Who's stuck in neutral?

Gaye Symington officially announced that she will run for governor in 2008. A major theme she tried to sell in her kick-off speech and in subsequent appearances is that Vermont is stuck in neutral and that a lack of leadership is whats keeping us there. If Symington really believes this, she needs to take a hard look at her own record. One has to keep in mind that for the past two years, Gaye Symington has had the benefit of a supermajority in the House she controls, as well as in the Senate. Mathematically, she did not need a single Republican vote to pass (and veto override) anything she put forward. In other words, given a full tank of gas and an open road she went nowhere. The very definition of stuck in neutral. On the other hand Gov. Douglas has had to work hard and across party lines to move Vermont forward. The major issues facing Vermont coming out of the 2006 election were property tax and education finance reform, adapting to economic challenges (health care costs, overall tax burden, affordable housing and job creation), and stemming the tide of young, middle class Vermonters fleeing the state. In a word, affordablilty. To address these challenges, Governor Douglas successfully put forward his Promise Scholarship program, his E-State initiative, New Neighborhoods, a proposal for education cost containment that eventually became the bipartisan Think Twice compromise, and, when the economy took a serious downturn this year, a 15 point economic stimulus package. These accomplishments were a result of vision, direction, leadership, and a bi-partisan work ethic. Gaye Symington has demonstrated no such qualities or accomplishments in her time as speaker. Take property tax and education finance reform for one example. This has been a high-priority issue for Vermonters a decade. In 2007, Symingtons rejected the call to have a bipartisan task force focus on and tackle the issue, instead giving the job of coming up with a plan to the House Education Committee, where nothing meaningful ever happened. Symington supported Act 82 (Think Twice) when it came out of conference committee last year, but then flip flopped and worked to repeal the law in 2008 which she failed to do. If this isnt stuck in neutral on an issue due to lack of direction and poor leadership, its something worse: driving in circles. Symington repeated this pattern on the issue of economic stimulus. Despite the severe economic downturn in the economy and an outcry for help from Vermonters, Symington initially rejected the idea of an economic stimulus package. Three days later she changed her mind. Then Symington urged her fellow Democrats to vote in favor of the economic stimulus package before condemning the concept one more time. In other words, Symington was against economic stimulus before she was for it while still being against it. Again, rudderless leadership. A similar case can be made on the issue of affordable housing, where the sad joke is that under Symingtons leadership, the New Neighborhoods initiative sputtered into the No Neighborhoods initiative. The challenging times we live in demand steady leadership and clear direction. Gov. Douglas put forward his vision of Prosperity through Affordability, backed it up with consistent policy initiatives, and, despite every obstacle, delivered a series of legislative successes that moved us forward on the issues most important to Vermonters. His foot has been firmly on the gas and his hand steadily on the wheel. Gaye Symington, despite every advantage, can point to no such vision and no such success. Handed a veto-proof majority to work with, she has spent the last two years idling in neutral. (And, hey, didnt we just pass a law against that?!) Rob Roper is chairman of the Vermont Republican State Committee. www.vtgop.org. He lives in Stowe.

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