Scott is as familiar to Vermonters as he is unfamiliar to everyone else. As a co-owner of a commercial excavation business founded by his uncle, he traveled around the state for years. “I literally shaped a lot of the land in Vermont in different ways,” Scott told me. He also built a following as a champion stock-car racer; until the pandemic, Scott raced annually at the Thunder Road Speedbowl in Barre and is still one of the track’s winningest drivers. Unlike most politicians, he does not dominate a room. When he holds twice-weekly press briefings, he frequently defers to members of his Cabinet, and in our conversation, he spoke just loudly enough that I didn’t have to lean forward to hear him. He is not without vanity, though. During the photo shoot, he insisted on moving his daughter’s motorcycle out of the frame. “It’s such a girly bike,” he explained.
Scott ran and won his first campaign for the state legislature in 2000. Scott’s political origin story—“I was just like everyone else. I was a frustrated business owner”—as well as his socially liberal, fiscally conservative ideology is typical for a Northeast Republican. He has been the only Republican to hold statewide office for the past decade, having served three terms as lieutenant governor before his election to the top job in 2016. (To the irritation of many people in the state, Vermont elects its leaders for just two years at a time.)
The biggest mystery about Scott is why he remains a Republican when the party nationally has moved so far to the right and has bowed so deeply to the whims of a man he can’t stand. No elected Republican in the country—not Baker or Hogan, not any member of Congress—has gone further in repudiating Trump than Scott. He supported both impeachments of the former president, and on Election Day, rather than writing in the name of a GOP luminary, Scott voted for Biden.
I asked Scott why he hadn’t become an independent. “That would probably be the easier path, to be quite honest with you,” he said. “But if you look at the longevity of the Republican Party, there’s a lot to be proud of, from my perspective.” He listed Baker, Hogan, Representative Liz Cheney, and Senator Mitt Romney as leaders that give the party hope, and suggested that to abandon the GOP over Trump would be akin to surrendering the party to him. “We’ll see what happens in the future,” Scott said. “But I have no intention of leaving the Republican Party.”
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As governor, Scott has sparred with Democrats over spending through the years, vetoing occasional budgets and bills to mandate paid family leave and raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour. (It now stands at $11.75 an hour.) The legislature has overridden him a few times, but more often the two sides have come to agreements. Unlike most in his party, he has moved to confront climate change (although not as aggressively as Democrats would like), which threatens the producers of Vermont’s most famous export, maple syrup. In 2018 he signed major gun-control legislation to expand background checks, ban bump stocks and high-capacity magazines, and raise the legal age to purchase a gun to 21. “We share broad goals and values,” Jill Krowinski, the Democratic speaker of Vermont’s House of Representatives, told me.