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Gov. Peter Shumlin visits with Jennifer Walker and baby Mallory at Hand Carved by Ernie in Rutland.
RUTLAND — In a daylong campaign launch that touched down in points across Vermont, Gov. Peter Shumlin on Monday urged voters to “stick with the current plan to grow jobs and economic opportunities for Vermonters.”
The first-term Democrat long ago made clear his intentions to seek another two years in office. However, despite raising about $750,000 toward his re-election effort, he had delayed a formal campaign announcement until after Labor Day.
“I’ve actually been avoiding announcing, much to the chagrin of some in the press corps,” Shumlin said during a stop at the Rutland Herald. “I have felt strongly that, as a believer in a two-year term, we should run active, vigorous, short campaigns.”
Shumlin said he’ll point to his record on health care and the economy as he looks to fend off a challenge from Republican Randy Brock.
“We have made real progress getting tough things done,” Shumlin said. “But we can’t get it done in 24 months, and we’re asking Vermonters for another 24 months to get it done.”
Having assumed office as Vermont began to emerge from one of the worst recessions in its history, Shumlin this fall will point to economic gains for which he credits actions by his administration.
“Two years later we have the fifth-lowest unemployment rate in America ... we have the fastest growth rate of all the New England states, and we’ve created 7,500 new jobs,” Shumlin said.
He said he’d speed that recovery by moving ahead on many of the same initiatives that defined his gubernatorial campaign in 2010: universal access to high-speed Internet; single-payer health care; expanding early childhood education; and investing in renewable energy.
As Republicans seek to instill the fear of single-party rule — Democrats have overwhelming majorities in both the Vermont House and Senate — Shumlin also touted what he said is a record of responsible tax policy.
“We managed to balance two deficit budgets by making tough choices, not by raising broad-based taxes on Vermonters who are already struggling to pay their bills,” he said.
Brock, the former one-term state auditor who departed his Franklin County Senate seat to mount his gubernatorial bid, said he thinks many Vermonters will be surprised to hear the governor talking about economic progress.
While the state may stack up well against jobless rates nationally, Brock said too many Vermonters remain out of work or underemployed.
“Everybody you ask knows someone who’s unemployed, or knows a child who’s left Vermont because of the lack of jobs and opportunity,” Brock said.
Brock said he will release his own detailed economic development policy “likely by the end of next week, if not sooner.” In it, he said, he will chart a competing path toward prosperity.
“My path is one of making Vermont open for business, of looking at how we can break down the hurdles that make our process for both business growth and development and permitting cumbersome and unwieldy,” Brock said.
He has already outlined his plan for the issue on which the candidates stand farthest apart: health care.
Shumlin continues to push for a universal system funded by some kind of tax, though he’s refused to speculate on what exactly the funding source might be.
He said if he loses his “appeal to your heart” — that it’s the state’s responsibility to ensure coverage for the 45,0000 uninsured Vermonters — then he can make the case on numbers alone.
At current rates of growth in spending, according to Shumlin, Vermont will be spending $2,500 more, per Vermonter, on health care in 2015.
“Where do we think that money’s going to come from when Vermonters on average are making the same they were making a decade ago?” he said.
The five-person Green Mountain Care Board, created by lawmakers in 2011, Shumlin said, is now in the process of “designing the most sensible system in the country that will cost less than we otherwise would have paid and (will) provide universal access.”
Brock’s plan, unveiled last week, offers a free-market alternative to single-payer. Brock said businesses can’t suffer the uncertainty of the looming, unidentified health care tax that he says will be too much for some companies to bear.
By luring more private insurers into Vermont and lifting many of the rules governing policies, Brock said, the state can stimulate the kind of competition responsible for driving down prices elsewhere in the marketplace.
“I would remind voters that we are proceeding head on into the dark,” Brock said. “We’re spending millions of dollars on a health care system, the cost of which, and what it will consist of, we don’t even yet know.”
The candidates meet for their first debate at 7 p.m. Wednesday. It will be broadcast live on Vermont Public Television.
A third major-party candidate could join Shumlin and Brock by the end of the week. A recount scheduled for Thursday will determine the winner of the Progressive gubernatorial primary. If anti-mountaintop-wind activist Annette Smith is declared the winner (she lost the first count by a single vote), she will likely remain in the race for governor.
The winner in the first count of votes in the Progressive primary, Martha Abbott, has declined the nomination.
Shumlin capped his campaign launch Monday with a party at Nectar’s restaurant and bar in Burlington.
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