of his gubernatorial agenda.
“We have 30,000 fewer students than we did 20 years ago in our education system, and I believe that we should be looking at a cradle-to-career-type continuum of learning,” Scott said.
A few miles away from Scott, Hallquist took the stage at a hotel conference center in Burlington to concede defeat. She thanked Scott for a well-fought campaign.
“We sparred well, and I think ... Vermont is a beacon of hope. We showed the rest of the country what good democracy looks like,” Hallquist said.
But Hallquist — the first openly transgender major party gubernatorial nominee in history — said the issues that defined her platform, like a $15 minimum wage or paid family leave, won’t necessarily die with her campaign.
“And we will continue to fight for what is right and what is just,” Hallquist said.
Scott and the Democratically controlled Legislature have feuded bitterly at times over state budget issues during the past two years.
And while the Republican governor won by double-digits Tuesday, his party lost a number of seats in the Vermont House of Representatives.
“In electing a governor of one party and a Legislature by another, the message Vermonters have sent to us tonight is clear: 'Work together,'" Scott said.
It was unclear late Tuesday night whether Democrats had picked up enough seats in the House to relegate Republicans to a super-minority status. But their continued domination in both chambers of the Legislature is certain.
And that means if Scott wants to get major policy reforms passed in a divided government, he’ll have to find some way to unify with his Democratic rivals.