Eric Davis: Media must hold Shumlin accountable

Gov. Peter Shumlin is unlikely to face vigorous opposition when campaigning for a third term this fall. The Progressives decided not to nominate a gubernatorial candidate. The Republicans could not find a mainstream candidate until right at the filing deadline, when Scott Milne announced he would enter the race.

The Republicans were unable to find candidates for many offices. The GOP recruited candidates for only two of the six statewide offices, 15 of the 30 Senate seats, and 79 of the 150 House seats.

Milne faces formidable challenges, starting with low name recognition and a lack of money. Since announcing his candidacy, Milne has done little to set up an organization — hiring a campaign manager, establishing an online presence, or raising funds for his campaign.

With the Progressives abandoning the gubernatorial field, and the Republicans likely to nominate a little-known and under-funded candidate, Shumlin will face few situations in which other candidates will raise serious questions about his administration’s record over the past four years. These questions will have to come from the media at debates. However, Shumlin is likely to follow the traditional incumbent strategy of participating in as few debates and joint appearances as possible.

Here are some of the questions that Shumlin should be asked about the last four years and his plans for the next two:

Why has the administration continued to under-estimate the cost and complexity of establishing Vermont Health Connect? When will VHC be fully functional for both individuals and businesses? Is the governor concerned that VHC premiums are among the highest of any health benefit exchange in the nation?

Does the governor continue to be committed to launching Green Mountain Care — a publicly financed singlepayer health care plan — in January 2017? If so, why has his administration been so reticent in providing citizens, businesses, legislators and the medical community with information about the benefit package and financing scheme for a plan that would go into effect in just over two years? If not, what does the governor now consider a realistic timetable for implementation of Green Mountain Care?

What does the VHC experience show about state government’s administrative and technical capacity to set up and run a much larger health benefit plan under Green Mountain Care? If the state is not capable of administering singlepayer, will that responsibility be turned over to Blue Cross Blue Shield of Vermont? If so, how will BCBS be held responsible and accountable to the individuals and businesses that will be paying for the new health care system?

Does the governor believe state government should do more to promote economic equity in Vermont? If so, what are his views on the concentration of income growth in the last four years among the top 5 percent of Vermont households, while middle-class incomes have been stagnant since he took office? Is the governor concerned that the state’s low unemployment rate has been accompanied by a declining labor force and an increase in the number of low-wage jobs, especially outside of Chittenden County?

Why has the governor not supported the proposal of the Blue Ribbon Tax Commission to join the majority of states in basing the state income tax on adjusted gross income, rather than federal taxable income? Why does the governor support continuing the current system, which provides more opportunities to wealthier households, rather than middle-income Vermonters, to reduce their taxes through federal deductions, preferences and loopholes?

Health care and the economy are not the only issues in the gubernatorial election. But the absence of strong opposing candidates makes it less likely that Shumlin will be held accountable to the electorate on these and other issues.

Eric L. Davis is professor emeritus of political science at Middlebury College.

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Addison County Independent

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