By John Herrick/VTDigger.org
Lt. Gov. Phil Scott
By Jasper Craven and Anne Galloway, VTDigger.org
Republican Lt. Gov. Phil Scott made official what has long been assumed — he will run for Vermont governor in 2016.
“I’ve made this decision because I believe too many families and employers are on the economic edge,” Scott wrote in his announcement letter Tuesday, Sept. 8.
Scott, 57, says he can bring “new energy” and people of “different backgrounds” together. Vermonters “crave” a change in leadership he says in large part because the state is in trouble financially.
“I’m optimistic about the future, but we need to be realistic about where we’re at,” Scott said in an interview Tuesday.
State revenues continue to fall, and he said the next governor, whoever he or she is, will have to address the ongoing budget gap. Tax receipts have been 2 percent lower than the state spending rate for several years, and that trend is expected to continue.
Scott says the Shumlin administration has not been responsible in light of the state’s economic situation.
“I’m pragmatic and frugal, and I believe we have a crisis of affordability,” Scott says. “We have to react and take steps to help ourselves.”
Changes to the state budgeting process could be painful initially, he said, but ultimately, “the future could be bright if we play our cards right.”
Scott said last month’s poor state revenue results will likely continue, and the state will have to take corrective action to make government more efficient. Raising taxes, he said, would be “an absolute last resort.”
Scott’s entry into the race sets up a Republican primary with Bruce Lisman, 68, a Wall Street executive and Shelburne resident who declared his candidacy for governor last week.
Two Democrats, Matt Dunne, 45, a Google executive and former state senator, and House Speaker Shap Smith, 49, have also announced bids for governor in 2016. Another Democrat, Sue Minter, 54, the secretary of the Agency of Transportation, told WDEV on Tuesday that she will announce her intentions by the end of September. Perennial candidate H. Brooke Paige has not declared which primary he will enter.
Scott’s announcement contained no specific policy prescriptions, but he said his candidacy would be built on the promise of fiscal responsibility in state spending. He promised to resist new taxes, and said the state has too often “wagered our future on outdated or unproven policies.”
Scott said he would be filing the proper paperwork with the state over the coming weeks to make his bid official, and said this effort would be coupled with a fundraising and hiring push.
“It is time for Vermont to move in a different direction, beginning with a change in the governor’s office,” Scott wrote.
A formal kickoff event will take place in the late fall, possibly after Thanksgiving, Scott said, and he hopes by that time to have hired campaign staff.
Like Lisman and Dunne, Scott announced his candidacy via email to supporters. All three have said they will hold formal kickoff events this fall.
Smith launched his campaign in a July news conference.
Scott says it’s too early to begin campaigning.
“I think Vermonters would appreciate it if we slow it down a little bit,” he said.
Scott has been called a “reluctant candidate.” Members of the Vermont GOP begged the lieutenant governor to run for governor in 2014, and when he refused, Scott Milne, a travel agency executive and political neophyte stepped up to take on Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin. Milne lost to Shumlin by 2,434 votes, but carried a majority of voting districts. Milne never conceded the race and argued that it was up to lawmakers to decide who won the election. The Legislature re-elected Shumlin in January.
Shumlin declared in June that he would not seek a fourth term as governor.
This time as Scott mulled whether to run, Lisman jumped out ahead and announced he would enter the gubernatorial race as a Republican.
Scott describes Lisman as a “formidable” candidate. “I don’t take it lightly. It can’t be all about the money, but it’s important.”
The entrance of Lisman in the race makes money a more important factor in the 2016 than ever. Lisman is personally wealthy and has bankrolled a nonpartisan advocacy group, Campaign for Vermont, for four years.
Scott says, however, that he will run a competitive race and made a glancing reference to his career as a part-time stock car driver.
“I’ve made my mark in other areas,” he said.
Scott said he has raised $150,000 so far.
One of the obstacles Scott faces is a glaring conflict of interest. The lieutenant governor owns an excavation contracting company, Dubois & King, which has millions of dollars in contracts with the state and municipalities.
Scott, who has run the company for 30 years, says he will step down if he is elected governor. He said the plans for who would take his place in the interim are still underway. “It’s not like flipping a switch,” he said.
“I don’t have stocks and bonds, I don’t have any other investments [besides Dubois & King],” Scott said. “It’s a big step.”