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Speech: Lieutenant Governor Phil Scott takes office

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Editor's note: Middlesex Republican Phil Scott was sworn in as Vermont's 79th Lieutenant Governor on the morning of January 6, 2011. This is his acceptance speech.

Senators, invited guests, fellow Vermonters: it's an honor to be with you here today.

Before I begin, I'd like to recognize some special guests visiting us today from Canada:

Alain Paquet, Parliamentary Assistant to Quebec Premier Jean Charest and Member of the Quebec National Assembly, and Patrick Hyndman; and Canadian Consul-General Pat Binns. Thank you all for being here, and for taking part in what is a very special day for the State of Vermont. We look forward to seeing much more of you as we explore ways we can work together.

I need to start with a few thank-yous. First, I'd like to thank my entire extended family and friends: my mom, my brother Kevin, my Aunt Mary, Diana, and my two daughters. Thank you for being here today, and thank you for all of your love and support that helped me get here today.

Most importantly, I'd like to thank the people of Vermont, for placing your confidence in me and electing me your 79th Lieutenant Governor. I'd also like to thank the members of the Legislature, for affirming the voters' choice through your vote this morning.

I'm so honored to have been given this role, and also very appreciative of this small and very accessible state that we live in. Our elected officials are true "citizen legislators," working as realtors, lawyers, farmers, truck drivers and nurses. They are our neighbors, our friends, our coworkers; they're just regular people.

That's what first inspired me to run for the Washington County Senate a little over 10 years ago. I had no prior experience in politics. I was just a regular guy who had worked in construction companies and motorcycle shops, and was frustrated, and wanted to change things. I decided that rather than continuing to complain about what "they....them in Montpelier" were doing to me, I'd be better off putting my complaints into action.

That same idea is what propelled me to run for Lieutenant Governor this past year: to take what I've learned over the last 25 years running a business, and over the last 10 years serving in the Senate, to improve our state. That's what I'm here to do.

And to all of the Vermonters who aren't sitting in this room today, who might be frustrated that you've lost your job, or that you've had to lay people off in your business -- as I myself had to do this past year -- I want to give you the same hope that I had 10 years ago, when I was on the outside looking in. If I can stand before you today as your Lieutenant Governor, then you too can make a difference by getting involved and turning frustration into solutions.

I start here because, as many of you know, 46 percent of registered voters didn't vote in November. That's 209,000 Vermonters whose only choice on November 2 was not to show up. They decided it wasn't worth it, or it didn't matter, or it wouldn't do any good, to make their voice heard. My experience shows that's just not the case. However, I do understand that frustration. I felt it myself at times, and I heard it all last year while I was campaigning.

But I don't think any of us fully realized until November 2 what that frustration had turned into; it turned into 209,000 people who had apparently given up.

So for all of us elected officials here in this room, we need to ask ourselves, what can we do to make Vermonters feel more welcome and more inspired -- despite their frustrations and their struggles -- to participate in their government? How can we make ourselves more accessible?

I'm not just talking about November elections, because civic involvement isn't something that's only relevant on even-numbered years. I'm thinking about the dwindling attendance and voter turnout at our Town Meetings. I'm thinking about all the times we in the Legislature have wanted to hear from our constituents on important issues, and folks have been strangely silent. And I'm thinking about the small number of business owners, parents, farmers, students and health care providers who come here to the State House to testify about potential legislative changes that will have a real impact on the way they live and do business every day.

How can we make it easier and less intimidating for people who haven't been involved before to get involved?

Again, for those of you listening who are not in this room today: If you are one of the 209,000 Vermonters who didn't vote on November 2, you are just the person we need to hear from. Because we don't have all the answers.

All of us here in the Legislature need to reach out to those folks and welcome them in, even when we might not agree with their views. We need to open our doors. In order to live up to the intentions and the expectations of our accessible government, we ourselves need to be more accessible. That will mean different things for each of us.

For me, that means literally opening my office door downstairs a morning or two a week and inviting you in for coffee and conversation. It means opening my virtual doors by posting updates and asking questions of Vermonters on Facebook. For many of you, that may mean attending local events or knocking on doors. However we do it, we need to keep the lines of communication constantly open. We need to have our own boots on the ground and stay in touch with the people we represent.

Sometimes, that means venturing outside our comfort zone. In fact, a couple of summers ago, I asked my good friend, Senator Dick Mazza, to put me to work at his store on Sunday mornings. I swept the parking lot. I ground meat. I stocked shelves and I made sandwiches. I wasn't necessarily very good at all of those things -- other than maybe the sweeping. In fact, I think many of the staff (and the customers) wondered what was up with the "new guy." But I got to see a little bit of Vermont from a different perspective. And that's what's important.

Now, as your Lieutenant Governor, I'm hopeful that when I'm not inviting people into my office, I can invite myself into other people's workplaces, as I did at Mazza's Store that summer, and visit a lot of Vermont's factories, farms, schools and job sites. The important thing is, when I visit your place, I don't just want to tour your production line or be a guest at your ribbon cutting. I want to work a few hours in your shoes.

