The message in Gov. Phil Scott’s 2021 inaugural address could be tied to a two-word plea from Vermont Gov. Horace Graham in 1918 who called for “practical patriotism” to battle the Swine Flu then ravaging the nation. It was a plea that cut through partisanship, a call to cast aside differences in the struggle to rebuild and to reimagine.

Mr. Scott is asking for that same patriotism — defined as a desire for the common good — built upon the mechanics of practical application — defined as using the tools we have at our disposal to make things better.

His is the call for cooperation, to seize the opportunity that chaos sometimes creates. Chaos in our case defined as Covid-19, and chaos as defined by the political discourse that was on display last week in the nation’s capitol.

The economic dislocation caused by the virus creates opportunities in that when something’s broken, there is the chance to start again and to do it better. The political disruption we saw in the nation’s capitol begs us to set ourselves apart, to stress that comity is the currency in use, that we have no appetite for the sort of violence that puts our democracy at risk.

The governor focused on three key areas in his speech: economic strength in all 14 counties, not just Chittenden County, an improved educational system, and a health care system that is affordable. All three will be fleshed out a bit more in his upcoming budget speech.

Of the three, our schools and our health care system, loom largest when looking at Vermont’s needs and what will serve us best long term. We have the capacity to offer the best in both, and if we can realize that opportunity, we may be able to generate the economic strength necessary to deal with the majority of the other issues that confront us, king among them our demographic challenges.

It’s encouraging to read the governor is stepping up his commitment to early child care needs and that he will propose consolidating all the state’s child development programs within the Agency of Education. He’s attacking the penchant we have in Vermont of creating silos within different agencies dealing with the same cohort. It’s blindingly inefficient, costly and unproductive.

Perhaps this could be the beginning of Vermont finally considering our educational system — writ large — as something that extends from pre-school through higher education. The resources are considerable and they could be more effectively used if Vermont’s educational system were looked at as a single unit.

It was equally encouraging to hear the governor call for a cap on health insurance costs and “moving to a system where we pay for quality, not just quantity — and do so in a way that prioritizes prevention on the part of the patient as well as the provider.” The only way to do that is to shift from a system that profits on sickness and not wellness.

Vermont is a national leader on the health care front with the All-Payer model. With the governor’s unflinching support Vermont could set the nation’s standard for how health care can be made affordable, equitable and of high quality.

All of what the governor asks is a high bar, one that will require the “pratical patriotism” Mr. Scott asks for. We should ask the same of ourselves.

by Emerson Lynn

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