Jim Douglas Reflects on Being a Moderate Governor

Vermont's centrist Republican governor considered it part of his job to check some of the impulses of his state's Democratic legislative majority. But, he's proudest of accomplishments that are decidedly non-ideological.
by | August 27, 2010

In case you haven't noticed yet, I'm working on a piece about moderate governors who are leaving office and what the implications of their departure might be for state government. There are a lot of them who are either retiring or term-limited. Here's a rough list of some of the people I have in mind, although I could see some disagreements over whether all of them really qualify as moderates:

Democrats: Kansas' Mark Parkinson, Oklahoma's Brad Henry, Tennessee's Phil Bredesen and Wyoming's Dave Freudenthal.

Republicans: California's Arnold Schwarzenegger, Connecticut's Jodi Rell, Hawaii's Linda Lingle, Rhode Island's Don Carcieri, Vermont's Jim Douglas

Independent: Florida's Charlie Crist

I spoke with Douglas this week about what his experiences have been as governor and how he sees the future for moderate governors. I thought he had some interesting things to say.

Douglas hasn't been able to avoid confrontations with the Democratic legislature from time to time. He's clashed with lawmakers on taxes, health care, nuclear power and gay marriage. In fact, he thought part of his job was to check the impulses of Democrats in the legislature. "Vermonters have sought some balance in state government, he says "and they’ve chosen me to provide it.”

Still, you can tell what sort of governor he's been by the first accomplishment he mentioned to me when I asked what he thought was the most important thing he'd done: fiscal management, including boosting the state's bond rating, reducing bonded indebtedness and maintaining the state's rainy day fund.

Later, he talked about his work to expand broadband access and cell phone coverage in his rural, hilly state. “I want everybody to know," he says "that our state motto is freedom and unity, not 'can you here me now?'” To state the obvious, cell phone coverage is not the stuff of ideological warfare.

My story is looking at the possibility that, with moderates out the door, state government will become more ideological and more ambitious after the election. But, Douglas says he's hopeful there will be a new class of moderates, citing, in particular, the candidacies of Rick Snyder in Michigan and Charlie Baker in Massachusetts.

Josh Goodman
Josh Goodman  |  Former Staff Writer

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