McQuiston: Governor Douglas’s legacy

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(HOST) Political pundits often speculate about what a sitting politician’s legacy will be. Posterity, of course, will be the ultimate judge. But commentator Timothy McQuiston thinks he knows already what posterity will say about Jim Douglas.

(MCQUISTON) Governor Howard Dean was a frugal political moderate who tussled with his own party, brought health care to every child in Vermont, and was the man who signed civil unions into law. Is any of that his legacy? Or is it as the firebrand of the left, failed presidential contender, or orchestrator of the national Democratic Party’s successful 50-state strategy?

With Jim Douglas’s recent announcement that he’ll step down as governor at the end of this term, I think I can beat posterity to the finish line and tell you now what Douglas’s legacy will be.

Jim Douglas, like Dean before him, has had to battle liberal Democrats, as well as many moderates and Republicans, on a variety of issues. His first order of business has always been to balance the books. In this regard his success, so far, has been remarkable. With a long recession beating down tax revenues and long lines of people requiring social services, Vermont has managed to do what almost no other state has been able to do: balance the books.

The worst thing the state could do financially is run up a budget deficit. Vermont’s economy, even in the best of times, is not vigorous enough to simply outgrow a deficit. The last time Vermont suffered through a significant deficit was in the early 1990s; taxes had to be severely raised and services had to be cut.

But even if Douglas can fight his way through this recession, work with the Democratic leadership in the Legislature, and keep the state from falling into the abyss as so many other states have, it will still not be his legacy.

His legacy, I am quite certain, will lie in the fate of Vermont Yankee.

The Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant in Vernon will shut down in 2012 unless the Legislature approves a license extension. The big battle over this issue will begin this coming winter.

There are a few Democrats in the Legislature who would pull the plug on the plant tomorrow if they could. To them, nuclear power plants are dangerous and not worth the risk. And that’s that.

Not only must Governor Douglas battle the Legislature – but the plant’s owner seems to be its own worst enemy. Entergy Corp of Louisiana, who wants to operate the plant for another 20 years, is nearly a year behind in offering a new power contract proposal. Speaker of the House Shap Smith is right in saying that without a power deal there will be no debate over the license extension. Would you buy a car without knowing the price? I don’t get it. And none of the Vermont utility insiders I’ve talked to can understand why Entergy is dragging its feet on this either.

Governor Douglas probably doesn’t care about his legacy at the moment, though he may later on. For now he has to find a way to convince enough Democrats and, it seems, Entergy itself, that re-licensing the plant would be good for Vermont.

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