Gov. Phil Scott is again taking heat from constituents for using judgment rather than toeing the Republican Party line and defending President Donald Trump, demeaning the president’s detractors or pretending the country isn’t verging on a constitutional crisis after almost three years of a lawless, dishonest and thoroughly toxic administration. When Scott announced his support of the impeachment inquiry initiated by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi last week, he was soundly criticized on social media for not being a “real” Republican or, worse yet, a Democrat in disguise.
The criticism echoes that of last April, when the governor signed several new gun restrictions into law, citing his “moral and legal obligation and responsibility to provide for the safety of our citizens.” Although generally considered modest, Scott’s outlawing bump stocks and high-capacity magazines, raising the minimum age to 21 for gun purchases, enhancing background checks and expanding law enforcement’s ability to confiscate the guns of those labeled an extreme risk or arrested for domestic assault, the bill signing was met by derision and shouts of “coward” and “traitor” by activists in the crowd.
Scott’s commitment to gun rights had remained solid even after the mass shootings in Las Vegas and at Parkland, Florida, but took a dramatic turn only a day later, when a Vermont teenager was arrested for allegedly planning a similar school shooting in Fair Haven. In his own words, the governor chose: “action over inaction, doing something over doing nothing, knowing there will always be more work to do, but today we choose to try,” adding, as if to address his critics: “This is not the time to do what’s easy, it’s time to do what’s right.”
Although I lean way left, considering myself progressive, neither of those positions prevent me from expressing appreciation for Scott’s courage in both these instances, knowing the level of pushback he was bound to receive from those who voted him into the governor’s office. Friends and acquaintances discouraged me, suggesting I shouldn’t be lauding what was a purely political move by the governor of an overwhelmingly blue state, which may be an accurate assessment, that I believe is immaterial in this case.
Of course, it’s easy for me to side with the governor: I think Trump is a disgrace and have no love for the gun lobby, but that’s beside the point. Scott is the first GOP governor to come out in support of the impeachment inquiry, which I find to be a ray of light in the extremely somber landscape of national politics. Perhaps it will set an example for other Republican leaders who might be thinking the same thing but have yet to speak the words. (Note: As this was being written, the GOP governor of Massachusetts, Charlie Baker, also endorsed the inquiry.)
Vermont is a small state that has always had an inordinate amount of influence, with many “firsts” to its credit. In fact, thanks to our tireless Sen. Bernie Sanders, who’s progressivism has been the hallmark of his character for decades, the entire field of 2020 Democratic presidential candidates has been discussing universal health care, equitable income tax policies and seriously addressing income inequality. Maybe one day, Scott’s national influence will be a point of pride, as well.
All this begs the question: what is a “real” Republican? From my perspective, the governor has been circumspect on these two vital issues, weighing the evidence as best he can and making his decisions accordingly. So assuming this is a negative, what’s a positive? Simply doing what the GOP dictates without question?
Fortunately, we have an example of what that alternative might look like in the person of Deb Billado, chairwoman of Vermont’s Republican Party, whose unwavering loyalty to all things Trump includes suggesting those in opposition are a “Mob of hate-crazed, fear-driven people who have become deranged, who upset their dreams (our fears) of electing crooked Hillary Clinton.” She believes the president to be “principled,” the Mueller investigation as a “desperate coup” saved only by the integrity of Attorney General Bill Barr and — well, you get the picture. Presumably, Billado represents that “real Republican” some voters are looking for.
With such a chasm between the governor and the chairwoman, it’s difficult to get your head around their being in the same party. While Billado, much like the president, resorts to name calling the opposition, (Democrats are “evil”) and touting Trump’s fabricated “accomplishments” and narcissistic self image, Scott is more willing to break with POTUS, criticizing his remarks on four congresswomen of color as racist, as well as trade policies and immigration.
Despite the perception of some that Billado might be the “real” Republican, I think that if the GOP has anything other than disintegration in mind, Scott’s more reasoned approach is far more likely to ensure the party remains viable into the future.
Even though I didn’t vote for Phil Scott and probably disagree with him on many issues, that doesn’t mean I can’t honestly be pleased with his thoughtful dissents and the confidence he has in his own acumen in making decisions with the welfare of Vermonters his primary concern.
Walt Amses lives in North Calais.