MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — Vermont Republican Gov. Phil Scott said that in the past year Vermonters and people across the country have been tested by the COVID-19 pandemic, racial injustice and the politics that led to the Wednesday riots at the U.S. Capitol in Washington.
The people of Vermont have responded to the challenges created by the pandemic by learning, breaking down barriers and getting things done as quickly as possible.
Nevertheless, Vermont is facing a tough winter as the pandemic continues its spread across the state — with the vaccine shining a light at the end of the tunnel, Scott said during his inaugural address Thursday evening.
By the end of winter about 120,000 Vermonters will have received the vaccine against COVID-19. It’s hoped the number of fatalities will decrease and the daily case counts stabilize. Scott said he hoped life could begin to return to normal by summer or perhaps even earlier.
“The challenges we face demand the very best of all of us, that we rise above the partisanship and division, the pettiness and political games, to commit to the tough work ahead, to get through this crisis safer and stronger, and to do it together,” Scott said.
Vermont is also going to have to confront the economic damage wrought by the pandemic, but there, too, could be opportunity in some of the responses that have been developed.
“Now, we have to be honest: Even with help from Washington, we are going to have to make some difficult choices and do more with less,” Scott said. “We know we won’t be able to do everything we want, but rest assured we will meet our commitments to Vermonters.”
Scott reiterated his call to ensure that all Vermonters have the same economic and educational opportunities no matter if they come from rural Vermont or the Burlington area.
He said Vermont health and education officials hope to make it possible for the state's school children to return to full-time in-school learning by the end of the school year, or perhaps even April.
He's also asking educators to use the lessons of remote learning forced on them by the pandemic to give schools, students and family more education choices, such as foreign language or computer coding classes that can be taught remotely.
“We need the courage to rethink how we’re delivering education, because with the money we spend today, all our kids could have more opportunities," Scott said.
Earlier Thursday, Scott took the oath of office for his third term in a brief ceremony on the front steps of the Statehouse in Montpelier.
In brief remarks to lawmakers after he was sworn in, he said he was shocked to see the attack on the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Wednesday.
“'Seeing our capitol, a symbol of democracy around the world, stormed by this mob of traitors was heartbreaking,” said Scott, who on Wednesday called for President Donald Trump to resign or be removed from office. “The fact that these flames of hate and insurrection were lit by the President of the United States will be remembered as one of the darkest chapters in our nation’s history.”
He said that if lawmakers won't lead the way, it was unclear who would.
“We simply can’t go on like this any longer, and as elected officials, we all have a responsibility to step up and show the way," Scott said in his message, which was delivered to lawmakers remotely.
He said he knew that lawmakers would have disagreements, but those are part of the system of government.
“'Challenging each other’s proposals and asking tough questions to better understand, leads to better policy and better outcomes,” Scott said. “I believe if we take the time to listen to, and learn from, one another, seek consensus where we can and compromise when we can’t, Vermonters will benefit from our work.”
Earlier Thursday, Lt. Gov. Molly Gray, a Democratic political newcomer, took the oath of office in the Senate chamber in a session that most senators attended remotely.
During the just-beginning legislative session Scott and lawmakers are expected to focus their attention on helping Vermont recover from the coronavirus pandemic. Among the issues likely to be discussed are the need for reliable broadband internet service in rural areas, affordable child care and support for businesses hurt by the pandemic.