The curious incident of the dog in the night-time

So yesterday, your top three Republican officeholders held a well-timed dog and pony show on the subject of Vermont Health Connect. Lt. Gov. Phil Scott, Senate Minority Leader Joe Benning, and House Minority Leader Don Turner praised Governor Shumlin for finally pulling the plug on the troubled CGI contract, but called for a thorough “scrubbing” of the process and perhaps the firings of some Shumlin Administration functionaries.

Standard stuff, and a sound political move. The Administration deserves all the criticism it gets until it delivers a fully-functional VHC. But what struck me most about the event was a conspicuous absence: Republican gubernatorial candidate Scott Milne, the party’s putative standard-bearer, was nowhere to be seen. Or, in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s immortal words:

Gregory (Scotland Yard detective): “Is there any other point to which you would wish to draw my attention?”

Holmes: “To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.”

Gregory: “The dog did nothing in the night-time.”

Holmes: “That was the curious incident.”

Scott Milne, the dog that did nothing.

According to a reporter who attended the event, the three addressed Milne’s absence by saying that they were discussing legislative action and Milne’s not in the legislature.

To which I say nope, not buyin’ it.

I don’t necessarily think they were lying. But I do think there are three possible explanations, none of which involves the imaginary line between politics and legislation.

First of all, a few facts. The CGI termination was announced on Monday, so it made sense for the Big Three to have a presser on Tuesday. And, according to Milne’s campaign schedule, he was in the Bennington area most of the day. So attendance at a Statehouse event would have been difficult.

But still. Milne is the head of the VTGOP’s ticket. Wouldn’t it have been nice to give him a share of perhaps the biggest single spotlight of the campaign so far?

I can see why the event had to happen shortly after the CGI announcement. But couldn’t they have, oh, found a way to work it out? Fit the presser into Milne’s schedule, or have Milne shuffle his? Or, failing any of that, have Milne there by Skype or videoconference? There were ways to make this work.

Back to my three explanations, none especially flattering.

1. They truly saw this as a purely legislative event and didn’t think of inviting Milne. That’s called not seeing the forest for the single tree of an ersatz principle. This was a great opportunity to present a unified front on one of Shumlin’s greatest vulnerabilities.

2. Milne was invited and chose not to shuffle his schedule. Which would be a political fumble of the kind all too typical of his nascent campaign.

3. The Big Three didn’t really want Milne there. Which would be the most damaging option. It’d be a strong indication that the VTGOP already sees Milne as a lost cause and a liability.

Take your pick.

The Democrats run something called the Coordinated Campaign, in which candidates contribute to a central fund that helps pay for all kinds of organizational goodies, like compiling voter data, managing volunteer activities, shared mailings and other campaign materials, GOTV, etc., etc. And whenever there’s a media event featuring Governor Shumlin, appropriate Democrats are part of the action.

At best, the Republicans are running an Uncoordinated Campaign and missed a golden opportunity to showcase their top man. At worst, Scott Milne is an isolated, doomed figure and nobody wants to be seen with him.

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