The boy in the bubble

During Scott Milne’s campaign kickoff this week, former Governor Jim Douglas hailed the travel agent/real estate developer as a person “outside the bubble, unaffected by the stale air of the State House.” At the time, I noted the irony in those words coming from a man who lived practically his entire adult life in that very bubble. Indeed, without a doubt Jim Douglas himself produced a substantial portion of that “stale air.”

(Photo by the late great Peter Freyne.)

(Photo by the late great Peter Freyne.)

But enough subtly-worded fart jokes. I thought it was worthwhile to hammer home the point in more detail… after I make a brief detour to Douglas’ other unintentional laugh line: he invoked that discredited VTGOP talking point about Vermont getting an “F” in a “study” of friendliness toward small business.

Oh no he di’nt.

Oh yes he di’id.

As I’ve said on more than one previous occasion, this was an unscientific, mass-mailing survey conducted by the small-business website Thumbtack.com. It’s been done in each of the past three years. But Vermont was only included in the survey results for the first year, 2012, because in the two following years, not enough Vermont businesspeople responded to the survey.

Vermont’s “F” was from the 2012 study. Which was taken (1) at a much earlier point in our recovery from the Great Bush Recession, when things were lousy for almost everybody, (2) only months after Tropical Storm Irene devastated much of Vermont and derailed Governor Shumlin’s agenda, and (3) only a year and some change into Shumlin’s time as governor.

So that “F” could be credited as much to Jim Douglas as to Peter Shumlin. And it doesn’t take into account any of Shumlin’s subsequent efforts to make Vermont a better place for entrepreneurs.

In short, the grade should not be taken seriously as a measure of Vermont’s business atmosphere. Which didn’t stop Douglas from perpetuating the lie.

Okay, now let’s take a closer look at the Douglas resume, shall we?

He was elected to the House in 1972 at the age of 21, only months after graduating from college. He served in the Legislature until 1979, when he became one of Dick Snelling’s top aides. A year later, he ran for Secretary of State and won; he’d go on to serve six terms.

In 1992, he lost to Pat Leahy for U.S. Senate. For two years after that, as far as I can tell, he was out of government service.

Then in 1994 he ran for Treasurer and won. He served until 2002 when he was elected Governor. He served four terms and retired in 2010. Well, technically, January 2011.

That’s 38 years of his adult life, minus two years, giving us a total of 36 years at the public trough.

No wonder the Wall Street Journal called him a “career politician.” 

The Journal’s 2011 article took Douglas as an example of the difficulties older executives face when embarking on a second career:

Finding a fresh pursuit in midlife is never easy. The challenge looms especially large for top managers with experience in just one industry, however. Mr. Douglas has spent his entire adulthood in politics.

All right, now let’s look at Peter Shumlin, the guy who, I suppose, is Douglas’ exemplar of a person who’s lived too long in the bubble.

Shumlin was appointed to a vacancy in the Legislature in 1990, and served one and a half terms. He then served in the Senate for ten years. He ran for Lieutenant Governor in 2002 and lost.

After that, he spent four years in his family’s business, Putney Student Travel. In 2006 he returned to the State Senate, where he served until being elected Governor in 2010.

From 1990 to the present, that’s 24 years. Minus the four years outside government, that’s 20 years breathing the stale air inside the bubble.

20 for Shumlin. 36 for Douglas.

Now look, Scott Milne’s status as an outsider with a fresh perspective is a respectable enough talking point if you like that sort of thing. But Jim Douglas is the worst possible person to deliver the message. Coming from his mouth, it was completely hypocritical.

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