Daily Archives: November 6, 2014

Vermont’s newest pundit

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.

She’s spinning so fast, she’s gonna explode

DarcieThis is incredible, even by the standards of Darcie “Hack” Johnston.

She’s gone full Orwell on the election returns, which once again revealed her consistent wrongness. I’ve heard that she’s a nice person who’s always accessible and capable of turning on the charm,  especially with the media. But she’s just plain wrong. All the time.

She managed Randy Brock’s campaign to an embarrassing defeat. And this time, she managed Dan Feliciano to a disastrous 4% finish. Remember, in July and August this guy was widely believed to be a stronger candidate than Scott Milne. Who, lest we forget, outpolled Feliciano by a better than 10-to-1 margin.

But Johnston is desperately spinning the results to make herself look better. Or, should I say, less of a train wreck. From the Freeploid’s (sadly departing) Terri Hallenbeck:

Johnston… said she had no regrets pushing Feliciano as a candidate even though she was surprised at how well Milne did.

“It was never evident to me that Scott Milne had a chance to win,” she said.

This ace political strategist admits she missed the Milne trend. And, in retrospect, who does she credit for Milne’s showing? She and her candidate.

…she said Milne could have done more to prevail over Shumlin. She contended he was late to pick up on the problems with Vermont Health Connect and offered a split message on government-financed health care when he said he would consider it down the road if it worked elsewhere.

Okay, now that’s amazing. She says the candidate who got 45% of the vote should have been more like the guy who got 4%? I guess so. Plus, according to Johnston, Mr. Four Percent was actually the driving force behind Milne’s surge:

She argued that some voters would not have come out at all but for Feliciano. She also contended that Feliciano’s stance on health care helped generate supporters for some Republican legislative candidates who also hammered that issue, including Valerie Mullin, who ousted Democrat Mike Fisher, chairman of the House Health Care Committee.

Uhh, Darcie? (And, I hate to say it, Terri?)

Valerie Mullin lost.

She finished in fourth place, behind Mike Fisher, in spite of the fact that Mullin outspent her opponents. And put out a last-minute mailer falsely accusing the Democrats of plotting a Medicare takeover. The candidate who unseated Fisher, Fred Baser, is a widely-respected moderate Republican who refused to take part in the Johnston/Mullin health care bashing.

I don’t know whether the factual error was Johnston’s or Hallenbeck’s, but it’s a clear example of Johnston’s “black is white, war is peace” analysis of the election.

And if, after all this, Johnston is still taken seriously as a campaign consultant — if any candidate hires her ever again — well, there are no words.

Look, I’ve got nothing personal against Johnston. I just hate to see someone rewarded, over and over again, for brazen incompetence. And taken seriously as a political figure in spite of her repeated cluelessness.

The biggest winner of the Vermont election

You can probably guess. It’s Lt. Gov. Phil Scott.

Not just because he cruised to an easy victory over Dean Corren. Not just because he leaves the campaign with almost $100K in cash on hand for whatever he wants to do next.

Not just because the decks are clear for him to be a very dangerous candidate for Governor in 2016.

No, on top of all that, there’s this: the results of the election ought to cement his control of the Vermont Republican Party. The true believers ought to be marginalized by the impressive success of Scott Milne as a moderate Republican candidate and the dismal failure of their pet project, Dan Feliciano.

Hey, remember when two of the VTGOP’s top four officers, Brady Toensing and Mark Snelling, openly supported Feliciano in the Republican primary? Brady Toensing and Mark Snelling were the two holdovers from the Jack Lindley era who retained their offices last fall in a patched-together compromise with the Phil Scott people.* At the very least, their views ought to take a back seat. At the very most, Scott and party chair “Super Dave” Sunderland ought to feel free to replace them with more like-minded people.

*Correction: I mischaracterized the VTGOP’s leadership race last fall. Toensing was not a holdover from the previous admin; originally, according to Paul Heintz, the conservatives wanted Toensing as chair and David Sunderland as vice chair, while the Phil Scott camp wanted them switched. In the end, the party unanimously went with Scott’s pairing. 

And, lest we forget, prominent conservatives Wendy Wilton and John McClaughry also jumped into the Feliciano lifeboat, only to see the S.S. Milne sail on blissfully without them.

And if there’s any justice, this ought to be the death knell for Darcie “Hack” Johnston as a serious political voice. She piloted Feliciano’s campaign straight into the Randy Brock Memorial Iceberg. As far as I can tell, she represents nobody but herself. Her true-believer approach to politics is a proven loser, a dead end for the VTGOP. She might keep on being quoted in the media because she’s an easy get, but as a political strategist? Nope.

For all his faults as a campaigner, Scott Milne succeeded where nobody has since Jim Douglas: he convinced a lot of centrists, independents, and even Democrats to abandon their standard bearer. Part of that is circumstance; a lot of it is a loss of faith in Governor Shumlin; but it also had to do with a Republican candidate who was not an ideologue, who even entertained the notion that some Democratic ideas might be acceptable.

Future Republican candidates would do well to learn the art of public speaking better than Milne, but they would also do well to follow the moderate Republican playbook.

And that’s the biggest win of all for Our Lieutenant Governor.