Shumlin Leads

Published January 6, 2015

Praise for Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin from anyone connected to The Heartland Institute is probably not very common. He’s a fairly typical progressive Democrat, supporting all manner of things that promote statism over freedom and ultimately hurt the public more than they help.

That said, I ran across an article this morning that reminded me of what I consider to be one of the finer examples of poltiical leadership I’ve ever seen displayed by a politician, offered last year by Shumlin. No, I’m not talking about his coming to his senses and abandoning the single-payer health care scheme he’s been promoting for years (although that was a good move on his part too).

Instead, I’m talking about Shumlin’s 2014 State of the State address. Similar to the President’s State of the Union address, it’s basically a staged speech in which governors across the country get to yammer on for an hour or so about how terrific they’ve been, or will be, and promise everything under the sun to everybody they wish to shower lucre on. Needless to say, in an hour there’s a lot of issues and lucre to promise, so just about every issue you can imagine gets at least a mention and in many cases a few minutes of time. It’s a great political speech, largely devoid of substance but chock-full of talking points.

Republicans, Democrats, the occasional independent – they all do the same thing, and local press feels obliged to report extensively on the Governor’s State of the State address because, well, it’s the Governor’s State of the State address.

In 2014, Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin took a different path, devoting most of his speech to drug abuse in Vermont, specifically heroin and other opiates. Here’s how WBUR, a public radio station from Boston, reported on Shumlin’s speech:

This week, Vermont’s Governor Peter Shumlin began his annual State of the State Address in the usual fashion — he talked about state’s strong economy, its low unemployment rate, its affordable high-quality healthcare.

But then, his speech took a sudden turn. He started talking about a crisis. “In every corner of our state, heroin and opiate drug addiction threatens us,” he said. (See a transcript of the address here.)

Gov. Shumlin did something that perhaps no other governor has ever done before. He spent the rest of the speech — some 34 minutes — talking about Vermont’s drug addiction problem.

Doing a rough word count of his speech, Shumlin spent about 93 percent of his State of the State address on this topic.

I can’t say whether Shumlin advocated the right approach, or whether the measures he put in place will succeed. Drug addiction is a tough problem, and I’m not at all familiar with what good drug policy is in this regard.

But I can say that Peter Shumlin did something that too few politicians today would ever think of doing,  setting aside what is typically a great political platform for self-aggrandizement in favor of demonstrating real leadership on an important issue, one that probably wasn’t going to win him any votes.

I’m reasonably certain Peter Shumlin and I share very little common ground in terms of what is good or bad public policy. But that doesn’t mean real leadership shouldn’t be recognized and applauded when it occurs, and my only regret about writing this is that it’s taken me nearly a year to get around to it. So, with a belated nod, my hat is off to Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin, who hopefully will continue to show the rest of America’s political class what leadership on an issue looks like.