,The Scott/Lisman primary contest has taken on a predictable pattern. Bruce Lisman attacks Phil Scott; Scott replies with shocked outrage over Lisman’s negativity. Lather, rinse, repeat. It caused me to pose an existential Tweet:
At what point does repeatedly hammering a candidate for negative campaigning become negative campaigning itself? #vtpoli
— The #vtpoli Observer (@theVPO1) July 21, 2016
The latest roundelay began when Lisman accused Scott of calling for “a mileage tax on all who drive.”
Which is a lie. In a Rutland debate Wednesday night, Scott discussed the certainty that, as cars become more efficient and we transition to ever more hybrids and electrics, the gas tax will become insufficient to pay for needed highway repairs. Here’s a portion of Scott’s remarks:
‘We are going to have to think about other ways, nationally, to tax and receive revenue from those who use our highways and byways. … So, we’re going to, in the future, have to look at some kind of a mileage tax.’”
That’s not “calling for” or “proposing” a mileage tax. It’s a self-evident observation on our changing transportation system. Scott is right to complain of an inaccurate attack from Lisman.
Need I point out that this line of attack is standard operating procedure for Republicans, including Scott himself?
They routinely slam Democrats for increasing taxes and fees. And for more than a year, the VTGOP has been trying to gin up anger over a proposed carbon tax that won’t be appearing on the Legsiature’s agenda anytime soon.
So if Phil Scott is going to get mad over inaccurate Republican claims on taxes, he’ll have to significantly broaden his outrage. Or he’ll be exposed as a hypocrite who only gets upset when the attack is aimed at himself.
I suspect that what’s really at work is this: Phil Scott has never been center stage before. Now he’s the preemptive front-runner; attacks come with the territory. But he’s not used to it, and one can sense his confusion: why is Bruce being so mean to me?
Well, he’d better get used to it, and fast. In the past 24 hours, both Sue Minter and Matt Dunne have trained their fire on Scott.
Minter distributed an open letter to Scott, pointing out his weasely answer to a question about climate change during that Rutland debate. He reportedly claimed there were “many reasons” for climate change and refused to highlight human activity as a primary cause. This is the soft denialism that’s popular among Republicans who want to appear moderate. What it really is, is ducking and dodging a legitimate issue, and questioning the broad scientific consensus. It’s another sign that Phil Scott’s supposed moderation is mostly a matter of image, not reality.
Dunne took Scott to task for being a Phil-Come-Lately on EB-5 reform. As noted in this space, Scott has suddenly come out as a harsh critic of the Shumlin administration’s handling of EB-5 — in spite of the fact that, until very recently, he’s been an EB-5 cheerleader who was untroubled by reports of a brewing scandal.
Point is, Phil’s gonna be getting a lot more of this from now on — from Lisman, and from whichever Democrat wins the primary. Like they say, the higher monkey climb the more he expose.
It’s also worth noting that Scott is going to face much closer scrutiny in upcoming debates, and he clearly has to step up his game. Until now, most candidate forums have involved all five hopefuls, which minimizes the exposure for each participant. He’s now appearing in one-on-one encounters with Lisman. After the primary, he’ll face off with the Democratic nominee. The Rutland debate shows that Scott is driving a little loose in the turns; he’d better pull in for a pit stop before he slams into a rhetorical wall of his own devising.