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.

3 thoughts on “Vermont’s newest pundit

  1. Bud Haas

    First, about reporting. Peter Freyne got an awful lot of his information by talking to the pols, yes, often at a pub or on the street, but he got quotes, working in the field, not sitting in his home.
    On Shumlin, let’s face it. Strong politicians aren’t nice guys. Snelling wasn’t a nice guy, Bernie isn’t a nice guy, Douglas wasn’t a nice guy.
    Could you really imagine Milne as governor, especially after watching him at the debates? Come-on.
    Milne ran on his mom’s name. Getting to be Governor without ever being elected to anything, without paying your dues, is not the Vermont way. I knew and liked Marion, and may she RIP. But she wasn’t running for Governor, he was, and he’s no Marion Milne.

  2. Elizabeth Templeton

    I struggled, as a confirmed Democrat, with my vote. I chose to vote for Scott Milne, for the published obvious reasons – the failure of the Vermont Health Connect project, failures in agency functions, rising property taxes – and today’s broadcast reminded me of all the other Shumlin failures and faux pas that were equally good reasons for not voting for the incumbent.

    But I also voted for Republican legislative candidates, because the Dems in the legislature need to bear a good deal of the blame for the state that the state is in. I really feel like “throw the rascals out” was the order of the day. The Dems sat on their hands when Shumlin failed to present a financial plan for healthcare. They did not act to stop any of Shumlin’s subseqent actions, or threaten to hold any of his other programs hostage pending his delivery of what he promised. They did not speak out against or demand action concerning the clear administration failure when the healthcare website fiasco occurred, and when HHS failed in its oversight of family services and child protection.

    The legislative majority failed to listen to and support the needs of Vermonters as much as the governor did, if not more. They seem to draw a hard line between administrative actions and legislative ones. That’s nonsense. The legislature is most responsible for how taxpayer dollars are spent. Looking at administrative failures as “not part of my job” is inexcusable.

    I look forward to reading more from you.

  3. jlpen

    I found that following pols around thw campaign trail was a good way to know them, not just their image, and to talk to the voters too. That was back in the day when ‘blog’ was a typo…

    Not all good politicians are unpleasant people, any more than bad ones. Likeability ought to be irrelevant; character, competence, intelligence matter more in office than how ‘nice’ a candidate seems. AA lot of political skills are management skills.
    I’m not sure what Shumlin’s personal problems are in this department, but his dealings with his neighbor left a bad taste in my mouth, on top of the other issues cited above. He seemed to me too transparently out for his own advantage– and that was the same problem I had with Milne. He clearly had no history of engagement with public affairs, let alone knowledge of them. He opened his campaign with a pledge to make Act 250 friendlier to developers like himself– and closed it with a plan to eliminate the income tax on businessman like himself if they develop new businesses (like the one he would develop, in a disasterous location, but for Act 250). Potentially threatening the environment and safe commuting for most local residents, and screwing state taxpayers, while displaying an ignorance of the complexity of school funding and a host of other issues– that seemed the greater problem to me, so I reluctantly went with Shumlin. The close vote suggests to me that regardless of party, voters were torn between Scylla and Charybdis– two unappealing choices. Neither Milne nor Shumlin should pat himself on the back here.


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