Phil’s dilemma

Was looking up a word the 21st Century way — Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary. I found what I was looking for; but along the way I was offered a Word of the Day, which happened to be “undulant.”

As in, “having a wavy form, outline or surface.”

And I thought, “What a great word for Phil Scott.”

Our Lieutenant Governor is attempting a delicate balancing act which is looking to become more difficult.

On the one hand, preserving his image as a Son of the Green Mountains. On the other, needing to sip from the strong-flowing rivers of outside money in order to mount a competitive campaign against a deep-pocketed primary opponent and what’s sure to be a stoutly-funded Democrat.

On the one hand, his own pristine record of inoffensiveness and image of moderation, which are his most politically appealing attributes. On the other hand, his obligation to be a point man for his party, outlining the differences between Republicans and Democrats.

Further thoughts on both points… after the jump.

After the March 15 campaign finance filing deadline, Scott’s campaign manager bragged that 97% of his contributions came from within Vermont. That’s a far higher percentage than any of his competitors.

The merit of that is arguable. What’s inarguable is that, less than a week after that boast, Phil Scott was off to Washington, D.C. for a high-profile fundraiser hosted by some powerful pro-business lobbyists. (Whose clients include big players in tobacco and fossil fuel.)  A ticket cost anywhere from $500 to $2,000.

Nothing illegal about that. And I don’t really have a problem with it. Even if you oppose the influence of money in politics, if you’re running for office you play by the rules as they are. To do otherwise is to unilaterally disarm in a street fight.

M problem is with the contradiction — dare I say hypocrisy? — between the self-righteous pronouncements of the Scott campaign and his eager pursuit of big outside money.

He’s really got no choice. He’s facing a Wall Street millionaire in the primary and two Democrats who threaten to break all fundraising records. But as he fattens his coffers in the corridors of power, his people have no business criticizing others for doing the same thing.

The D.C. fundraiser also illustrates the other aspect of Phil Scott’s tightrope walk. The guest of honor was Mary Fallin, the very conservative governor of Oklahoma. She’s played a large part in making her state the most immediate victim of fracking’s side effects: Oklahoma has become the most earthquake-prone state in the nation, thanks to all those underground injections. They’re now saying “The Big One” is only a matter of time. Fallin’s bland response: she refers complainants to a state agency that has no power to regulate underground activity.

Fallin is one of the oil industry’s favorite politicians. She’s also been a strong opponent of marriage equality and abortion; and last fall, she wasted everybody’s time with an effort to put a Ten Commandments monument on the state capitol lawn.

Hmm. Not much in her resume that says “Vermont-style Republican.” But I guess Phil can’t be picky about the guest speakers at an event staged by others and designed to net him tens of thousands of dollars at least.

One fundraiser does not a corrupt politician make. But if he’s forced to pursue outside funds throughout his campaign, the question will become, do his donors expect anything in return? Even if there are no specific quid pro quos, will Scott feel obliged to adopt Republican doctrine? Will he be expected to govern in anything like the same scorched-earth style as Scott Walker, Rick Snyder, John Kasich, Bobby Jindal, Sam Brownback or Mary Fallin?

(And yes, all those governors share a common outlook and agenda.)

Not that Scott’s own VTGOP is necessarily as moderate as its image. The American Conservative Union offers a yearly rating of all federal and state legislators. And you might be surprised at how many Vermont Republicans earned top marks from the ACU.

(Credit where due: this was first brought to my attention by Green Mountain Daily’s “BP”, who wrote about it in late February.) 

A total of 33 members of the House earned a grade of 80% or higher, along with five State Senators.

That includes 37 Republicans and one solitary Democrat. Close observers won’t be surprised to learn it was Rep. Cynthia Browning who managed to earn a perfect 100% score from the ACU.

A total of 62 Republicans sit in the Legislature. Which means that 60% of Republican lawmakers have earned the ACU seal of approval.

(Note: Both figures include Norm McAllister, currently in legislative limbo. If you like, you could exclude him and the numbers become 36 and 61. Doesn’t change the percentage much.)

Common political wisdom has it that the Vermont Republican Party is its own animal — that its conservative wing is much smaller and less influential than in almost any other state. The ACU figures call that into question. There are quite a lot of conservatives among Republican elected officials. Not as many as in Oklahoma, but a substantial majority of the minority caucuses.

Phil Scott is campaigning to be their leader and champion. Would he be pulled to the right by his responsibility to them? Possibly. Is he, in truth, less of a moderate than he claims to be? Probably.

This all goes to a point I’ve been making since Scott launched his bid for governor: We really don’t know what kind of a chief executive he would be, or what his governing agenda would look like. He’s given us precious little information to go on.

And the point of this particular post is: Phil Scott is being pulled rightward by the exigencies of running for governor. Will he resist the pull, or will he go with the flow?

1 thought on “Phil’s dilemma

  1. Walter Carpenter

    “Scott feel obliged to adopt Republican doctrine? Will he be expected to govern in anything like the same scorched-earth style as Scott Walker, Rick Snyder, John Kasich, Bobby Jindal, Sam Brownback or Mary Fallin?”

    Good way to phrase this question: “scorched-earth style:) I would not be surprised that if he wins the governorship here, he might just try to do that. It should be noted that the states where the above governors are at the helm, especially Kansas and Louisiana, are all in such huge budget deficits because of their governorship that would make Vermont’s seem like spare change.


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