It isn’t that hard, actually.
Yes, we find our share of reasons to criticize the Governor. For one thing, bad news is always more fun than good news. For another, we have pretty tough standards for liberal politicians. But there are some very good reasons why Shumlin was named “Most Valuable Governor” by The Nation.
So I’m taking a brief time-out from the usual snark and criticism to say a few good things about the Governor.
There are three very important issues on which Shumlin has staked out very progressive stances. First, he is one of a very few leading American politicians who pays serious, consistent attention to global warming. While the political establishment is obsessed with deficits and the national debt, Shumlin shines a spotlight on a much greater threat to our long-tern stability. And while most politicos are enthralled by the temporarily “cheap” energy from sources like tracking and tar sands, Shumlin has stuck to his vision of a green energy future for Vermont.
Second, he is the only politician I know of, who’s in a position to do something about it, who is committed to single-payer health care. Yes, there are plenty of questions about the specifics: What about the working poor? What’s the funding mechanism? WIll he have to give away the store in order to appease the business community? Can he make the system efficient enough to bend the cost curve? But at least he’s making the effort, and he’s made single-payer a cornerstone of his governorship.
… at a time when public-sector unions (and workers) are under widespread attack — and his own budget is under immense pressure — he is a vigorous defender of those unions and workers. As quoted in The Nation:
“What is puzzling to me about the current debate about state budgets is that the focus has been not on bringing people together to solve common problems, like we have done in Vermont, but on division and blame. I do not believe that those to blame for our current financial troubles are our law enforcement officers, firefighters and other state employees whose services we take for granted.”
As The Nation rightly concluded, “Not many governors talk like that — or mean it.”
There are other things I like about the Governor. He has a real commitment to making government work as well as it possibly can. That’s not a sexy issue, but it’s critical: an effective government is the best argument for the liberal cause. Examples: the Dashboard and Spotlight initiatives, aimed at making government more transparent and accessible online; and the (belated) crackdown on buggy IT contracts.
When I look over the range of issues, I see a relative handful where I disagree with Shumlin. Gun control, the makeup of the emerging mental health care system, his resistance to an income-tax increase for high earners. Those differences are emphasized by his air of self-confidence that comes across as arrogant (and sometimes actually is), and his stubborn refusal to change his mind — or to admit it when he does change his mind. That makes him seem more obnoxious and contrary than he actually is. And makes him an easy target for the basement blogger class.
But when I look at the issues, all of them, I find that agree with the Governor more often than I disagree. He deserves a lot of credit for the things he’s done or begun to do. And he should expect our continuing scrutiny, and our criticism when we believe it’s warranted.