Gov. Jim Douglas (R)
Elected: 2002, term expires Jan. 2011, 4th term.
Born: June 21, 1951, Springfield, MA .
Education: Middlebury Col., A.B. 1972.
Family: Married (Dorothy); 2 children.
Elected office: VT House of Reps., 1972-79; Maj. ldr., 1977-79; VT secy. of st., 1980-92; VT treasurer, 1994-2002.
Republican Jim Douglas was elected governor of Vermont in 2002, an event put in motion 34 years earlier when he decided to attend Middlebury College. Douglas grew up in Longmeadow, Mass. He was a political junkie and a hardy Republican early on, passing out “AuH2O” stickers for Barry Goldwater in 1964, at age 13. In 1968, he enrolled at Middlebury and almost immediately decided to live in the town. His wife, Dorothy, is from Middlebury and they have lived there ever since. Douglas’s college years were a time of campus protests against the Vietnam War, but he was unmoved by the liberal politics of the time. He organized a rally for Republican President Nixon in Middlebury in 1970. In 1972, the year he graduated, he ran for state representative from Middlebury and won. He was elected majority leader in 1977. Two years later, he lost a race for House speaker and became an aide to Republican Gov. Richard Snelling. In between sessions of the Legislature, Douglas worked as a radio announcer and became executive director of the local United Way. In 1980, he was elected secretary of state and served for 12 years. In 1992, he ran against Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy and lost 54%-43%—the closest race Leahy has had since 1980. After working for the Porter Medical Center in Middlebury, Douglas in 1994 spotted an opening for state treasurer and was elected to the first of four terms. By the time he ran for governor, Douglas had been on the Vermont ballot every two years since 1972, and for most of that time, he had gotten up before 6 a.m. to commute over the Green Mountains to the tiny state capital of Montpelier.
|Jim Douglas (R)||170,492||(53%)|
|Anthony Pollina (Prog)||69,791||(22%)|
|Gaye Symington (D)||69,534||(22%)|
|Jim Douglas (R)||Unopposed|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (56%); 2004 (59%); 2002 (45%)
His opening to seek the governorship came when Democratic Gov. Howard Dean announced in September 2001 that he would not run again. Dean had been returned to office every two years—Vermont and New Hampshire are the last two states with two-year gubernatorial terms—by advancing a number of innovative policies, which put him on the radar as a possible candidate for president in 2004. But there was discontent in Vermont with some of his policies, especially higher property taxes levied statewide to improve the schools, long delays in land development caused by environmental reviews, and, most of all, job losses and a rising sense that Vermont was developing an anti-business reputation. In his campaign against Democratic Lt. Gov. Douglas Racine, Douglas called for tax cuts and promised to “create a more business-friendly environment.” His theme was, it’s “time for a change” in a state that had had Democratic governors for 17 of the previous 18 years.
In the initial balloting, Douglas led Racine 45%-42%, with independent Con Hogan, the former director of state human services, receiving 10 %. Under Vermont law, if no candidate receives 50% of the vote, the governor is chosen by a combined vote of the two houses of the Legislature. Republicans entered the campaign with a large majority of legislative seats. Before the election, Racine had said he would not take his candidacy to the Legislature if he won less than 50%, while Douglas had said he would. Then, contrary to most expectations, Democrats made gains in the Legislature that year. But Racine kept his word, and Douglas became governor.
His great success as governor was getting the Legislature to pass in 2004 a bill revising the law that had slowed economic development. Five-member citizen approval boards were abolished and their powers given to a single Environmental Court; opponents of development were no longer given an automatic right to intervene; and developers were allowed to pay for storm-water runoff by offsetting reductions elsewhere. Yet, Douglas was unsuccessful in getting the Legislature to roll back property taxes.
Up for re-election in 2004, Douglas’s opponent was Peter Clavelle, the longtime mayor of Burlington and a member of the Progressive Party. Clavelle’s major issue was health care; he proposed to use the state’s $90 million in Medicaid spending for a universal health care insurance policy for all citizens, and he asserted that it could be paid for with greater efficiencies. Douglas’s response was: “I think most Vermonters are pretty skeptical of that.” He favored incentives for private insurers, health savings accounts, and initiatives encouraging healthy lifestyles for children. Clavelle called for a statewide ban on smoking in bars, while Douglas preferred to leave the decision to localities. Douglas won handily, 59%-38%, carrying all but one county. However, Democrats that year increased their numbers in the state Senate and replaced a small Republican majority in the House with a large Democratic majority. Douglas’s solid re-election performance made him the Republicans’ best chance for capturing the seat of retiring Sen. James Jeffords in 2006, but he announced in May 2005 that he would not run.
Health care remained a major issue after the election. In 2005, the Legislature passed a sweeping plan providing near-universal coverage, paid for in part by a tax on payrolls of businesses that did not offer insurance; Douglas vetoed the measure. In 2006, the Legislature tried a more free-market-oriented approach, and Douglas signed it. Going into the 2006 election, Douglas’s approval rating was above 60%. He ran on what he called his “Agenda of Affordability,” which took aim at the increasingly high cost of living in Vermont, and highlighted what he called a Democratic willingness to raise taxes for more spending. His Democratic opponent, former state Sen. Scudder Parker, struggled to make headway until the fall. Parker criticized Douglas for not doing enough on renewable energy and consistently sought to tie him to President Bush, who had disapproval ratings over 70% in Vermont. “I’m not trying to say Jim equals George,” Parker said. “What I am saying is that Jim has consistently supported Bush administration policies and those policies are coming home to have a direct impact on Vermont’s budget, Vermont’s quality of life.” But voters judged Douglas as his own man, and he won, 56%-41%, again carrying all but one county.
In 2007, Douglas fought the Legislature’s plan to overhaul campaign finance laws. He criticized contribution limits as too low and as unconstitutional, and the House sustained his veto by one vote. He voiced interest in decriminalization of marijuana, and allowed a bill to become law without his signature that gave farmers the right to grow industrial hemp. He backed federal immigration reform to help Vermont farmers secure sufficient migrant workers. And he advocated making Vermont a “global center” for environmental engineering.
In 2008, Douglas’s Democratic opponent was former House Speaker Gaye Symington. Douglas ran on his record of bringing business to the state, reducing taxes, and creating jobs. Symington struggled from the start to find an issue that would work against Douglas, resorting ultimately to small-bore themes—one criticism was that the governor did not reimburse the state for some of his campaign travel expenses. The results were remarkably lopsided considering Symington’s prominence. Douglas won with 53% to her 22%. Independent candidate Anthony Pollina, with the Progressive Party, got 22%.