So the five major-party candidates for governor got together earlier this week for Gov Pitch, a forum on boosting Vermont’s economy hosted by the fine folks at Fresh Tracks Capital. A couple of items caught my attention: Bruce Lisman’s curious choice of footwear, and the impenetrable vagueness of the Phil Scott campaign.
First, Bruce’s Boots.
Four of the five were dressed for business, including well-polished footwear in black or brown. Bruce Lisman, apparently desperate to come across as a true-blue Vermonter, sported a pair of beige shitkickers — the kind of boots you’d normally wear in a barnyard. Here’s a piece of a Seven Days photo:
I seriously doubt he ever wore those to his digs in the dark heart of Wall Street. Then again, we’re kinda-sorta supposed to forget about his decades-long immersion in the culture of high finance and accept him as a born-and-bred Vermont boy. Just like, mmm, Rich Tarrant.
Anyway, nice try, Bruce. But in the future, you might just stick with the Guccis and try to prove your bona fides with the substance of your remarks.
On to Phil Scott, whose campaign has trumpeted his LEADERSHIP but said little to indicate where, exactly, he wants to LEAD us.
I realize it’s early, and the campaigns have only begun to roll out their plans, but Scott’s is the most substance-free to date. And because he’s spent the last five years securely ensconced in the Lieutenant Governorship, what we most need to learn is what kind of executive he would be.
His campaign website is a crisp one-page effort, bearing a short letter announcing his candidacy to the voters with a few tired nostrums. He asserts that it’s time for “a different direction” in the governor’s office but reveals nothing about the nature of that direction. He promises to be “a steady hand at the helm” and provide “balanced leadership,” which sounds like a return to the good old days of Jim Douglas middle-muddle.
His performance at the Gov Pitch was no more revealing. He repeatedly hammered on Vermont’s alleged “affordability crisis,” which I presume is dog-whistle for “cutting taxes.” The problem is, you can’t cut taxes deeply enough to make a real difference in affordability without eviscerating state government. As for the other side of this affordability crisis coin, rising the tide to lift all the boats, Scott had distressingly little to offer.
He mouthed the usual Republican gripe about bureaucracy and red tape, but his prescription was a measly “sometimes… government officials [should] stay out of the way a bit.” Other candidates had specific ideas on how to encourage business and improve relations with government.
On Vermont’s graying demographics and our need to retain and attract more young people, other candidates offered ideas while Scott fell back on his “affordability” schtick, which is a remarkably shallow response to a multifaceted issue. Also,
“What we have to do again to try and attract businesses to try and attract our youth to stay is to create a more affordable environment,” Scott said.
Lather, rinse, repeat. “Try” and “try”, but nothing on how or what to try.
And on the subject of high-speed broadband and cell coverage, Scott offered a big bucket of icewater.
“I’ve heard a lot of governors promise cell service, promise last-mile broadband, without success. And I don’t think that we should sit here and promise that’s going to happen either. I think technology is changing. I think it will catch up to us eventually,” Scott said.
Oh goodie. It’ll catch up to us eventually, and in the meantime I guess we’ll just sit here and wait.
In his closing statement, Scott warned his fellow hopefuls about the dangers of overpromising. Well, one thing’s for sure: our Lieutenant Governor was not at all guilty of that.
Phil Scott has a lot going for him. He’s a nice guy, he’s got an impressive resume in and out of politics. He’s energetic and charitable and brave and clean and, I’m sure, reverent. But as Lite-Gov, he hasn’t had to take any tough stances or risk offending people. If he wants to become the state’s chief executive, he’ll be taking on a fundamentally different role.
He has a long time to sharpen his Gov Pitch. But as of right now, it seems like he wants to transfer the nebulous banality of his current sinecure to our highest and most demanding office. He might win the election anyway, but he’s not laying the groundwork for a dynamic or productive administration.
It’s like Bruce’s boots. Just because you’re wearing a pair of shitkickers doesn’t mean you’re prepared to kick some shit.