Politics

Scott’s decisions on abortion and gun control ‘a wash’ politically

Gov. Phil Scott addresses the Senate before it adjourns at the Statehouse in Montpelier on May 29. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

Gov. Phil Scott was careful in recent months not to give away his plans if and when bills to protect abortion rights and establish a 24-hour waiting period for handgun purchases arrived on his desk. But he did offer hints.

When pushed on the abortion bill, H.57, he repeatedly said that he supported a woman’s right to choose. On the waiting period legislation, S.169, he said he didn’t believe the state needed to impose new gun restrictions.

On Monday evening, Scott announced he had signed a landmark bill to codify a woman’s right to abortion, but had decided to veto the waiting period for gun purchases — a bill pitched by Democrats as a suicide prevention measure.

“He definitely warned us or let us know early on that that was his position,” said Sen. Anthony Pollina, D/P Washington, referring to the waiting period bill. “You’ve got to give him credit for being consistent in his message.”

Scott’s decisions on the two bills will likely earn the moderate Republican governor both support and criticism on the right and the left. But state political leaders across the spectrum don’t expect his actions will particularly damage, or boost, his appeal on either side.

“I think it’s a wash,” said Terje Anderson, chair of the Vermont Democratic Party. “I think overall it doesn’t change the public’s perception of him much.”

“I don’t think either of these situations are the kind of flashpoints that are going to create a groundswell of support or opposition towards him,” said Sen. Joe Benning, R-Caledonia, the Senate’s Republican minority leader.

By signing the abortion bill, some said that the governor, who is already popular with more moderate Democrats, would likely see more favor on the left. His veto of the waiting period bill may help him regain the support he lost on the right after signing a package of gun control bills last year.

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And Democrats said if the governor hadn’t signed the abortion bill, he would have faced harsh political blowback.

Vermont Democratic Party Chair Terje Anderson

Vermont Democratic Party Chair Terje Anderson. Photo by Mike Dougherty/VTDigger

“He had to do that,” Anderson said of Scott’s decision to sign the bill. “We would have gone after him if he had just quietly let it become law without his signature. I think there would have been a price to pay.”

Democrats pitched the bill this year over concerns a conservative-majority U.S Supreme Court could soon overturn the landmark abortion decision Roe v. Wade. The new law forbids the government from interfering in a woman’s decision to have an abortion at any stage in her pregnancy, and is among the strongest abortion protections in the country.

Scott’s veto of the waiting period bill, S.169, has earned him fresh criticism from many in the party and gun control advocates who had hoped the governor would let the bill become law — with or without his signature.

Alyssa and Rob Black of Essex, the parents of of Andrew Black, a 23-year-old who shot and killed himself late last year hours after buying a handgun, pushed for the waiting period legislation in the Legislature, and called Scott’s veto “cowardly” and a “political” move.

The couple said they believed the governor was trying to win back gun-rights supporters who criticized him last year for supporting a package of gun control measures, including expanding backgrounds checks to private sales and setting limits on magazine sizes.

In an interview Tuesday, Alyssa Black said she would help unseat Scott if he ran for reelection. “I will use my voice to make sure there is another governor in 2020,” she said. “I will watch and make sure I know all the candidates’ positions. Whoever supports this, I will support.”

Alyssa and Rob Black

Alyssa and Rob Black, the parents of Andrew Black, testify in favor of a waiting period for firearm purchases before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Feb. 28. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

But Pollina, the Progressive senator, said the bills Scott signed last year would help temper the anger this year. “I’m not so sure he has a lot to lose by vetoing the gun bill,” he said, “given the fact people feel like he deserves credit for what he did last year.”

And for some Second Amendment advocates, the governor’s veto helps earn back their approval, according to Chris Bradley, president of the Vermont Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs, which opposed the waiting period measure.

“It was and is the best constitutional decision that could have been reached,” he said.

But others, including Sen. John Rodgers, D-Essex-Orleans, a staunch gun rights supporter, said that the governor’s actions last year, particularly his signature on the magazine ban, won’t easily be forgotten.

“I think it’s undoable,” he said. “I think this probably helps with some of them. It certainly doesn’t cure it for me and most of the people that I know.”

Scott’s support of the abortion legislation has also drawn some critique on the right. Most Republicans in the House and Senate voted against the measure, with many concerned that it could encourage women and medical providers to carry out late-term abortions.

Scott has long held pro-choice views, but used to openly support requirements for parental notification for minors seeking abortions, and restrictions on late-term abortions — none of which was included in H.57.

MARY BEERWORTH

Mary Beerworth,  director of Vermont Right to Life.

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Mary Beerworth, executive director of the Vermont Right to Life Coalition, said that while Scott used to be more “moderate” on abortion policy, his signature on H.57 shows “he has put the final nail in that coffin and he has officially backtracked all the way.”

But some Republicans said they don’t think that his signature on the bill will cost him in the long term.

Sen. Randy Brock, R-Franklin, a former candidate for lieutenant governor, said he doubts there would be enough pro-life voters turning out to vote against Scott to hurt the incumbent governor.

“I doubt that that is a large enough of a constituency to make that a difference,” he said.

House Majority Leader Jill Krowinski, D-Burlington, said she gives the governor credit for sticking to what he has stated on the campaign trail.

“By saying that he supports reproductive rights it was important for him to show that he meant it and he did and I deeply appreciate that,” she said. “I would have been shocked and angry if he had not signed this and went back on this word.”

Alan Keays contributed reporting.

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Xander Landen

About Xander

Xander Landen is VTDigger's political reporter. He previously worked at the Keene Sentinel covering crime, courts and local government. Xander got his start in public radio, writing and producing stories for NPR affiliates including WBUR in Boston and WNYC in New York. While at WNYC, he contributed to an award-winning investigation of how police departments shield misconduct records from the public. He is a graduate of Tufts University and his work has also appeared in PBS NewsHour and The Christian Science Monitor.

Email: [email protected]

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