The Milne Transcripts, part 6: The supreme importance of tone

Yet another installment in my reports on Scott Milne’s rather disastrous July 25 appearance on WDEV Radio’s Mark Johnson Show. It was his first in-depth interview since formally launching his campaign for Governor. As such, it provides a window on the motivations, priorities, and political skills of the likely Republican nominee. 

Vermont Yankee wasn’t on Mark Johnson’s agenda. After all, it’s a fait accompli; Entergy stopped fighting to keep VY open when low natural-gas prices made it a financial loser, and a closing date has been announced. But Milne brought it up unbidden while trying to deflect attention away from a very unflattering discussion of health care reform, in which he appeared to confuse Vermont Health Connect with single-payer health care. (The former is operational, albeit troubled; the latter is Governor Shumlin’s yet-unattained Holy Grail.)

Milne was critical, not necessarily of the shutdown itself — he remained carefully neutral on that — but on the Shumlin Administration’s “tone.” Which, it seems, is one of the biggest bones Milne has to pick with his prospective opponent.

The tone and the style with which the Shumlin Administration went forward with that… we’re going to end up with a nuclear toxic slum on the banks of the CT River for probably 65 years or whatever the maximum decommissioning time is.

…Iif we had a Governor who was much more, in tone, business-friendly and working cooperatively to fix problems even with people that you disagree with, we could have given them a license extension. In exchange, gotten them to pony up the money for the rapid decommissioning.

Mmm, yeah, a couple problems with that. First, Entergy has never shown any willingness to adequately fund VY’s decommissioning; they’ve always played for the maximum amount of time. Given Entergy’s track record, it’s extremely doubtful that a different “tone” would have induced them to agree to a very costly proposition.

Second, Entergy stopped fighting for VY because it had become a financial drain. Why would they agree to commit hundreds of millions of dollars to the decommissioning find at a time when VY was already hurting their bottom line?

For Scott Milne to believe he could have convinced them otherwise reveals a dangerous combination of naivete and unfamiliarity with the issue.

Speaking of naivete, MIlne apparently believes that a different “tone” is all we need to make Vermont a growing, prosperous economic miracle. He’s harshly critical of Shumlin’s economic record, but when asked how he’d do things differently, this is what he comes up with:

Our primary, um, fix that we’re going to offer to Vermont is, uh, a much better tone and friendly tone towards business, and then some specific plans about how to attract business and keep business in Vermont.

His “primary fix” is a “better tone.” He’s vaguely promising “some specific plans” somewhere down the road, but his #1 solution to our economic troubles is a “better tone.”

I dunno. To me, and to many liberals and progressives, Governor Shumlin is awfully solicitous of the business community. He seeks their input, he listens to them, someties he shapes his policies to accommodate their concerns… and he’s certainly attracted more than a Democrat’s usual share of donations from Vermont businesspeople. Indeed, perhaps the biggest reason for the Republicans’ financial woes is that Shumlin has co-opted many of their usual big-money donors. If Shumlin is such a negative for business, why aren’t businesspeople trying harder to unseat him?

Besides, “tone” by itself is nothing. The “tone” makes a difference only as it affects your policies — say, kneecapping Act 250 or otherwise easing regulatory processes. For Milne to call for a new “tone” as the “primary fix” strikes me as disingenuous. He’s presenting himself as a moderate, so the last thing he wants to do is offer detailed pro-business policies. That’d give away the game. Instead, he talks of “tone,” and sounds a bit like a fool in doing so.

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