BRATTLEBORO—Senate President Pro Tem Peter Shumlin is not ashamed of the title “politician.”
The Putney Democrat embraces it, revels in it and considers it an honor to be called a politician.
“If you mean someone who makes tough decisions, builds coalitions and delivers results, I’m a politician,” Shumlin said in an interview with The Commons.
“I don’t apologize for getting tough things done and for being political to get them done,” he said. “People are fed up with spineless politicians. Democrats weren’t lining up in the halls to vote on marriage equality or to make sure Vermont Yankee shuts down on time. But there are times you have to take a stand, stick with your beliefs and not compromise on those beliefs."
However, Shumlin said he’s not running for governor based on the illusion that people know him or know his stands on the issues. Even after 20 years in Montpelier — 10 of them as president of the Senate — he believes most Vermonters have little knowledge of who he is.
“Nobody really knows any of us,” he said. “What campaigns are for is making the unknown, known.”
And one of those things he wants to make known is his vision of a state that will play a leading role in reshaping the nation’s economy.
“Vermont is leading the rest of the country in so many areas,” Shumlin said. “We can do things here that you can’t do in the rest of the country. That’s why America needs what Vermont can give it more than ever.”
Renewable energy, single-payer health care reform, expansion of early education programs and bringing broadband to all of Vermont are Shumlin’s main issues. He believes that if Vermont makes a significant commitment to these four things, the state’s economy will be strong and prosperous.
“Vermont missed the Industrial Revolution and we missed the tech boom, but we have a chance to get in front of the green transformation of our economy and get our share of it,” he said. “Huge money is going to be made on renewable energy and there is going to be some huge opportunities for Vermont.”
Shumlin backs a universal Vermont health care system, saying “it would unleash the largest economic development program in our state’s history. Companies are going to want to move here.” He believes a single-payer system, similar to Medicare, will deliver health care more effectively to Vermonters at a lower cost.
Even with the arrival of some sizable federal grants, Shumlin said the state still needs to push hard to ensure universal broadband Internet and cellphone service in Vermont.
“We need broadband Internet extended to every home in Vermont by 2013,” he said. “We can no longer live without it, and doing this will create jobs in every sector of the economy.”
Early childhood education is just as crucial, he said. He supports universal early education for all Vermont children as a way to level the playing field for children of all socioeconomic backgrounds, and to reduce child care costs for working class families.
As for Vermont Yankee, he said that he will ensure that if the nuclear power plant in Vernon closes in 2012 at the end of its current license, “Entergy will keep its promises to the state.”
These promises include fully dismantling the plant after it ceases operation in a timely manner, Entergy fully funding the decommissioning fund and removing all high-level nuclear waste from the site.
Shumlin calls himself “a fiscal conservative and a social liberal,” and said that he offers a sharp contest to the previous eight years of the administration of Gov. James Douglas and Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie.
“Remember, ‘Jim = Jobs?’ That hasn’t happened,” said Shumlin. “Remember all the talk from the Douglas/Dubie team about making Vermont more affordable to live in? That hasn’t happened. Remember how they congratulated themselves over passing Catamount Health? They gave us a plan that will ultimately bankrupt the state. They said they’d be fiscally responsible, and they raised the sales tax and the property tax to pay for education.”
“If Vermonters are happy with the economy we’ve had over the past eight years, they should stick with having a Republican governor and a Democratic legislature,” Shumlin continued. “But back [in the 1990s] when Howard Dean was governor, Obie [Michael Obuchowski] was Speaker of the House and I was Senate president, we had a budget surplus. We had jobs going begging because there was shortage of workers. We cut the sales tax and cut the income tax. We had prosperity. Compare that record to the record of the last eight years.”
The people who do know the 54-year-old Shumlin best, his constituents in Windham County, are the people he’s counting on to give him a victory over fellow state senators Susan Bartlett and Doug Racine, Secretary of State Deb Markowitz and former senator Matt Dunne in the Democratic Primary on Aug. 24.
Getting specific about the numbers that he thinks would ensure a win, Shumlin said he needs to get at least 5,000 votes out of Windham County to offset the advantage the other candidates have in northern Vermont.
In a five-way primary campaign, it’s been difficult for the Democratic candidates for governor to gain traction with the voters. But to Shumlin, it all boils down to one question — who can beat the presumptive Republican nominee, Dubie.
“If that is the question, I say the answer is Peter Shumlin,” he said.