Jim Douglas Vermont’s Popular Governor / 2006 CSG President
By Mary Branham
For the first time in 40 years, Jim Douglas’ name was not on Vermont’s ballot in an even-numbered November.
The popular four-term governor could have sought another term, but decided it was time for a change.
“I want people to say—as they have—‘we’re sorry you’re leaving,’ as opposed to waiting until a future point when they say, ‘at last he’s gone,’” Douglas said. “I want to be as energetic on the last day as on the first.”
By all accounts, Douglas has taken his role as governor—and any other job he’s taken on—seriously. He’s led several organizations throughout his tenure, including serving as president of The Council of State Governments in 2006 and the National Governors Association, finishing his term last July. He’s also been president of the National Association of Secretaries of State, the National Association of Treasurers and the New England Governors’ Conference.
“I believe it’s important to take any commitment seriously,” he said. “I wouldn’t have agreed to lead CSG or any other national organization, if I didn’t feel I could commit the time necessary to do the job.”
That’s the attitude Douglas has taken as governor of Vermont. He made a point to be out and among the people of his state the past eight years.
“Some of my detractors make fun of that. Somebody once said, ‘that governor would show up at the opening of an envelope.’ But I believe spending time with Vermonters has helped me do a better job,” he said. “I learn about the challenges they’re confronting, the successes they’ve had and what I can do to improve the quality of life here.”
He’s worked hard to meet that goal. In fact, Douglas has a difficult time naming just one major accomplishing during his time in office. Vermont has had a balanced budget consistently, without a legal requirement to do so. The state hasn’t raided its rainy day funds during the recession as some states have. It’s reduced some taxes on capital gains and estates and cut the size of state government by 8 percent. The state still has a triple A bond rating, one of the strongest in the country.
“In terms of fiscal stewardship, I feel good about what I’ve accomplished,” he said.
Vermont is constantly touted as being ahead of the curve on health care reform and has been ranked the healthiest state in the U.S. by America’s Health Rankings, a collaborative partnership between United Health Foundation, the American Public Health Association and Partnership for Prevention. In addition, the Douglas administration has bent the cost curve among those who participate in the Medicaid program.
He also lists the work to rebuild the state’s infrastructure; in fact, the percentage of bridges that are poorly rated by engineering analyses has declined, he said. Vermont has been the most successful state in terms of accessing Recovery Act funds for broadband infrastructure and cell towers.
“We’ve been rated the fourth least economically stressed state because of the low bankruptcy and foreclosure and unemployment rates,” Douglas said. “The work we’ve done to diversify the economy, to help businesses succeed and to develop a work force that’s trained and motivated has positioned us well for economic success.”
Douglas began his political career as the head of the Young Republican Club in college. He ran for the state legislature in 1972 after graduation when a lawmaker in his town stepped down from the post. Douglas won both a contested primary and general election. In fact, the Republican in a heavily Democratic state has lost just one race, when he ran for the U.S. Senate 18 years ago.
He credits his acting on advice he received some time ago with that long-term success.
“I believe, as others have counseled me, that even if voters don’t agree with a candidate on his or her positions on the major issues of the day, integrity and hard work and a willingness to interact with the people will be strong factors in deciding for whom to vote and ultimately will be beneficial in that effort.”
And, he would offer that same advice to others. “Be yourself; the people will see through you if you’re not. Be honest; the people can handle the truth even if it’s something that is uncomfortable for them. Always seek their advice; remember you’re a public servant,” he said. “You’re accountable to the people and you need to continue to remember that you’re in office to fulfill their goals and their will.”