I just had the misfortune of listening to former Governor Jim Douglas “interviewing” Lt. Gov. Phil Scott. It was an interview in the strictest sense of the word: Douglas talked, and Scott talked back. But if you were expecting insight or depth from this meeting of veteran public servants, you had to be sadly disappointed.
At the very least, I was hoping for some hot man-on-man action: the top Republican of the 2000s and the top Republican of the 2010s slapping each other on the back so hard they risked injury. But it was far less than that. It was bland. It was issue-avoidant. It was… DULL.
The occasion: Douglas was guest hosting Common Sense Radio on WDEV. Scott was the guest on the second half of the show, from 11:30 to noon. Well, they didn’t actually start until 11:35 because commercials, and Douglas wrapped it up at 11:56, God knows why. Early lunch date?
They opened with a brief meeting of the Mutual Admiration Society. Scott congratulated Douglas on his new post as interim head of the Vermont Historical Society, and Douglas said some stuff I can’t remember. His first question to Scott came 3 1/2 minutes into the interview. And here it was.
It seems like we’ve had a lot of tragedies in Vermont lately. Very troubling, uh, um, bicycle, um, crashes that have taken some lives, young trooper died unexpectedly at a training exercise at the firing range. uh, one of your fellow race car drivers, uh again not a, um, uh, mishap on the track, but a medical emergency of some kind. It just seems like we’re having a lot of losses, ah not to mention the quadruple, um, tragedy in your home community. What are your thoughts?
Oh… my… God.
Where do I begin?
It’s meaningless, for one thing. Stringing some obviously unrelated incidents together, implying a cosmic pattern of some sort? Without the tiniest hint of an effort at connecting the dots?
For another, it’s so, um, uh, casually tossed out, like checking off items on a grocery list. I’d think, by now, Jim Douglas would know better than to reference tragedy in such a half-assed way. Somehow, he managed to be offensive while asking a softball question. A rare feat.
Finally, this? THIS is the leadoff question a four-term governor asks of a three-term lieutenant governor seeking the corner office?
Scott gamely plowed through a boilerplate response focused primarily on the bicycle incidents. Because, merely coincidentally, Scott is speaking at a road-safety rally on Friday. Which was the subject of Douglas’ softball follow-up. Which then allowed Scott to discourse at length on the purposes of said rally.
And here’s the closest they came to actual insight: both lamented the fast pace of modern life, and how we always seem to be in a hurry these days. Yikes.
At this point, we’re halfway through the interview and nary an issue has been raised. And Douglas’ next question was the ultimate Phil Scott softball: he asked about the upcoming Wheels for Warmth event, which is Scott’s baby.
They batted around Wheels for Warmth for a solid five minutes. And then, at 11:49 a.m., it was time for a substantive question.
How, how are Vermonters doing?
Good Lord. Are you f*ing kidding me?
Douglas went on:
Ah, theoretically we’re in recovery now, the recession was seven years ago, but I was at a meeting earlier this morning and ah, raised the issue of the economy, and I saw a lot of people, uh, sort of shake their heads as if to suggest that it doesn’t feel like it’s that good.
An open invitation to address the issue Phil Scott is trying to claim as his own (with Mike Smith’s help), and tacitly bash the Shumlin administration. (No mention, naturally, of who was Governor during the first two and a half years of the recession.) Scott manfully stepped to the plate, swung at Douglas’ lob, and lofted a ducksnort that landed softly in the second baseman’s glove.
We hear that the unemployment rate is, ah, very low in Vermont, which is great news but that doesn’t tell the whole story. That’s the problem, that we have to look at the net. We have to look at the workforce. Our workforce has shrunk. The reality is that, ah, we have eight or ine thousand less people working than we did, ah, just a few short years ago. So when there’s, uh, less of a workforce, it means the, the the numbers are skewed a bit. So, while good news, uh, the the bad news is that we, uh, we need more people, uhh, in the workforce in order to bring in more revenue
Hmm. Sounds like a tacit reference to Reaganite dogma: Cut taxes, business booms, net tax revenue grows. Which would be nice, except the factual record is unkind to the theory. But do tell us more:
As you’ve highlighted over the years, we’ve, ah, we have a demographic issue. We have, ahh, a population that’s somewhat stagnant but we’re aging, and ah and we’re losing the category, that category, the workforce, the category of 25 to 45 is ah being lost by about 30%, uh, since the last census.
