Six years of Democratic rule in Vermont will soon come to an end. And after a resounding victory for Phil Scott in the race for governor on Tuesday, Republicans will retake the executive branch in January.
While Scott says he thinks he can find common ground with members of the Democratically-controlled Legislature, the return to divided government promises some contentious policy debates over the next two years.
The GOP’s election-night watch party had been a subdued affair for the most part on Tuesday. It’s been a rough few election cycles for Republicans in Vermont, who lost the governor’s seat in 2010, and saw their numbers in the House and Senate fall to woeful lows.
A little before midnight, however, the party faithful finally found a major victory they could call their own.
And the crowd cheered wildly as Phil Scott made his way to the podium.
“Thank you all so much,” Scott said. “I can’t believe we’re here tonight.”
The three-term lieutenant governor and former Washington County senator has spent his 16 years in office insisting he doesn’t “have a political bone in his body.”
“So to say this blue-collar kid from Barre never expected this to happen is an understatement,” he said.
Scott’s finely-tuned political acumen was on display Tuesday, however, as the GOP gubernatorial candidate notched a comfortable 9-point victory against Democrat Sue Minter, even as Vermonters went Democrat in the presidential race by a nearly 2-to-1 margin.
“I am truly, truly humbled by what we accomplished tonight,” Scott said.
A few miles away, at the Democrats’ election-night event at the Hilton Hotel in Burlington, the scene was far grimmer. Party diehards watched in shock over the evening first as Donald Trump took an ever-growing lead in electoral votes over Hillary Clinton.
And then, they watched the Democratic gubernatorial candidate they worked so hard to elect make the speech none wanted to hear.
Minter put on a brave face, dancing her way into the ballroom, hugging friends and supporters along the way. But her wide smile belied the news she was there to relay.
“I obviously want to start by congratulating Phil,” Minter said. “We talked about how proud we were of the campaign that was run.”
Minter and Scott have exchanged some sharp jabs in a governor’s race that will likely be the most expensive in state history. Outside groups have spent more than $4 million to influence the outcome, in addition to the more than $4 million the candidates raised themselves.
Minter, though, said the state is in decent hands.
“I’ve known Phil personally for more than a decade,” Minter said. “And I know he will do his best to serve as our governor and lead our state.”
And she said the ideas her campaign brought to the fore this year live on.
“I don’t think this evening ends in any way our continued work to build a brighter future for Vermont, to continue to fight to have more livable wage jobs,” Minter said.
Minter’s loss will, however, change drastically the way the state approaches economic development. Minter had proposed a $12.50 minimum wage, mandated paid family leave, and tuition-free community and technical college. Minter said she wasn’t afraid of raising new taxes to bring those ideas to fruition. And she had a Democratically-controlled Legislature ready to work with her to make them happen.
Scott, meanwhile, has said he’ll reject any proposal that raises taxes or places new financial burdens on businesses. And he’s pledged to keep growth in government spending well below what it’s been under Democrats.
Scott said he’ll begin working immediately to deliver on those promises.
“Well, we first have to build a budget ourselves, and we’ll start that tomorrow, start hiring a team of talented people, regardless of party. It’s not going to be a litmus test for me that they have to be a Republican,” Scott said.
Scott said he understands the ideological gap between him and the Legislature will be difficult to bridge.
“Well you’re still going to have some partisan gridlock, I’m sure of that,” Scott said.
But Scott says he stands ready to collaborate with his friends across the aisle.
“I think we find ways to work together, and I’m looking forward to doing that,” Scott said. “I’ve been in the senate for 10 years, I’ve presided over the senate for six, and I know we can find ways to work together.”
It will become apparent relatively soon how successful he is. Scott will present his inaugural budget to the Legislature in January.