Those of you who know me, know I'm a "hands-on" kind of guy, and for me, listening and learning means doing. So I hope all Vermonters will consider this an invitation to "put their Lieutenant Governor to work" - literally. I'm inviting you to open your doors. Because when I understand what it takes to make your business work, I'll know what I can do to make it work better.

There's been a lot of emphasis in recent years on new-business startups, and on recruiting new investors to Vermont from outside our borders. These efforts are certainly important, and, like my predecessors, I'll be looking for opportunities to help with that outreach. But I also think we need to work just as hard to strengthen the businesses that have been in Vermont for decades: employing workers, paying taxes, and contributing to their communities. I plan to be especially watchful for those opportunities to support the thousands of small businesses that account for 96 percent of Vermont's employers.

As we begin this legislative session, we in state government are obviously facing some major challenges: challenges whose solutions have eluded us in prior years. That means we need to challenge ourselves to think differently, particularly on behalf of all of the Vermont families, business owners, homeowners, retirees, and state employees who've had to tighten their belts and do more with less.

We certainly need to do the same: in our case, roll up our sleeves right away, starting today, and commit ourselves to finishing the session quickly to save Vermonters money. But in addition to being efficient, we also need to be creative, and continue to "think big," even while we're trying to minimize our footprint. We need to use our imaginations and always ask the question, can we do this differently? Instead of just, can we do this cheaper?

Thinking different means working together, and listening as well as talking. As Calvin Coolidge once said, "no one ever listened themselves out of a job." We all have something to offer, and we can't be so quick to say no. Because a good idea can come from anywhere, whether it's the dairy farmer from our area or a seatmate from the other party. One of my most important roles as your Lieutenant Governor will be to facilitate those conversations, both here in the Legislature and in the "real world" outside of Montpelier.

Something I feel very strongly about is that government isn't always the answer. When I challenge Vermonters to get involved, I'm not just talking about the work we do in Montpelier. Because I really believe we all want to help each other; sometimes we just need to know how.

Many of you have heard me talk about the Wheels for Warmth program that I, along with my loyal band of cohorts, established six years ago. Here, Vermonters come together to recycle old tires they no longer need, and make the good ones available to their neighbors. For many Vermonters, that $50 set of used tires might be the only way they can afford to keep their car safely on the road in the winter. All of the proceeds go to heating fuel assistance funds. So right there, we have solutions to three problems, without a single grant or piece of legislation.

Another example is the ReStore in Barre, which I visited recently. Their facility addresses a similar need to resell and recycle household goods, furniture and building materials, while also providing a place for skills training and life training for young people who came to the conclusion they needed to learn and grow in a new and different way.

In times when so many of us talk about creating jobs and jump-starting the economy, the ReStore is doing it. When we talk about wanting to help Vermonters on the edge of poverty, but struggle with how to pay for it, Wheels for Warmth is doing it. So one theme that I've stressed, over and over again, throughout this past year is self-reliance, and its partner, volunteerism. In my mind, those are two sides of the same coin.

Being self-reliant doesn't just mean looking after yourself, although that's important. Certainly with the increased amount of heart disease and diabetes, taking care of yourself must be part of our health care discussion. But self-reliance also means looking after our neighbors, and giving them the support they may need to get to the next step in their lives.

That has a lot of implications.

That means buying local, and supporting the merchants on Main Street instead of the website in California.

That means helping Vermont's manufacturers to identify suppliers and trading partners who are here within our borders or close by in our region.

That means making it easier and more affordable for more of us to eat local food, supporting our farmers, reducing transportation costs, and getting fresher and healthier things to eat.

That means investing in energy policies that help us become more independent.

All of these things are efforts that state government can help with, but not ultimately be responsible for. All of these things are a means to an end.

Personally, I suspect that a great deal of the collective frustration that caused those 209,000 people to stay home on November 2 was the sense that our elected officials and candidates kept talking about the goals -- creating jobs, jump-starting the economy, and helping our most vulnerable -- but didn't talk enough about how we would get there. Buying local and encouraging innovative local partnerships are part of my vision for how we do it.

Helping me in those efforts will be my chief of staff, Nancy Driscoll, who I wanted to introduce to you today. I hope you'll all stop in and say hello to Nancy. Again, our door is always open.

I hope that this idea of open doors is something that can set the tone for what promises to be an extremely challenging year. In the face of overwhelming concern about how we can continue to pay for various government services, it's only natural to react by closing those doors that we consider non-essential. While we may have to make some incredibly difficult decisions this year, our biggest challenge will be to keep an open mind. If we shut down, we won't move forward. If we focus only on finding the cheapest solution, we'll short-change Vermonters in the long run. My 10 years in the Senate taught me the wisdom of fiscal responsibility, but my 25 years running a business also taught me that you get what you pay for. The right answer is probably somewhere in the middle.

Our challenge in Montpelier is to come up with solutions that will strengthen Vermont. Your challenge is to come up with solutions that will help your neighbor and strengthen your community. If we all work together, we will strengthen the legacy of the state that we love to call home.

Thanks for listening, and let's get to work.

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