MONTPELIER — Republican Phil Scott took the oath of office as Vermont’s 82nd governor on Thursday, giving hope to those who want the state to change course and focus on jobs and fiscal responsibility.
Amid loud applause inside a packed House chamber, Scott took the reins of the governorship following the formal introduction of four former governors. The state VIPs were accompanied by Vermont’s top-ranking military officers and the Vermont State Police honor guard.
The 58-year-old Scott, a native of Barre who started DuBois Construction Co. with a cousin, began his political career in 2000 as an elected state senator from Washington County. He advanced to become lieutenant governor alongside Democrat Gov. Peter Shumlin in 2010.
In November, Scott defeated Democrat Sue Minter to become the new governor.
A 1980 University of Vermont graduate, Scott also became a popular personality on the local stock car racing circuit, winning several championships and distinguishing himself internationally as a race car driver at a 2005 British Formula One Series championship.
Burlington Roman Catholic Bishop Christopher Coyne and Rabbi Tobie Weisman provided opening spiritual remarks while a closing benediction was offered by Rev. Robert Potter.
After being sworn in, Scott’s first tasks were to swear in Vermont Treasurer Beth Pearce, Secretary of State Jim Condos, Auditor Doug Hoffer and Attorney General T.J. Donovan.
The new governor’s short inaugural speech provided a hint of things to come for his administration.
“Today, I will sign an executive order, which directs every state agency and department to focus on three strategic priorities: strengthening the economy, making Vermont more affordable and protecting the most vulnerable. These goals will drive every initiative we undertake,” Scott said.
Without offering much in the way of specifics, he added that leaders face an uphill battle in addressing problems such as opiate addition, economic stagnation, educational outcomes and the flight of young, working-age people from Vermont.
“It is imperative we restore fiscal responsibility to the budget,” Scott said. “ … We will modernize and rethink government to find efficiencies and budget more strategically. And we will make necessary investments to grow our workforce and our economy.”
On the subject of job creation, Scott noted that employers across the state are concerned about a lack of qualified local workers and the cost and quality of housing, which affects their recruiting talent.
Midway through the address, Scott indicated that he was not interested in passing laws or crafting new programs as a laboratory petri dish — a jab at the Shumlin administration’s perceived approach to health care and other issues.
“No experiments at the taxpayers’ expense,” he said.
Scott also called for a transformation of Vermont’s education system.
“There is no better way to grow our economy, and create more opportunity, than through our schools. … We must rethink our entire education spectrum,” he said, noting a range of issues from early childhood education and graduate school to workforce training and adult learning.
“We can revitalize the entire system so we no longer have to accept rising taxes and compromises in the quality of our children’s education,” he said.
Near the close of his speech, the governor drew a line in the sand for the Democrat-controlled Legislature: “We cannot continue passing budgets that grow faster than the economy or wages of working Vermonters. I will set clear limits that reflect the changes working families see in their own finances. I will not support, or carry out, experiments at taxpayers’ expense. … I will only sign a budget that meets these standards.”
Scott and everyone gathered paid tribute to Scott’s father, a World War II veteran who died when the governor was 11 years old. Scott said that the U.S. veteran’s honor flag which had draped his father’s coffin was flying proudly on the staff outside of the state Capitol building.
Rev. Robert Potter, the pastor of the Peacham Congregational Church who delivered the inaugural’s concluding benediction, provided passionate words of unity and reconciliation following the hard-fought 2016 election campaign.
“This is a good day, so let us rejoice and be glad,” Potter said.
Paraphrasing the late Vermont poet Robert Frost’s celebrated address at President John F. Kennedy’s 1961 inaugural, Potter noted that “the road ahead will not be easy … so let’s choose hope, and don’t steal our joy.”
At the ceremony’s conclusion, the ebullient minister proclaimed, “Great Scott! Great Phil Scott! You can do it. Go for it.”