Al Gobeille is stepping down from Gov. Phil Scott's cabinet after two and a half years as secretary of the Agency of Human Services. His departure, which will occur before the end of June, was announced at Scott's weekly press conference Thursday morning.
Scott praised Gobeille for two signal accomplishments: straightening out the troubled Vermont Health Connect, which was a mess inherited from the administration of governor Peter Shumlin, and holding the line on the Human Services budget.
Gobeille will return to Gobeille Hospitality, the Burlington restaurant business he operates with his wife, Kim. "I'll be making creemees and washing dishes," he joked.
Gobeille said the decision had been in the works "for the last few weeks." When asked why now, Gobeille said, "There is no good time to leave, but it's not good to leave during an election year or legislative session, or when the agency is developing a budget. That leaves June and July."
Scott mentioned that he expected "a return to public service" by Gobeille at some point in the future, which prompted a question about plans to run for elective office. "Not against him," Gobeille said, pointing to Scott.
Gobeille would be an interesting candidate. He's maintained a good managerial reputation in two difficult jobs — Human Services secretary and, before that, chair of the Green Mountain Care Board. He could plausibly position himself as a Phil Scott Republican, moderate on social issues and a steward of the public purse. He has also performed credibly in Republican and Democratic administrations. The timing of his departure would give him a full opportunity to prepare for a 2020 candidacy. And it's not as if the VTGOP has a deep bench of politicos capable of winning a statewide race.
Deputy Human Services Secretary Martha Maksym will serve as interim secretary after Gobeille's departure.
Scott also commented on bills awaiting his action. On Wednesday, he received S.169, which would establish a 24-hour waiting period for gun purchases. On Thursday he received H.57, which would establish abortion rights in state law. Scott has five days to consider each bill that comes before him, and he said he intends to take the full time on both measures.
"I've started doing research and reading," Scott said. "I'm getting as much feedback as I can. I'll have a decision by Monday and Tuesday [respectively]."
Scott added that he has concerns about S.37, which would make polluters responsible for long-term medical monitoring for people exposed to toxic substances. He vetoed a similar bill last year.
Scott expressed more positive but not definitive views on two other measures — a bill to ban single-use plastics and the state budget. On both, he reserved final judgment but said, "I see no reason to expect a veto."