report from montpelier: Electing the governor

Kate Webb
Kate Webb

By Rep. Kate Webb

I have received a few calls and emails from Shelburne residents and several form emails from around the state urging me to cast my vote for Scott Milne on Jan. 8. Although the vote will be by paper ballot, I will share how and why I will cast my vote for Peter Shumlin.

Unlike the presidential election in which the Electoral College determines the outcome, Vermont elects the governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state, treasurer, attorney general and auditor by a majority vote of the populace. If a majority is not reached, the Constitution directs the legislature to complete the election.

The Constitution is silent in providing guidance as to how legislators should vote. In listening to colleagues, some interpret this to mean that they are delegates of their communities, voting the will of their districts; others see themselves as delegates of the state, seeing the popular vote winner as the will of the people; while others see themselves as trustees, using their own judgment and knowledge as to what they see as the greater good of the state. Without this guidance, I would say I fall into a mix with the overarching question being, is there any compelling reason, outside of politics, why the plurality winner should not serve?

I was faced with this decision in the 2010 lieutenant governor’s race. Although my Shelburne district had voted for Democrat Steve Howard over Republican Phil Scott, I cast my vote for Phil Scott. Scott received the most votes in the statewide election and I could see no reason why he was not fit to serve. Scott went on to receive 87 percent of the legislative votes, even though the Republicans were vastly outnumbered in the House and Senate at that time. In this election Shumlin won statewide by 2,434 votes, and took the clear majority of votes in Shelburne, besting Milne by an 11-point spread overall, and 19 points in my district. Had the statewide results been reversed with Milne receiving the most votes, I’d be voting for Milne, barring any reason that he was truly not fit to serve.

Many, including myself, have struggled with some of Shumlin’s actions or inactions, and I do believe that the current vote has given him pause. As the newly elected Assistant Majority Leader, I met with our Republican counterparts last week along with the Majority Leader, Sarah Copeland-Hanzas from Bradford. The four of us identified key areas where we could clearly work together, those being education funding and governance and the clean up of Lake Champlain. Now that Single Payer is off the table, we can focus on health care reform that is likely to be far less political. The governor is on board to address these issues.

Given the presence of a strong third party and other emerging voices in our state, perhaps what this race suggests is the need for a constitutional change in the way we elect our government. I expect to see a bill on this topic introduced this session.