Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin was sworn in to a third two-year term after his failure to win a majority of the popular vote in November forced state lawmakers to decide the winner on Thursday.
Shumlin defeated Republican Scott Milne by a vote of 110-to-69 in a joint session of the Vermont Legislature, an outcome that was expected given the strong majorities in both the House and Senate held by Shumlin's fellow Democrats.
But Milne had refused to concede after a narrow loss in the midterm elections, and one organization had been airing a television ad asking voters to urge their lawmakers to support him.
Shumlin prevailed despite facing a major setback last month when he announced that he was dropping his long-sought goal of a universal, single-payer health care system for the state. He said the tax increases it would have required were too big to impose on residents and businesses.
Before he gave his inaugural address, dozens of demonstrators inside the Statehouse protested his decision to abandon the plan, which had been a signature proposal of his administration.
"With health care costs and education spending eating up income faster than Vermonters can earn it, we owe it to them to control spiraling health care costs, address property taxes, and keep growing jobs and expanding businesses," Shumlin said after he was sworn in.
The Legislature chose the governor for the third time since 2003 under a provision of the state Constitution that if no candidate for governor, lieutenant governor or treasurer wins 50 percent plus one vote, lawmakers get to decide.
In most circumstances, the second-place finisher concedes to the top vote-getter, and the Legislature's vote is merely a formality. That's what happened in 2003 and in 2011, after Shumlin won his first term.
But this time, Milne didn't, and instead he sharply criticized the Democrat throughout the prolonged election process.
Shumlin didn't mention Milne by name in his speech, but he did acknowledge disappointing Vermonters.
"I heard clearly in the election this fall that Vermonters expect more from me and from the state to help improve their lives," Shumlin said. "From jobs to the environment, I have an agenda for progress that I will partner with you to fulfill in this term and beyond."
Shumlin has "wasted four years' worth of opportunity to get our economy on track and it's time to give somebody else the reins," Milne, 55, said in a recent interview with The Associated Press.
Milne, a travel agency president and political newcomer from Pomfret, had been urging lawmakers to vote as their constituents did in each district, which could have resulted in a 90-90 tie. By Thursday, his tone had changed.
"I think it's a good day for Vermont," he said after the vote. "I was happy to be a part of it. I think the road that's led us here has a lot of people feeling like one person can make a difference."
Shumlin, 58, a longtime legislator before his election as governor, had pointed to the Legislature's long tradition of affirming the top vote-getter. That's including 2002, when he conceded to Brian Dubie when no one won a majority in that year's race for lieutenant governor, and 2010, when Dubie conceded to Shumlin after he was first elected governor.
Thursday's event was briefly delayed by supporters of a single-payer, publicly funded health care system. Protesters unfurled a banner and sang, but they moved into the hallway after being asked to leave.
Their singing could be heard in the House chamber as the inauguration ceremony progressed.
Shumlin largely avoided the issue in his speech, instead highlighting his record on the environment and energy issues.
He said he plans to discuss the financial perils facing the state in his budget address next week. Vermont has seen revenues come in below forecast and faces an estimated $100 million budget shortfall for fiscal 2016, which starts July 1.
"This is the hardest budget I've had to create, and it will take a balanced approach to bring our state spending in line with future revenue projections," he said.
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