MONTPELIER — What the swearing in of Gov. Phil Scott, Lt. Governor Molly Gray and other statewide officials lacked in crowds or celebratory mood, it more than made up for in Vermont resolve.
The oaths of office were administered with condemnations of Wednesday’s mob violence at the U.S. Capitol, and reminders that state government faces a daunting task in restoring the state’s economy from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Statehouse was strangely empty for the occasion, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, and well-guarded by Vermont State Police and Capitol Police. Most members of the state Senate and House of Representatives watched over online video.
Gray was sworn in first, at 11:30 a.m. in the state Senate chamber. The oath was administered by U.S. District Judge Peter Hall, of the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, for whom Gray clerked following law school.
About 90 minutes later, outside on the portico of the Statehouse with police patrols on guard, Scott took the oath of office for his third term, from Vermont Supreme Court Chief Justice Paul L. Reiber. Scott then administered the oath at once to Attorney General T.J. Donovan, Treasurer Beth Pearce, Secretary of State James Condos and Auditor of Accounts Doug Hoffer.
Both Scott and Gray, who worked in Washington for U.S. Rep. Peter Welch, pointed to Wednesday’s events at the U.S. Capitol as reasons Vermont’s state government can and must do better.
“Our history shows that as Vermonters we are brave in the face of fear, we defy the odds, we are not afraid of the unknown, and we welcome the opportunity and responsibility to lead and set a new course,” Gray said.
“Our challenge, or opportunity here today, is to commit to the principles and values that give Vermonters a deep pride and full faith in the promise — and the essentialness — of good government,” she said.
Gray also said the past year has “exposed a reckoning” with centuries of racial inequality, which the state must address.
“History will reflect how we come together and what measures we take to protect and promote equal protection under the law and demand respect for human dignity,” Gray said.
Scott, who planned to give a longer televised address at 7 p.m., gave a shorter speech by online streaming video to a joint session of the Legislature early Thursday afternoon. He hailed the woman leadership elected to lead both houses of the Legislature, calling it “a long time coming, and long overdue.” And decrying the chaos in Washington, he said Vermont’s state government must set a better example.
“Seeing our Capitol — a symbol of democracy around the world — stormed by this mob of traitors was heartbreaking. 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 said.
“It also shows just how divided our country has become and how desperately we need to heal and be united once again,” Scott said. Because we simply can’t go on like this any longer, and as elected officials, we all have a responsibility to step up and show the way. Because if we don’t, who will?”
Of the mob, Scott said “Their actions were not patriotic and these people are not patriots.”
Noting the state’s voters had sent a Republican governor and Democratic legislature to Montpelier, Scott called for consensus and compromise, saying they lead to better results.
“I believe if we take the time to listen to, and learn from, one another, seek consensus where we can and compromise when we can’t, Vermonters will benefit from our work,” Scott said “After watching the antics in Congress, Vermonters are pleading for consensus building and pragmatism, and I’m confident we can deliver.”
Both Scott and Gray emphasized the importance of helping the state rebound stronger from the pandemic.
“Let’s set priorities that support Vermonters in all 14 counties. Let’s help them not only get through this crisis but get through it stronger,” Scott said. “Let’s learn the lessons of this pandemic and resist the temptation to do things the way we’ve always done them.”
“These next few months will be difficult — perhaps the hardest of the pandemic — but as vaccinations are underway, there is finally light at the end of the tunnel and it’s getting brighter every day,” Scott said. “In the short term, we must reach the end of that tunnel with as little loss of life as possible, and we must focus like a laser on laying the foundation for our economic recovery.”
Gray emphasized the importance of addressing the economic and social inequality exposed by the pandemic.
“Not only will be judged by how effectively we continue to meet the humanitarian and emergency needs of Vermonters, but also how we envision and prepare for a stronger more equitable and economically viable Vermont,” Gray said. That includes universal broadband access, affordable child care, paid family medical leave and the opportunities from addressing climate change, she said.