Oh dear. Oh wow. That debate last night. (The gubernatorial debate on VPR featuring Governor Shumlin, Republican Scott Milne, Libertarian Dan Feliciano, and the Liberty Union’s Peter Diamondstone.)
Lots to talk about, but the main takeaway is this: Scott Milne is losing it. His performance was so bad that, I hear, it sparked some back-channel sentiment among Republicans to get him out of the race and leave it to Dan Feliciano.
I don’t think that sentiment will turn into action, because in the long run it’d be more embarrassing to have no Republican candidate than to have a really bad one. But still, it shows you how bad it was.
How bad was it? The Freeploid’s Nancy Remsen, in referring to a question Milne asked of Governor Shumlin, characterized it as a “strange question.”
And she was right.
It’d be fun to provide a tally of how many times Milne said that an issue was “complicated” or that he was “running a campaign of ideas” without providing any ideas. But a couple of excerpts will, I think, give a more complete sense of the debacle.
After a couple of opening-round questions, the candidates were given the opportunity to ask a question of one of their fellows. Milne made a complete botch of it:
Milne: I’ve heard from four different people that therte was an emergency sort of last-minute called meeting Saturday night after that debate with Democratic leaders in Windsor County that you attended. I’m just curious, at that meeting, how many folks that were there to sort of help you regroup after that debate worked for the state directly or worked for nonprofits or advocacy groups that are funded by state dollars prinarily?
This is the question Remsen called “strange,” and she was dead-on. Shumlin’s response?
Shumlin: Scott, I’m totally unaware of what you’re talking about. I can tell you what I did after the Tunbridge Fair, I went up and spoke with state employees, the VSEA, in Killington, I made one other campaign stop, and I went to the Windsor County Democratic dinner in Hartland. It was a very good event, and I went home. So the meeting you’re referring to did not happen.
Milne: Okay, my bad. Thank you.
Moderator Bob Kinzel: No follow-up question for that?
Do I have to explain how awful that was? In a four-way debate, Milne would get few opportunities for a direct interaction with the Governor. He took is best chance and blew it on a hot rumor he’d heard about an alleged event that didn’t happen, and even if it did, what the hell difference would it make? The best he could have hoped for was that Shumlin would decompensate and admit he’d had a secret powwow to strategize a counterattack against the Milne Menace with a roomful of state employees. And then what would Milne have? A “gotcha” moment that would do nothing to illustrate policy differences between the two.
As it was, he looked like a fool.
Next, Shumlin asked MIlne a question. He noted that Milne repeatedly calls Shumlin “radical and progressive.” He then ticked off several of his initiatives — universal pre-K, college tuition, downtown revitalization, fighting opiate addiction, and the GMO bill, among others — and asked Milne which ones he disagreed with.
And here, in all its incoherent glory, is Milne’s response.
Milne: Since you used all my time asking questions, I’ll try to be brief. I also want to give a shout out to Peter Diamondstone, just so the listeners know, Peter and I are doing this without notes. Dan’s reading questions from a paper, as is Governor Shumlin, so I’m happy to answer questions with my brain, not with what I wrote down ahead of time to bring into the test.
I think the GMO labeling bill is a good example of the radical, progressive management of a bill by your administration.
Shumlin: Would you repeal it?
Milne: I didn’t say I’d repeal it. I’m not entirely positive I would have vetoed it if I was in your shoes.
Shumlin: So you’re against it but you’re for it?
(I have to pause here and just say I really hope, purely for the entertainment value, that there’s a one-on-one debate between Milne and Shumlin sometime during the campaign. It’d truly be a Bambi vs. Godzilla moment.)
Milne: No, no. Um, I could do the flip-flop thing on you. I’m running a debate on ideas, I’m running a campaign of ideas, I’m not doing the sound bite flip-flop stuff. You flip-flopped on, you know, you’re totally doubling down on single-payer on Tuesday when you’re with your Democratic announcement, then you’re on a statewide radio program three days later, and you’re not going to go forward with it unless it’s goig to be good for the economy, so if you want to do the sound bite kind of campaign, we can do that.
What I said very clearly is, you managed that bill in a radical, progressive way. We could have gotten the same results in a much more business-friendly way that would have done great things to contributing to a business-friendly environment in Vermont which would be good for business, which would be good for government, because government is funded by business.
All I can say is, if you can listen to that mess and conclude that Scott Milne is your man for Governor, then I’ve got no words.