January 25, 2016

Dean, Douglas spar over four-year term for governor

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Former governors Howard Dean and Jim Douglas traded arguments and laughs during a lighthearted debate over a constitutional amendment for a four-year gubernatorial term.

Former Vermont governor Howard Dean. Dean argued that a two-year gubernatorial term was healthy for the political process.

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Former Vermont governor Howard Dean. Dean argued that a two-year gubernatorial term was healthy for the political process.

Gov. Dean, a five-term democrat and his successor Douglas, a four-term Republican, squared off for the better part of the morning at the DoubleTree Hotel on Monday. The event, a legislative breakfast series, is put on by the Lake Champlain Regional Chamber of Commerce and was keynoted by Gov. Shumlin. Over 20 sitting Vermont legislators, business leaders and others filled the 200-person space.

Shumlin largely stayed out of the debate, other than to quickly side with his democratic colleague in support of the current two-year limit. “Gov. Dean is right on this one,” he said to applause and laughter as he stepped off the stage.

Sen. Diane Snelling, R-Chittenden, proposed the amendment earlier this year. Vermont is a standout among states — other than New Hampshire, which also has two-year gubernatorial terms, the rest of the country sticks to four.

The proposal is not new, either. Since 1971 the senate has considered doubling the term limits 12 times, without ever ratifying the amendment.

Dean sees the current two-year limit as a tool for voters to defeat politicians they don’t like, and as a way to incentivise elected officials to fulfill promises in the shorter term, before Vermonters get back to the voting booths.

Former Vermont governor Jim Douglas. Douglas argued that a longer, four year term for governor would give the executive branch more ability to plan and implement policy decision.

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Former Vermont governor Jim Douglas. Douglas argued that a longer, four year term for governor would give the executive branch more ability to plan and implement policy decision.

“This is one of the best run states in the Country,” Dean said. “Exactly because of the two year term. We get things done faster.”

Vermonters feel like they matter, he said. Town meeting day and the two-year term allow people to voice their opinions and elect new politicians easier and faster than an average american, leading to a healthier democracy.

Douglas sees the four-year term as an opportunity for governors and state officials to plan more effectively. Many Vermont business groups endorsed the proposal, including the Lake Champlain Regional Chamber of Commerce (the host of the event), the Vermont Chamber of Commerce,  and the Vermont Business Roundtable, he said.

Many previous governors supported a four-year term, Douglas said. He wryly quoted a Governor’s report that chided the legislature at the end of their session for not passing the amendment. “That was May 3, 1996, my friend Howard Dean” Douglas said.

“You live and you learn,” Dean said, smiling.

A 2008 report by UVM’s non-partisan Snelling Center for Government found that over the years, many Vermonters have supported a four-year term. Among a representative sample of 400 Vermonters, support for a four-year term rose modestly between 2006 and 2007, from 53 to 58 percent, with opposition falling from 37 percent in 2006 to 35 in 2007.

Support is strongest among business organizations, and especially among people who say they are politically active.

Bob Conlan, co-owner of Leunig’s restaurant in downtown Burlington and a Lake Champlain Regional Chamber of Commerce board member said either term limit wouldn’t affect him or his business. “What affects me is state spending,” he said.

“I lean republican but I thought Governor Dean was right,” Conlan said. “I thought I’d never say that”.

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