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It was interesting to hear the range of pundits talking about Gov. Phil Scott’s State of the State address Wednesday. It was scattershot.

In the news release issued by his staff Wednesday, it was noted that Scott “cited the unique opportunity state government has to make transformative investments that build a stronger future for Vermonters. He once again highlighted the critical need to work together to support Vermont’s workers and grow the workforce by investing in training, education, housing and recruitment, while working to make Vermont more affordable for those already here.”

In addition, the release notes, the governor “also emphasized the need to invest in safe and healthy communities, committing to fund additional support for mental health systems and to further address the overdose epidemic, while supporting public safety and helping communities grow with significant investments in our downtowns, infrastructure and focus on smart regulatory reform.”

Initially, we were concerned Scott’s connecting of the dots was going to reveal a picture of doom and gloom. But the governor did his best to embrace the opportunity facing the state with a federal windfall. He created an image of optimism and hope. Mostly, his focus was on job creation. In fact, his speech used “workforce” 11 times.

That message is not lost. Vermont needs jobs, and it needs families to fill jobs, support communities, fill schools and be part of the economic engine. No doubt, it is important.

But after months of hours-long news conferences about the pandemic and the state’s response, what struck us was what was not said. It was just as telling. Scott mentioned COVID twice. And when he did, he talked about it as if was in the rear-view mirror. He never mentioned the 482 Vermonters who have died as a result of the virus. Not once.

“I can report to you today that the State of the State is strong,” he said.

But is that what Vermonters are really feeling?

We don’t believe that an hour-long speech allayed the concerns they have about the problems facing our communities. First and foremost, the governor did not make any sort of “Mission Accomplished” declaration. The biggest worry is still present, and shaking the state like a rag dog in the jaws of a dog.

Sure, he said what needed to be said to his fellow Republicans.

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The Republican National Committee sent its praise before the majority had issued its response, or the state’s top Republicans had a chance to send out their statement..

“Phil Scott’s commonsense, Republican policies have given Vermont one of the lowest unemployment rates in the nation while also touting the country’s highest full vaccination rate. With a strong foundation to start 2022, it’s no wonder why Scott’s brand of leadership is overwhelmingly supported across the state,” said RNC representative Rachel Lee.

Vermont Senate Minority Leader Randy Brock, R-Franklin, noted, “Gov. Scott’s remarks signaled not only a desire to attract new workers to Vermont, but also to foster our existing workforce with increased job training, affordable housing, a strong education system, and healthy and safe communities.”

But what about the average Vermonter, sitting in their vehicle, waiting to be tested for COVID?

Lt. Gov. Molly Gray, who announced she is running for Congressman Peter Welch’s seat, stood on more Democratic ideals, praising the governor about his push for workforce development, affordable housing, accessible and affordable child care, adequate mental health and support services and universal access to broadband.

And Senate President Pro Tem, Becca Balint, who is also running for Welch’s seat, noted, “We have to continue working together to fight the pandemic and support a strong recovery. We must prioritize Vermonters’ health and well-being and support all the working families who are having such a tough time right now.”

Yes, ARPA money is going to make us feel better to some degree. If done right, it does position the state for a strong future. But there is already posturing over what those priorities should be. So the plea for “pulling in the same direction” by the governor was a real one. Otherwise, it’s politics as usual in Montpelier. And COVID is still running rampant through our state.

This is the line in Scott’s speech we are holding everyone to: “It’s not about how many votes we get, how many followers and likes we have on social media or how many times our name is in the news. It’s not about checking things off a national political agenda, or proposing policies to raise money, earn endorsements, or to have better answers for all those special interest questionnaires. … It’s just not about us.”

It’s about the rest of us.

Barre-Montpelier Times-Argus