That seems awfully extreme. We’ve lost 30% of our young workforce in less than five years???
I can’t find a source for Scott’s “fact.” Indeed, the US Census doesn’t use 25-45 as an age group. It uses 25-34 and 35-49. The combined Vermont total of those two age groups is 198,091. If we lost 30% of those folks, that’d be 59,427 people exiting the state since 2010. You’d think we would have noticed an exodus on that scale. Property values and home sales would have cratered, for example.
But pray continue, Phil:
So that’s, uh, 30,000 people.
Huh. By process of elimination, I guess we have another 30,000 Vermonters in that sliver demographic between 46 and 49. Seems unlikely.
Those are the folks that pay taxes. They’re the folks that buy homes. They’re the folks that put kids in our schools, uh, uh, classrooms. Uh, so we have 20,000 less kids that we’re educating, than we were educating just 20 years ago. That’s the problem, and that’s the issue that we have to, ah, the challenge that we have to face. That we have to make Vermont more affordable in some way, to keep our youth here, to bring more youth into the state, rather than them finding ways uh to uh to, to make it on, uh, in other areas. Because again, as we know, it’s not, uh, it’s not difficult to find another state that’s, uh, that’s more affordable than Vermont. Um, but, but we need to uh, we need to uh, to do some things, I think, uh, that would help in that regard.
Wow. There’s a bumper sticker we can proudly display: “Phil Scott: We Need To Do Some Things.”
By now, there are less than five minutes left in the interview. Douglas’ rejoinder: this demographic problem also affects our ability to find people willing to volunteer their time to “hold municipal office, serve on the Board of Civil Authority, fill the ranks of our rescue and fire departments.”
Which, yes, to be sure. But is that the core of the issue?
Scott turned this weaksauce into a talking point: that many Vermonters are having to work multiple jobs to make ends meet, and thus don’t have time to volunteer. He also, naturellement, worked in a reference to his “Vermont Everyday Jobs” tour, and the insight it’s given him into the plight of the common folk.
It’s, ah, it’s an issue that ah we, ah, we have to address. It’s the crisis of affordability that I think we’re facing. And ah, but I think that if we can provide a climate, a business climate that is conducive to growth, I think that’s half the battle. Finding ways for, ah, employers to expand, and giving them that confidence that we’re willing partners with them. That we, we as, as a state can, can help in some way, go hand in hand, and and try and do whatever we can to get on the same page and ah, and try and ah, try and help out.
More bumper stickers: “Phil Scott: Let’s Do What We Can”, “Phil Scott: Finding Ways To Help In Some Way”, “Phil Scott: Let’s Get On the Same Page”, “Phil Scott: Let’s Try and Help Out”.
His closest approach to substance was that nonsense about “a business climate that is conducive to growth” being “half the battle.” What, exactly, does that mean? Smiley-face meetings with business leaders? Earnest solicitations of their views?
If that’s all it means, color me unimpressed. If it means more than that — say, slashing business taxes and regulation, or gutting Act 250 — then Phil Scott is a Republican wolf in sheep’s clothing. Kinda like Jim Douglas himself: a bland, unthreatening countenance disguising a conservative, pro-business agenda.
Scott certainly failed to articulate anything like a vision that would justify Mike Smith’s remark that he “owns that issue.”
And that was it for the interview. Douglas closed with a sly reference to Scott’s candidacy: “I guess there’s an election coming up next year.” Which allowed Scott to mention the poll that came out this morning — the one that gave him the highest name recognition of any gubernatorial candidate.
Of course, he happens to be the only statewide officeholder among the bunch, and he’s run three statewide campaigns; his rivals have combined to run zero. (Well, maybe Matt Dunne gets 1/2 for his run in the 2010 Democratic primary.) At this early stage of the campaign, I would fully expect Phil Scott to lead the pack in name recognition. I’m more surprised at Shap Smith’s 61% than Phil Scott’s 77.
Anyway, that was the “interview.” Lame, limp questioning from The Blandmaster Himself, and equally lame responses from The Man Who Would Be Governor.