Governor-elect Phil Scott speaks to reporters Monday in Montpelier.
Governor-elect Phil Scott didn’t support — and has said he didn’t vote for — Donald Trump for president. But now that the two Republicans are about to take office, what kind of relationship will Vermont’s next governor have with the next president?
Scott offered some hints at a press conference Monday at his Montpelier transition office. He seemed loath to tick off the top dog, yet promised to be an “independent voice.”
Vermonters should not expect to hear Scott to raise that independent voice either for or against Trump’s staffing picks. Scott declined to characterize any of Trump’s choices so far as good or bad.
“Most of the people he’s appointed I’ve never heard of,” Scott said. “There’s not anyone in particular that I’ve thought anything about.”
Scott said he’s been focused largely on his own administration’s hiring blitz and writing a state budget that’s due two weeks after he takes office. He’s announced just two cabinet members so far and said he expects to name more on Tuesday.
Scott made several statements that indicated he’s not inclined to speak out against Trump in these early transition days. “I’m not looking to poke my finger in the eye of the president-elect,” he said, commenting that he’s “over” being distressed about Trump’s actions.
But Scott indicated he will stand up to Trump “when it’s appropriate.” That time, he said, is “when Vermont is vulnerable.”
Scott, who takes office January 5, could find Vermont in conflict with the Trump administration on any number of issues — including immigration.
The president-elect has pledged to cut federal funding to localities that become “sanctuary” cities for undocumented immigrants.
Several Vermont cities, including Burlington and Winooski, are considering establishing themselves as sanctuary cities that would not help federal authorities pursue undocumented immigrants. Scott said he supports their right to do that.
Scott said he doesn’t have plans to make significant changes in state policy on the issue. Under departing Gov. Peter Shumlin, Vermont enacted a policy directing state police not to report undocumented immigrants with whom they come into contact to federal officials.
Scott said Monday that he and his staff have not discussed that policy, even as he prepared to appoint a public safety commissioner. But he said, “I don’t expect to do anything dramatic.” He added that revoking Shumlin’s policy would qualify as dramatic.
When it comes to Trump’s threat to withhold federal funds, Scott seemed less firm. “I think we have to make sure we’re keeping that in mind,” he said. “We rely heavily on federal funding.”
Scott also said he also supports the concept behind Shumlin’s decision last week to pardon those convicted of possession of up to one ounce of marijuana before that offense was decriminalized in 2013. But the new gov is worried that the old one will stick him with the work.
Shumlin announced Thursday that he was offering pardons to as many as 17,000 Vermonters. He gave them a Christmas Day deadline to apply — just 12 days before Shumlin leaves office.
Scott said his staff reached out to Shumlin’s to emphasize he hopes the pardoning will be done before Shumlin leaves.
“It’s not an easy process,” Scott said. “My hope is he will be able to fill his responsibility.”
Shumlin spokesman Scott Coriell said that’s the plan. “It’s a priority of ours,” he said. As of Monday morning, 250 people had applied for pardons.