The Four-Ring Circus: First thoughts on the gubernatorial debate

Still to come: longer takes on Scott Milne and Dan Feliciano. (As Milne would say, “Stay tuned!”) For now, overall grades plus miscellaneous notes:

The first gubernatorial debate of the campaign, broadcast live on WDEV Saturday at 11 a.m. (from the Tunbridge World’s Fair) was a spirited affair, kept lively by moderator Mark Johnson who, IMO, should be Vermont’s Moderator Laureate, the #1 option for all our debate needs. All four candidates — Governor Shumlin, Scott Milne, Dan Feliciano, and Emily Peyton — gave good representations of themselves. In the case of one candidate, that was a good thing.

(Audio of debate¬†available via Mark Johnson’s podcast. Video courtesy of CCTV.

First off, overall grades.

Peter Shumlin: A. Did what he had to do. Spoke forcefully and clearly, presented his point of view, and defined the race to his advantage. Because of the four-candidate format, Shumlin wasn’t fully tested on responding to attacks, particularly over health care reform. I’m really hoping there’s at least one face-to-face debate between Shumlin and Milne. That would be a real service to Vermont voters, more so than paying lip service to “fairness.” Fairness is nice, but in truth, the vast majority of voters are only going to consider two of these folks, and they deserve to see how Milne and Shumlin measure up in a direct encounter.

Dan Feliciano: B-. He did give a solid accounting of his candidacy. He did present some actual ideas, unlike Mahatma over there. Strictly grading on quality of presentation, he came across as a credible candidate. The biggest problem: his views are not shared by the vast majority of voters. To the extent that they got a clear view of Feliciano, they almost certainly decided that he’s not their man. Credit to his advance team for planting some shills in the audience, though.

Scott Milne: C. The top headline from this debate, in truth, was “Scott Milne Doesn’t Poop Himself.” Sounded a lot more coherent than in previous interviews, such as his notorious Mark Johnson disaster. He was fully programmed with talking points, attacks on Shumlin, and even pre-planned “ad libs” meant to play to the crowd. However, there were three huge drawbacks:

— He was handicapped by the four-person format. He had a hard time engaging Shumlin directly, which is what he has to do.

— He often sounded pre-programmed. His delivery was rushed, even frantic at times, as though he was trying to get through his talking points before time ran out.

— He still hasn’t defined his campaign positively. He had to fall back on his standard “Stay Tuned” promise when asked for specifics. His lack of clarity allows Shumiln an easy, and accurate, attack line: Milne has no ideas.

Emily Peyton: No grade. Who cares. Go away.

Really, I mean it. Her presence added nothing to the debate. She could have provided a service by giving voice to the leftist critique of Shumlin on taxes, campaign finance, and human services, plus his endangerment of single-payer health care because of the inept rollout of Vermont Health Connect. But her views are too quirky for that. She’s a unique combination of progressive, libertarian, and classic Vermont weirdo. She has no business being allowed in the gubernatorial debates.

Bonus demerits for turning her closing statement into an infomercial for hemp. Shameless. And pointless.

During the debate, she complained over a perceived slight from Johnson, and asserted that she’d nearly been shut out of the debate. For which she blamed sexism. I certainly believe that we need more female candidates and officeholders, and one of the only knocks against the Democratic Party is its failure to promote women to top offices. But that doesn’t mean you let an unqualified nutjob onto the stage simply because she has the requisite gender characteristics. No more Peyton. Please.

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