By Erin Mansfield, VTDigger
RUTLAND—Sen. Kevin Mullin, R-Rutland, is stepping down from his position as state senator to become the top health care regulator in the state.
Mullin, 58, of Rutland Town, will be the chair of the Green Mountain Care Board, which regulates health insurance prices and hospital budgets, among other things.
The chair position has been vacant since January, when Al Gobeille left to become the secretary of the Agency of Human Services. Another board seat was also left vacant in January when Betty Rambur moved to Rhode Island.
Gov. Phil Scott announced Mullin’s appointment as chair on Wednesday, May 24. Scott said he would also appoint Maureen Usifer, the former chief financial officer for Seventh Generation, to the vacant board position.
Mullin has been in the Legislature for 19 years and most recently chaired the Senate Economic Development Committee. He said Wednesday he was starting to experience burnout and is excited to have a new challenge.
“Health care is almost 20 percent of our economy, and I’ve had an interest in this for a long time,” Mullin said. He pointed to his experience sitting on the Senate Health and Welfare Committee, where he helped write the bill creating Catamount Health and the original single-payer health care bill in 2011.
“I’m honored to receive this appointment, and for the opportunity to play a role in Gov. Scott’s efforts to grow the economy, make Vermont more affordable, and protect the most vulnerable. The mission of this Board touches upon each of these goals. I look forward to working with the stakeholders across the healthcare system to ensure we are continuously working to improve upon the quality and accessibility of healthcare for Vermonters while at the same time seeking to contain costs,” said Mullin.
Mullin is the owner and chief executive officer of Glenwood Movieplex Corp., a company that runs movie theaters. He received a bachelor’s degree in finance from Castleton University. He considers himself a fiscal conservative.
Mullin was first elected to the House of Representatives in 1999 and was appointed to the Senate in 2003. He has been serving as the assistant Senate minority leader since 2005.
Until January, Mullin sat on the Green Mountain Care Board nominating committee, the panel that interviews for open slots on the board and recommends candidates to the governor. Scott said Wednesday Mullin had likely stepped down from the committee before applying for the chair position.
Mullin also once chaired the Vermont chapter of the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative group that seeks to influence laws made in state legislatures. The Vermont Democratic Party criticized him for that position on social media after his appointment Wednesday.
Scott said at a press conference Wednesday that Mullin’s appointment had nothing to do with his political party. Scott said he did not encourage Mullin to seek the position and he was surprised to see Mullin’s name on a list of candidates for the position.
The list came from the Green Mountain Care Board nominating committee, which mirrors the Judicial nominating board. The panel, which includes lawmakers from different political parties and members of the public, screens candidates and produces a list of people whom they consider qualified for the position.
“He certainly has a lot of experience from his business experience as well as serving on the Senate Health and Welfare Committee,” the governor said. “He’s very thoughtful. He works with other members of the body, both Republicans, Democrats, independents and Progressives.”
“If you look back at Al Gobeille, when he was first appointed to the Green Mountain Care Board, I’m not sure that he had the experience that many had sought, and he proved to be a very capable leader and a voice of reason in that respect,” Scott said.
Scott said he just looked at Mullin’s experience. “Anyone that knows Kevin Mullin knows that he works very well with both sides of the aisle and has done so his entire political career,” he said. “I think he actually started out as a Democrat back in the House.”
The chair is the only full-time member of the board and made $139,818 in 2016. Mullin said he would commute from Rutland to Montpelier for the job. The other four board members work 32 hours per week and were paid $96,678 in 2016.
Maureen Usifer’s appointment will be the first time since the Green Mountain Care Board started that the majority of board members will be women.
Scott will need to appoint someone to fill Mullin’s seat in the Senate. Scott said Wednesday the replacement may not be appointed before the veto session that starts June 21.
“I think there’s a number of really good House members who would make great senators,” Mullin said. He pointed to reps. Butch Shaw, R-Florence, and Larry Cupoli, R-Rutland.
Mullin also said some former members would make good senators. He mentioned former Rep. Jim McNeil, R-Rutland Town, and Dave Soucy, who was on the short list for a seat in the House this year.
“I think the Rutland delegation has a pretty deep bench,” Mullin said. “I think there’s a lot of people to choose from and a lot of it will be on who’s willing to make a commitment” to run for re-election in 2018, he explained. “We’ll get that all figured out in the next couple of weeks.”