Politics

Scott, Gray sworn in under heightened security

Gov. Phil Scott is sworn in during an outdoor ceremony on the front steps of the Statehouse in Montpelier on Thursday, January 7, 2021. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

This story was updated at 4:46 p.m.

Gov. Phil Scott, Lt. Gov. Molly Gray and Vermont’s other statewide officeholders were sworn in Thursday in ceremonies overshadowed by the chaos that unfolded the day before in Washington, D.C.

On Wednesday, supporters of President Donald Trump overran the U.S. Capitol, prompting the evacuation of lawmakers. One rioter died after being shot by police and three others died following medical emergencies, according to news reports. The chaos in the nation’s capital prompted Vermont officials to step up security protocols in Montpelier during Thursday’s state inaugural events. 

Scott, who called for Trump’s removal from office Wednesday, continued to condemn the president during brief remarks to legislators following his inauguration. 

“I was shocked to see this attack on the fundamental principles of our republic,” Scott said in a nine-minute speech delivered via Zoom. “Let me be clear. These actions were not patriotic and these people are not patriots.”

He continued, “The fact that these flames of hate and insurrection were lit by the president of the United States will be remembered as one of the darkest chapters in our nation’s history.”

Scott also acknowledged the toll Covid-19 has taken on the state and its economy. Though he stressed that the coming months would likely be difficult, he sought to strike an optimistic chord. 

“As vaccinations are underway, there’s finally light at the end of the tunnel and it’s getting brighter every day,” the governor said. “We must reach the end of that tunnel with as little lost life as possible.” He added, “We must focus like a laser on laying the foundation for our economic recovery.”

Scott, who was elected last November to a third two-year term, was sworn in Thursday afternoon on the Statehouse steps. The ceremony was moved outside from its traditional venue in the House chamber in order to comply with social distancing protocols. After he took his own oath of office, Scott administered the same to Secretary of State Jim Condos, Treasurer Beth Pearce, Attorney General TJ Donovan and Auditor Doug Hoffer. 

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Though governors typically deliver lengthy inaugural addresses immediately after they are sworn into office, Scott chose to make two separate speeches Thursday: the shorter version delivered Thursday afternoon to lawmakers and a longer one scheduled for 7 p.m. 

Molly Gray is sworn in as lieutenant governor by the U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Peter Hall at the Statehouse on Thursday. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

On Thursday morning, Gray was sworn in to her first term as lieutenant governor in the Senate chamber. The 36-year-old Burlington Democrat became the fourth woman to hold the state’s No. 2 job. In remarks to the Senate, members of which took part using remote technology, Gray praised Scott for condemning the president a day earlier. 

“Beneath the shadow of grief caused by this pandemic hangs another shadow brought by yesterday’s attack — incited by President Trump — on the U.S. Capitol and members of Congress who were upholding their constitutional obligation to certify national election results,” she said.

“I commend our governor for his leadership last evening in calling for the resignation of President Trump or that he be removed from office by his cabinet or Congress,” Gray said.

Gov. Phil Scott administers the oath of office to Vermont’s constitutional officers in an outdoor ceremony on the Statehouse steps in Montpelier on Thursday. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

Stepped-up security 

Throughout the day, a large police presence was on display on the grounds of the Vermont Statehouse.

Montpelier Police Chief Brian Peete said Thursday morning that while he wasn’t aware of specific threats against the Statehouse, he was concerned that what had occurred Wednesday in the nation’s capital could spread to other places. 

“I hope it doesn’t gin up anything that happens here,” Peete said in a phone interview as he helped to patrol the grounds of the capital complex prior to the swearing-in of state officeholders. “But,” the police chief said, “it’s a disturbing national trend.” 

The Capitol Police are in charge of the Statehouse and its grounds, Peete said, and the Vermont State Police oversee the governor’s security. Other area agencies, including the Montpelier Police Department and Washington County Sheriff’s Department, provide assistance.

Peete said that due to “operational security” he could not reveal how many officers were involved in the effort to protect the Statehouse.

Donovan, speaking by phone Thursday after he was sworn in to a third term as attorney general, said he certainly noticed the stepped up security effort at the Statehouse. 

“There was a higher than usual law enforcement presence is how I would describe it,” he said. 

There were other signs that it was anything but a normal day in Montpelier. State Street was closed in front of the Statehouse, as well as other nearby streets, while inaugural events were taking place. A joint press availability set for later in the day featuring Gray, Senate President Pro Tempore Becca Balint, D-Windham, and House Speaker Jill Krowinski, D-Burlington, was called off. 

That move was made, according to a statement announcing the cancellation, “in light of [the] evolving response to yesterday’s events in Washington, D.C. and in an effort to promote the safest day possible at the State House today.”

Vermont State Police troopers block State Street in front of the Statehouse in Montpelier to provide security for an outdoor swearing-in ceremony for Gov. Phil Scott and the state’s constitutional officers on Thursday. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

Capitol Police Chief Matthew Romei did not immediately return a message Thursday seeking comment.

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Public Safety Commissioner Michael Schirling referred questions Thursday to Adam Silverman, spokesperson for the Vermont State Police. 

Silverman, in an email, stated that he couldn’t comment “specifically on security measures,” though he said the state police were “constantly assessing security procedures and posture” on other local, national and international events.

Washington County State’s Attorney Rory Thibault said Thursday he had talked Wednesday night to Romei, the capitol police chief.

“I was checking with him about any intelligence or other issues at the Statehouse,” Thibault said. 

“I think it’s fair to say,” the prosecutor added, “there is heightened awareness of law enforcement of the need to ensure that here in Vermont our government operations are not impacted by anything happening in DC.” 

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Kit Norton

About Kit

Kit Norton is the general assignment reporter at VTDigger. He is originally from eastern Vermont and graduated from Emerson College in 2017 with a degree in journalism. In 2016, he was a recipient of The Society of Environmental Journalists' Emerging Environmental Journalist award. Kit has worked at PRI's weekly radio environmental program, Living on Earth, and has written for the online news site Truthout.

Email: [email protected]

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