The new chair of the Democratic Governors Association — Gov. Peter Shumlin of Vermont — will focus in his new role on what he says is the “difference between Democratic governors and the Republican party — that we’re inclusive.”
Shumlin signaled in an interview that his organization will aim to take and hold governors' mansions not by pushing Democrats to the center but with the package of liberal values that won around the country last month, including focuses on marriage equality and on climate change.
Shumlin won his second term as governor of Vermont this November, and on Tuesday at the DGA’s annual conference, secured the top leadership position with unanimous support from his colleagues.
In an interview with BuzzFeed, Shumlin was sure to highlight fiscal responsibility and job growth, but he also gestured toward a more progressive agenda, reflective in part of his home state — and of the overwhelming success of the Nov. 6 ballot measures for marriage equality and marijuana legalization.
“We believe we will make more progress as a country by celebrating what unites us, rather than creating divisions,” Shumlin told BuzzFeed. “Democratic governors passed marriage equality and worked hard for it. Governor O’Malley went to the mat for it.”
“There isn’t a Democratic governor who doesn’t understand climate change is the challenge we must focus on like a laser," he said. "We are all advocating for growing renewables and assuring that we make more progress so that we’re passing a planet to our kids and grandkids that’s sustainable.”
In Vermont, said the governor, the state has been moving “aggressively” toward a goal of 90% fossil fuel–free by the year 2050, and has more green jobs than any other state in the country.
“We’re harnessing the wind, our sun, our streams, and our fields to get off of our addiction to fossil-burning fuels,” he said. “It’s not only a moral imperative, but it’s an economic jobs opportunity. The industrial revolution created huge amount of jobs, the tech revolution created a huge amount of jobs — and this is the same thing."
Shumlin started his career in Vermont politics as a state legislator in 1993, and has served as governor since 2011, backing the decriminalization of marijuana, the “death with dignity” act, and gay marriage. Last year, Shumlin became the first sitting governor to marry a same-sex couple — he paid $100 out of pocket to obtain a certificate as a temporary marriage officiant in order to preside over the wedding of a lesbian couple he met on the campaign trail.
“I want to be clear that what I’m doing in Vermont might not work in other states,” Shumlin cautioned, “but what we all have in common is we understand that we have to balance budgets and make tough fiscal choices.”
The DGA has two gubernatorial races next year to prepare for — New Jersey and Virginia — and in 2014, Shumlin will have the challenge of 37 races ahead of him.
“Terry McAuliffe is a winner, and would be an extraordinary winner for the state of Virginia,” said Shumlin of the likely Virginia Democratic nominee. “We’ll work tirelessly to get him elected.”
New Jersey is still an open field. But asked about Newark mayor Cory Booker — a potential candidate, and one who might give incumbent Chris Christie a serious challenge — Shumlin said, “Cory is an incredible candidate, and we’re certainly excited about the prospect of the race.”
“We’re not gonna rate one candidate over the other,” he added. “We’re working closely with Democrats in New Jersey to come up with a very strong challenge to the incumbent.”
Governor Martin O’Malley of Maryland, who headed the DGA for the past two years, will continue his leadership in the group as finance chair, taking the lead on fund-raising efforts.
“Governor O’Malley did more for the DGA in two years than I can ever dream of doing,” said Shumlin. Look at what he did in 2012 — the national press said Democrats would lose New Hampshire, Washington, and Montana, and we won all three. I begged him to stay on as finance chair.”
Gov. John Hickenlooper of Colorado will work with Shumlin as his vice chair. The other chair positions on the DGA — labor chair, CEO roundtable chair, and NGA chair — have yet to be announced, but Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire may take one of the open committee positions.
Shumlin adds that Democrats should make a conscientious effort to elect more women governors. Maggie Hassan, fresh off a win in New Hampshire, is the party's only female Democratic governor.
“I found it pretty astonishing, as the father of two daughters,” said Shumlin, “that in 2012, had Maggie not won New Hampshire, we would have been an all-boys club. That’s pretty depressing.”