SOUTH BURLINGTON — Former Govs. Howard Dean and Jim Douglas squared off for some good-natured jousting Monday over whether Vermont should double its governors' terms to four years.
Douglas, a Republican, argued for four-year terms, saying they would lead to better long-term planning. Dean, a Democrat, said the two-year term keeps governors more accountable and voters more engaged.
They held their informal debate before a legislative breakfast of the Lake Champlain Regional Chamber of Commerce. A week earlier, Sen. Diane Snelling, a Republican from Chittenden County, said she would introduce a proposed amendment to the state constitution to switch to a four-year term.
"I really believe that management of state government, long-term planning, financial planning and the length of campaigns are good arguments to join 48 states in extending the gubernatorial term," said Douglas, who served four terms from 2003 to 2011.
He added that the shorter term makes it hard to recruit people to serve in senior state positions.
Douglas, who served for a time as executive assistant to former Gov. Richard Snelling, said he had once called a southern Vermont resident to try to entice him to take a department-head job in state government.
"He asked, 'How long does this job last?'" Douglas recalled. "And I said, 'Well, I think the boss is going to run again, but I can only promise you a year and a half.'"
Douglas then drew a laugh by pantomiming a man hanging up a telephone.
Dean, who served for a time as chairman of the Democratic National Committee, said his travels around the world have convinced him that Vermont is very well-governed in comparison to other places.
Annual town meetings and statewide elections every two years help keep voters engaged, he said.
"We don't have much of a tea party in this state," Dean said. "Because this is one of the few states in the country where everybody believes that they actually matter."
Douglas tweaked Dean during their exchanges by reading from a 1996 press account about Dean's support for a four-year term.
Dean laughed and replied, "We live and learn."
Douglas said, "He was for it before he was against it."