by Rob Roper
Rutland – Over a hundred Republicans tuned out on a Saturday night in Rutland to take part in a first time event, the Harvest Dinner, as party leaders rallied the faithful as Vermont heads into 1012, what is certain to be a crucial legislative and election year.
The keynote speaker was Congressman Frank Guinta of New Hampshire (see video of Congressman Guinta’s remarks below), but Vermont’s top Republicans also had some inspiring words to share.
GOP now stands for “Growth, Opportunity, Prosperity,” declared party Chair Pat McDonald as she stood before a banner blazing the new slogan.
“We want to help grow Vermont’s economy. To grow the pie. To grow businesses of all sizes. That means the state needs to get behind pro-growth policies that encourage, not discourage, economic development,” explained McDonald. “Every Vermonter, young and old, deserves a shot at the American Dream. They deserve the opportunity to be all that they can be. Likewise, every Vermont business deserves the opportunity to succeed and to grow…. The end goal of many of our policies is that it will enable you and your family to be financially stable. To make it so you can afford to live here in this beautiful state.”
McDonald continued to stress how Tropical Storm Irene has reshaped our politics in Vermont, whether we have come to realize that yet, or not. “Figuring out how to pay for the damage done by Irene will dominate the session because it is going to be extraordinarily expensive…. There will be enormous demands on our state budget and on the budgets of our cities and towns. Meeting those many demands will require us to think differently.
Thinking differently means reassessing the state’s spending priorities to focus on rebuilding not just our roads and bridges, but also our economy. This will be a tall order for a highly ideological majority and a first term governor looking to establish himself by focusing on their own agenda of single payer healthcare, renewable energy, and global warming.
“The danger, of course,” warned McDonald, “is that with one party rule in Montpelier they won’t get it right… And, we can’t afford to let them get it wrong.
Tom Salmon explained how the storm and its aftermath drove his decision to run for a third term as Auditor of Accounts just as another storm, Hurricane Katrina, convinced him to get into politics in the first place.
Witnessing the response to Katrina demonstrated to Salmon the need to improve how government operates. “We need to have an intergovernmental relationship between local state and federal that coordinates, communicates and collaborates. So, as some of you might know, I made a decision after Tropical Storm Irene hit Vermont. I said, it’s really incumbent on me to serve in the capacity where I can make the best, and most profound difference in the next couple of years.”
Salmon also stressed the need for hard work in the upcoming election year. When I became a Republican two years ago, I thought that there would be busloads of people getting on the Republican bus as well. That hasn’t happened as rapidly as we hoped. We still have so much work to do as a state. So much work to do, really, to address how far off track we have come. Our government does not really practice a commitment to reason, or to reality….”
Lieutenant Governor Phil Scott entertained the audience with tales from his exploits on the racetrack, coming in fourth in this years Thunder Road Milk Bowl, and second overall for the season, before settling into a more serious message.
“About two or three days after the [Tropical Storm Irene], I came down [to the Rutland area] and I went with [Rep.] Butch Shaw and [Rep.] Jim Eckhardt and [Sen.] Peg Flory, and we took a little trip to see some of the damage,” said Scott. “We went up on Route 4…. I’m in the construction business, and I could see that there were hundreds of thousands of yards [of material] that needed to be moved to open up that road. I looked at it, and I thought it was going to be months before we would ever be able to open that up.”
“One week later,” Scott continued, “I went back there and Markowski was there, Belvin was there, Casella was there, the Guard was there, the Agency of Transportation… Everyone was working together towards a common goal. And they had done more in a week than I think we could have done under normal conditions with the regulations that we have in three or four months…. When I talked to Doug Cassella, I asked how long before you open back up? How much more time do you need? He said, two weeks. One week with no sleep, two weeks with sleep. One week later Route 4 was opened back up.”
Scott derived a couple of lessons from this. First, “We need more of a common sense approach when it comes to regulation.” And, second, “We all need to work together to get this done. Having said that, however, we also need to put the right people in place to get the job done…. As I crisscrossed the state and witnessed recovery efforts, and saw the truck drivers, the equipment operators, the law enforcement personnel, the National Guard members, the municipal leaders… and it may have been my imagination, but I do believe most of them who were doing the work were Republicans.”
Scott concluded, “We’re the party of common sense. We are the doers. We’re the ones that get the work done…. Isn’t it ironic that with the majority of Vermonters declaring themselves Democrats, that Governor Shumlin would have to lean on Republicans like myself and Neale Lunderville to help steer the ship, to come up with common sense solutions during adversity to get things done.”
Those in the room hope that Vermont voters share the Lieutenant Governor’s insights a year from now at the polls.