Er, that would be me.
I just got off the phone after spending almost 90 minutes on WDEV’s Mark Johnson Show, looking back at the gubernatorial election, how we got it so wrong, and what it all means. There were a lot of great phone calls from all parts of the political spectrum, and Mark was (as always) a great host, gently guiding the discussion while allowing plenty of room for callers to drive the conversation.
I didn’t always agree with the callers, and I’m sure they didn’t always agree with me. But they were intelligent and thoughtful. They saw things from their own viewpoints and interpreted events accordingly, but they weren’t shrill or doctrinaire. It was a pleasure to spend time and share ideas with them.
My big takeaways are:
— People are smarter than the likes of me give them credit for. One of the structural drawbacks of being a writer or reporter or politician is that you live in your own little world. I do my writing from my home office. Reporters spend the vast majority of their time in their offices. Reporters and politicians spend their time talking to each other. Sure, politicians hit the road and press the flesh. But that’s a small part of what they do. Our perspectives are skewed by how and where we spend our time and who we talk to.
— Governor Shumlin’s biggest problems are that he’s seen as out of touch, and as a bad manager. And that’s job one, whether you’re a liberal or a conservative: take care of business. Get the roads plowed and the cops on the beat and the teachers in the classrooms. Spend the people’s money wisely and well. If you do that, people will reward you, no matter what your ideology.
His out-of-touchness was a constellation of things: the outside travel, the fundraising from corporate interests, his habit of saying whatever he thinks his current audience wants to hear.
Look at the people who’ve won respect in Vermont. People like George Aiken and Dick Snelling and Bernie Sanders and Jim Douglas and Pat Leahy and Phil Scott. Ideologically, they have very little in common. But they are seen as honest brokers who care about doing government well and taking care of the people as best they can.
Governor Shumlin was brilliant during and after Tropical Storm Irene. He has been far less effective in the day-to-day business of government. The continued failure of Vermont Health Connect is the single biggest thing, but there’s also the problems at the Department of Children and Families and the failure to address rising school costs and the failed IT contracts (which was also a trouble spot for Jim Douglas, but Shumlin hasn’t fixed it).
I’m sure I’m forgetting a few other things. But the point is, if the voters entrust you with public office, you have to carry out the office’s duties effectively. That’s the most important thing. Especially if you’re a liberal who wants government to do more. People will go along with you if they think you’re doing a good job.
And pretty much nobody, on the left, right, or center, thought Shumlin was doing a good job.
— By contrast, Scott Milne, for all his faults (in some ways, because of his faults), did seem authentic. He was a real person, warts and all. He was open to new ideas from all sides, and his primary focus was to make government work well. In many ways, he was the perfect anti-Shumlin.
That’s the message I got over and over again on the radio this morning. Well, there were many messages, but those are the big ones. It was informative, and it was a lot of fun. Thanks to Mark, his listeners, and WDEV for giving me the opportunity.