Jim Dandeneau: Vermonters' agenda: child care, housing, addiction, climate change

This commentary is by Jim Dandeneau of Underhill, executive director of the Vermont Democratic Party.

I would like to start by congratulating Gov. Phil Scott on his victory. His continued political success is a testament to what can be accomplished by a Republican who refuses to attempt to overthrow the United States government or who declines to bully gay teachers.

It’s a model for his party to follow, and I hope for the betterment of this country that they do so.

However, I find his victory lap a little confusing. He’s spent the time since the election demanding that the Legislature — on the heels of Democrats’ own historic victory in the House, and dominant performance in the Senate — compromise with him. It’s his read on the election results that Vermonters were voting for “compromise” and “moderation.”

I’d like to offer a competing perspective:

Vermonters care about being able to support themselves and their families, and ensuring that Vermonters have a sustainable, secure future. They don’t really care about who it comes from and how it happens.

As our candidates traveled around Vermont, they heard a number of common refrains: Child care is unattainable. They can’t find an apartment, or a home to settle into where they could start a family. They are tired of losing friends to addiction, and scared that climate change is making their lives more dangerous.

Vermonters could care less if the Senate Economic Development Committee and the Scott administration spend the next two years standing around the committee room making nice with each other. They need help finding child care, paying for housing, turning the curve on our record-breaking streak of opioid deaths, and protecting our communities from a dangerously shifting climate.

Democrats are preconditioned to seek compromise. Our tent is very big, and that makes us constitutionally inclined toward consensus, collaboration and sharing credit. Our legislative caucuses would be overjoyed to have open lines of communication with the governor’s office early in the process, to have willing collaborators from Phil Scott’s agency heads as they craft responses to these critical issues. But, as I’m sure he knows, the clock is already running and the time to get started is now.. 

At the VTDigger debate, the governor indicated that his administration was “talking about a lot of different initiatives” before declining to name any of them. I’ve spoken with legislative leaders since the election, and they have told me that they would be thrilled to be included in those conversations, as they might parallel work that incoming legislators are doing to address the shared critical priorities for working Vermonters. 

And in the governor’s case, better process might lead to better outcomes: He’s set a state record for vetoes by a large margin. His typical involvement in the legislative process is to wait until a bill is three-quarters finished before swooping in with demands that could have been answered early in the process, then veto the bill when those demands aren’t entirely met. Perhaps with dominant supermajorities in both chambers, the governor will be inspired to be more proactive.

With or without the governor’s collaboration, our Democratic team is ready to help working Vermonters on Day One. We eagerly welcome Gov. Scott to join us in collaboratively crafting solutions to Vermont’s critical challenges this biennium.


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