Howard Coffin is an eminent historian, a learned scholar, and a real Vermont treasure.
And he said something really stupid.
The subject was Peter Galbraith’s bid for governor. Coffin was commenting on Galbraith’s, shall we say, checkered record as a state senator. (Everybody hated him, to put it briefly.)
“I’m not sure that he was put on earth to be a legislator,” Coffin says. “I think he was put on earth to be a leader.”
Yyyyyyyeah. Just like Marco Rubio can’t stand being a U.S. Senator, so let’s make him President.
Here’s the thing. Being a “leader” involves a hell of a lot of negotiating, compromising, dealing with other folks — and particularly trying to make friends and influence people in the frickin’ Legislature.
Peter Galbraith was a heavy-handed, arrogant lawmaker who offended a lot of people and frequently roadblocked the Senate for the sake of some principle detectable only to himself. Those traits are going to be just as unfortunate in a governor — but they’ll be even more impactful. And not in a good way.
Now, if you’re talking about “being a leader” in the Donald Trump sense, then Coffin is dead on. Otherwise, no.
Enough about that. Let’s move on to Galbraith’s candidacy itself.
I welcome Peter Galbraith’s participation in the electoral process. Just because he’d be a terrible governor doesn’t mean he can’t run. He’ll make things a lot more entertaining for the likes of me. And I don’t think he’ll come anywhere near actually winning the Democratic nomination. In fact, my money’s on a distant third place finish.
He does have a puncher’s chance. Matt Dunne and Sue Minter could split the “mainstream” Democratic vote and give Galbraith an opening on the left. But I doubt it. If there’s any splitting in a three-way race, I think it’ll be to Minter’s advantage as the only female candidate.
Galbraith will definitely get little or no help from the Democratic Party or its officeholders, so he’ll have to build a campaign infrastructure and attract substantial support outside the mainstream. Vermont Pundit Laureate Eric Davis put forward an overly kind comparison to the Bernie Sanders campaign — that Galbraith might be able to ignite the same kind of grassroots movement.
Couple of problems there. For one, Bernie worked the grassroots for decades — as a member of Congress and a weekly guest on Thom Hartmann’s radio show. Galbraith is starting from scratch.
For another, Galbraith can’t match Bernie’s dynamism as a campaigner or his very unique brand of charm. If anything, Galbraith is a lecturer who talks down to people. He has a lot of trouble concealing the fact that he believes he’s the smartest man in the room.
He’s also virtually untested on the campaign trail. He won election to the Senate by pouring $50,000 of his own money into his effort — far, far more than anyone else could raise. Once in office, he was re-elected thanks to Vermonters’ high regard for incumbency. He has never had to work hard to earn votes. It’s a skillset that takes time and experience to master. He hasn’t.
He will have the fervent support of one swath of the electorate: the anti-renewables. He wants to ban ridgeline wind, and he wants local authorities to have veto power over solar installations. Of course, while those stances will win him some votes, he will also lose a lot of liberals who favor Vermont’s efforts to combat climate change.
Indeed, his candidacy will provide a real test for the so-called Vermont Energy Rebellion. The rebels claim to be speaking for a large and growing segment of Vermonters; if Galbraith can’t earn much support, it might not only sink his political future — it might substantially reduce the political clout of the hard-core antis.
It’ll also be instructive to see who donates to his campaign. Nonprofit advocacy groups like Energize Vermont and Vermonters for a Clean Environment don’t have to disclose funding sources, so we don’t know where they get their money from. Galbraith will have to report and disclose donors. We’ll see who shows up on his list.
He does have some good policy positions. He wants a higher minimum wage, universal health care, and an end to the Enterprise Fund and other corporate giveaways. He wants to make Vermont’s tax system more progressive.
But whatever you think of the message, the messenger is fatally flawed. He would not be a good governor. He might do more harm than good for the causes he supports.
Personally, I’m hoping for an all-out crash and burn. Come on, single digits!