I didn’t attend Matt Dunne’s campaign launch on Monday. (Didn’t make Sue Minter’s on Tuesday either.) But I have looked over his prepared remarks and his updated platform, and here are some thoughts.
Overall: He’s positioning himself as the outsider, using some pretty strong language about the current crowd in Montpelier. He’s also positioning himself as the candidate of new, fresh ideas; to some extent his platform delivers on that. There are disturbing whiffs of New Democrat (a.k.a. Republican-Lite), but not enough to make a definitive judgment.
Before diving into details, let me emphasize that these are early impressions. I don’t have a horse in this race; I could see myself backing any of the three Democrats. Plenty of time to achieve clarity. That said…
His speech can be viewed online; I don’t see the text posted anywhere. (I received the text in a media email blast.) It’s pretty standard stuff, connecting his own experience to the issues in play. Indeed, there’s an almost comical bit of job-description tailoring:
We need new leadership with different experience, experience that reaches beyond the traditional structures of state government ot incorporate the best of the public, private and nonprofit sectors.
Leadership that is grounded in Vermont, but has had experience around the country to understand what can be done to move our state forward.
That definition fits Dunne with a startling precision, and conspicuously excludes his Democratic opponents. And Phil Scott.
As for policy, Dunne is clearly making economic development the centerpiece of his campaign.
That part of his platform is much longer, and more detailed, than the others. That’s an appropriate choice, given the mood of the electorate and his own strengths; but some of his positions seem a bit perfunctory by comparison.
He does have a solid theory of economic development: take advantage of Vermont’s strengths and assets, and try to spread prosperity across the state. Many of his ideas are very target-specific. Taken together, are they enough to make a significant difference as Vermont battles very strong headwinds? I don’t know. But I do know that traditional ideas, like broad-based tax incentives or cutting regulation or permit reform (the Republicans’ favorite battle cry) are unlikely to do the trick. Vermont, as a small rural state, can’t compete on the same terms as New York and Texas and Massachusetts; we have to capitalize on our specific assets.
By comparison, his Health Care platform is unfortunately meager. He wants to make Vermont Health Connect work, which looks like it’s going to happen very soon. He wants to shift to outcome-based pricing, which is a pillar of Gov. Shumlin’s reform plan. He sees universal access as a human right, but he’s vague on how we get there. Indeed, he seems to fence in that right by calling for “universal primary care access.” Which isn’t the same thing as universal access. There’s not much on how we address our worsening shortage of primary care doctors. And there’s not a peep about single-payer. That’s disappointing for liberal voters, and a deal-breaker for Progressives.
The other issue that’s near and dear to his heart is education reform. He’s got some good ideas that would involve additional spending — either up-front or ongoing commitment — with no hint of how to pay for it. Except for his suggestions on squeezing costs out of the system, such as centralizing common functions. He wants to shift the burden of non-educational costs back to the General Fund, which would be a welcome development — but where do the dollars come from? Same with his call for better early education and intervention, and for greater investment in higher education. He’ll be vulnerable to Republican attack if he doesn’t have a solid plan for identifying the resources.
One issue position that troubles me is on Energy and the Environment. He doesn’t mention wind or large-scale solar, which either means he opposes them or he’s trying to dog-whistle his way to appeasing renewable skeptics. He doesn’t mention the state’s goal of 90% renewable energy by 2050. His positive ideas are laudable, but mostly small-scale in nature.
As with my recent post about Dunne’s community brainstorming sessions, I fear this is coming across as more negative than it really is. He does have some good ideas. He is energetic, whip-smart, and seems open to others’ views. If he were the only Democrat in the race, I would happily vote for him.
Is he the best candidate in a very competitive three-way race? The magic 8-ball says, “Ask again later.”