Governor Shumlin: Swifter Than a Bear, Harder to Pin Down Than a Catamount

By Kevin Joseph Ryan

The Castleton poll released in May of this year shows the gubernatorial contest between Randy Brock and Peter Shumlin in 2012 to be a landslide re-election for Shumlin as of today, by a margin of 60-27 percent. However, it seems Shumlin is concerned about something. He hasn’t been very willing to talk openly to the press of late. He seems to have learned from his recent experience with bears how to quickly dodge away.

This all began around May 14, when Governor Shumlin announced a “discussion regarding health care costs and senior issues” at the Lodges in Shelburne. That event was turned into a signing event for a bill (H. 413) which would allow the state to sue for up to $50,000 in the event that a nursing home or other care facility abuses or mistreats a patient in their care. It turned out to be a short discussion. While introducing Protective Services Commissioner Susan Wehry and after having spoken for about 10 minutes, Shumlin told the crowd, “I’m going to flat out apologize before the Commissioner speaks, but they never let me stay any more than 20 minutes anymore…” The Governor took no questions.

Governors are busy people, but it began a trend which continued up until last week, when on June 15, Shumlin called in the statewide media for a “press roundtable”. As it turned out, the topic of the day was following up on Hurricane Irene repairs. After about seven minutes of addressing the press corps, the Governor had this to say, “I want to apologize before Sue opens up, they have me living life in twelve minute segments, and my twelve minutes are almost up.” He then left, again taking no questions. When asked why he did not stay to personally aanswer reporters, Irene Recovery Officer told TNR, “His request to us was that we meet with you.”

Finally, Shumlin did hold a press conference at his Montpelier offices in the Pavilion Building last Thursday, June 20. This time, he did open the floor to questions. What was missing was answers. The Governor was not aware that the State Police had been criticized by South Burlington residents for holding readiness training near the Airport in vacant homes near a residential neighborhood, using flash grenades. Although he supports Cabot Vermont Cheese being called “Vermont cheese”, unlike State Attorney General Bill Sorrell’s office, when asked if the requirement to use 75% Vermont product should be changed, Shumlin’s answer was “When you get enough lawyers in the room, you have problems.”

Although Shumlin was glad that local Vermont communities were having “a good honest, helpful Vermont style debate” on introducing the F-35 fighter jet to the National Guard Base in Burlington, he did not address the question of how he felt about the South Burlington City Council rejecting the proposal.

During the legislative season, the Governor’s press conferences ran about an hour on Wednesdays, most weeks. This one ended after only 35 minutes.

Peter Shumlin has said that he intends not to campaign actively for Governor until after Labor Day this year. We do hope his reluctance to be out and about recently does not foretell the trend of Shumlin’s appearances being more elusive than a catamount.