When he was running for governor, Phil Scott made a point of saying that “Listening is more important than talking; and actions speak louder than words.” He added that “By genuinely listening to Vermonters, I have found that constituents have the best ideas…”1
But in a social media post last week, Gov. Scott summarily dismissed the testimony of citizens who spoke out at the first two (of a scheduled four) public hearings held by the Climate Action Commission that Scott himself had created earlier this year.2
The slap against citizen input was all the more outrageous because he had launched the Climate Action Commission with great fanfare, and tasked it with recommending climate and clean energy proposals that he could take to the legislature in January.3
So what happened?
Well, it seems the governor is not genuinely interested in listening to what Vermonters have to say if they don’t agree with his position. In this case, the #1 recommendation of those testifying–by far–is to combat global warming by putting a price on the pollution that’s causing the problem in the first place and return the revenues from that price to Vermonters.
It’s possible that this common sense solution does not sit well with Gov. Scott’s fossil fuel industry donors. In any case, only halfway through a four-stop public listening tour, he promised to veto any measure that resembles what the citizens are calling for–namely to put a price on carbon pollution and put that money in Vermonters’ pockets.
In doing so, the governor has:
1. Insulted Vermonters. The governor created this public comment process. But when the public spoke up clearly, in favor of a principled position, our governor essentially stuck his fingers in his ears, stubbornly refusing to consider suggestions that differ from his own.
2. Disrespected his own Climate Action Commissioners. The 21 members of the Climate Action Commission are not known to be climate science deniers. Most of them volunteered their time hoping to help Vermont find ways to reduce pollution and strengthen the economy. Nowhere in the executive order creating the Commission does it say, “Thou shall not price carbon pollution.” If it had, it’s possible that many of the commissioners may have rejected the invitation to join.
3. Undermined the democratic process. Civil discourse is as embedded in Vermont tradition as Town Meeting and maple syrup. We may not always agree, but we should always agree to listen. Sadly, Gov. Scott is not only abandoning his own campaign promise in this regard, he’s also weakening our long-standing tradition of civil discourse.
4. Failed to comprehend the magnitude of the challenge. Climate change–as Harvey, Irma and Maria have reminded us–is deadly serious and demands respect. Unfortunately, a governor who is unwilling to grasp the gravity of the situation is probably ill-equipped to help fight it.
Want to fight back? The best way is to email the Climate Action Commission and tell them that, despite the governor’s intransigence, Vermont should move forward to real climate solutions and put a price on carbon pollution.
It’s worth noting that public reaction to the governor’s insulting dismissal of his constituents who want to see action on climate is having an impact. Unfortunately, we’re seeing a doubling down on the disrespect. The state Republican Party rushed to the governor’s defense this week with an attack on VPIRG (we’re “radical”), as well as the Vermonters testifying at the events (they’re “activists”).4
It’s really unfortunate when the head of a major political party criticizes citizens for speaking out respectfully in a public hearing process. It’s also a shame when a governor decides it’s no longer important for him to listen to what his constituents have to say.
But this is Vermont, and democracy can still work here. Please don’t be discouraged. Make your voice heard.
1. Phil Scott for Governor: Listen, Learn, and then Lead
2. Governor Phil Scott Facebook Post
3. STATE OF VERMONT EXECUTIVE DEPARTMENT EXECUTIVE ORDER NO. 12-17
4. Vermont Republican Party Website