Olsen: I am voting for Scott, Smith


Over the past few months, many of you have asked me what I think of the candidates running for Governor and Lt. Governor this year. With the primary election less than two weeks away — Tuesday, Aug. 9 — I thought it would be a good time to share my thoughts.

Let me start by saying that I think we have a highly qualified pool of candidates for governor; all five of the leading candidates would do a competent job (it goes without saying that I am excluding the perennial fringe candidates from this assessment).

Whomever our next governor is, he or she will have a platform to promote his or her policy initiatives. In an effort to differentiate from each other, the candidates have all put forward their positions on the issues, along with policy initiatives that they would advance as governor. But we need to remember that the governor is the CEO of the State of Vermont, with responsibility for managing a multi-billion dollar enterprise with thousands of employees. This requires vision, leadership, and top notch management skills. So while we hear about the bold ideas that each candidate has to offer, we also need to consider how prepared each candidate is to execute on his or her ideas, and how effective he or she would be as the CEO of a large and complex organization.

The two candidates who stand out in this field are Phil Scott and Sue Minter. I have had the pleasure of working with both over the years. I served with Sue in the House, and then worked closely with her while she served as the state's Tropical Storm Irene Recovery Officer, and later, when she was Secretary of Transportation. I have known Phil since his time in the State Senate, and worked closely with him during his tenure as Lt. Governor. They are both very earnest, thoughtful, respectful, and hard-working public servants.

Both would be very good governors, but we can only choose one.

This November, I will be voting for Phil Scott to be our next governor. Considering how dysfunctional the political system is in this country, Phil Scott sets an example of how a leader can bring people together for the common good. Throughout his career, Phil has demonstrated his ability to forge consensus from competing viewpoints, which is why he has earned the trust and respect of many elected leaders from different political parties. Phil has the experience of serving in the Legislature, and as the state's second-in-command he has the breadth of executive perspective that no other candidate has.

Sue has the executive experience of running the Agency of Trasportation, but she lacks the private-sector experience that Phil has as a small business owner (Debois Construction). This is one of the most significant differentiators between two otherwise exceptional candidates. At a time when many ordinary Vermonters are frustrated by state government — due to a problem with Vermont Health Connect, the Tax Department, or a permitting issue — we need a governor who has experienced the same challenges and can lead from that experience.

There are three solid candidates for the office of Lt. Governor, but once again, we can only choose one.

My vote for Lt. Governor will be going to Shap Smith. Shap has been the Speaker of the House for the past eight years, and I have had an opportunity to work closely with him since I took office in 2010. The Speaker presides over the House, just as the Lt. Governor presides over the Senate. This experience makes Shap uniquely qualified to be our next Lt. Governor. I have been impressed with how effectively Shap has managed the business of the House — organizing 150 diverse people in a way that leverages their strengths, while ensuring that everyone has an opportunity to share their perspective. While some may find fault with the final product, I think most legislators would agree that Shap is a fair person who keeps an open mind.

Shap and I have a shared interest in tax policy and economic development, and I have always appreciated the breadth and depth of his understanding of these important subjects. We do not always agree on all the issues, but over the years, there have been a number of things that I have been able to accomplish, which I could not have done without his support. A recent example was the establishment of a special economic development zone for southern Vermont, and subsequent funding for economic development planning in the region. This was something that myself and other legislators from Southern Vermont fought for — and Shap helped make happen.

While my nod goes to Shap, I do want to acknowledge two other candidates who would also serve Vermont well.

Randy Brock previously served as the State Auditor and also served in the State Senate. He has an impressive background in the private sector, having started his own business and later becoming an executive with Fidelity Investments. He has a deep understanding of state government, particularly its finances. He was one of the first people to raise the alarm about the readiness of Vermont Health Connect before it launched, and has raised very real and very important concerns about Vermont Health Connect since the initial launch. Randy would be a very effective Lt. Governor and would be equally effective as Governor, should the need ever arise.

Kesha Ram is currently a state representative; she and I have served together on three different committees in the House — first on the General, Housing, and Military Affairs Committee, then the Ways & Means Committee, and finally on the Natural Resources and Energy Committee. The variety of these committees — everything from housing, tax policy, to renewable energy — has given Kesha a broad base of knowledge of some of the most important policy matters. Over the years, we have become good friends, and while we do not always share the same view on an issue, there have been many examples where we found common ground and worked together to advance a solution. She has a sharp mind and a knack for bringing people together.

There is a fourth candidate for Lt. Governor, David Zuckerman, who is currently a state Senator from Chittenden County and previously served as a state representative from Burlington. While I appreciate his activism for the Burlington area, I believe that he lacks the statewide perspective that is needed for this role. His efforts to repeal school choice over the years (H390 and H183) are of particular concern.

While I have shared my perspective on the candidates for these two important offices, the only perspective that really matters is your own, so please take a moment to learn more about each of these candidates, and then remember to cast your ballot on Tuesday, Aug. 9.

Oliver Olsen is an independent who represents the Windham-Bennington-Windsor District. He lives in Jamaica and can be contacted at oliver@oliverolsen.com. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of the Brattleboro Reformer.


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