Warm day in downtown Barre. Small crowd, mainly retirement age (Yr. Obdt. Svt. included) gathering on the front lawn of the Aldrich Public Library. The occasion? Scott Milne’s long-awaited launch of his gubernatorial candidacy.
Phil Scott was there. Jim Douglas was there. My frenemy Senator Joe Benning was there.
Who wasn’t there? Well, as far as I could tell, Barre’s Republican Mayor Thom Lauzon wasn’t there. And he usually manages to make himself conspicuous wherever the cameras gather. Interesting. I seem to recall Paul “The Huntsman” Heintz reporting that Lauzon and his wife donated $2,000 to the Governor’s campaign.
Checking… yes, yes he did.
Still, the front section of the library, comfortably air-conned, was full of Milne supporters and the legions of media desperately looking for a sure-fire story during the summer slump.
Milne was introduced by Douglas, who gave Mr. Bunny a hearty endorsement after delivering what sounded very much like a statement for his own candidacy. (Must’ve made a few hearts flutter in the Republican audience and wish for What Might Have Been; Douglas is their Beau Ideal.)
Douglas lauded Milne’s experience in “the real world” of business and commerce, a person “outside the bubble, unaffected by the stale air of the State House.” That’s rich, coming from a guy who spent virtually his entire adult life in that very bubble.
And then the Man of the Hour stepped to the plate, promising “a campaign of ideas” and said that he would “not be vilifying the Governor.”
In the following few minutes, Milne used these words in direct or indirect reference to the incumbent: doubting that Shumlin’s course is “responsible and realistic,” calling the Governor’s agenda “ultra-progressive,” referring to Shumlin as “headstrong about the need for exuberance and rapid, radical change,” characterizing his Administration as one of “unbridled experimentation,” and decried the use of “bullying tactics” and “brazen displays of power.”
But he won’t be “vilifying” the brazen, bullying, headstrong, radical, ultra-progressive Governor. Bwahahaha.
By contrast, Milne depicted himself as moderate, “cautious,” “responsible,” and reluctant to make any wholesale changes. He said “cautious” a bunch of times.
The strategy, thus, becomes clear: in order to capture the center, Milne will go all-out to portray Shumlin as a fire-breathing radical. Without, of course, vilifying him in any way.
It’s hard to see this working. Shumlin has too many centrist positions, spends far too much time courting the center, and caters to the business community far too often to be convincingly marginalized as an “ultra-progressive.” (When he said that, I could almost hear the guffaws exploding from Prog Central: “Shumlin a progressive? You must be joking!”)
After his speech, his crew made their way to the Elks Club next door for a hamburger lunch. It took Milne a while to get there; he first had to submit himself to his inaugural media scrum. The key point for me was the inevitable exchange about Act 250, given his frustration and anger over the regulatory troubles facing his dream project, the mixed-use Quechee Highlands development. It’s run afoul of the regional Act 250 board and the town of Hartford.
Milne claimed that he is “very supportive of the concept of Act 250,” but then accused Shumlin of “hijacking something into a political ideology rather than a practical program that needs to be applied more pragmatically.”
Not exactly grammatical, but you get his drift. But when asked for specifics on how the Administration had hijacked the process, Milne came up short of the mark:
“I think if you look between the poor management at the Agency of Commerce over the last four years, very poor management at the Agency of Natural Resources, there’s very evidential answers right there.”
Not much meat on those bones, is there? He charges the Administration with “hijacking” the process — an aggressive power grab — and all he can offer as proof is a nonspecific charge of “poor management.”
Hey, a travel agent ought to know that it takes positive, organized action to hijack anything. You don’t do it by accident.
All in all, it was a happy event for the true believers. But if this is the tack Milne plans on taking, he’s gonna get shellacked by the Governor.