Looking forward to Matt Dunne’s memoir of his bid for governor, working title “My House Is On Fire and All I’ve Got Is Gasoline.”
It’s been a remarkable, perhaps unprecedented, four days in Vermont politics: the self-immolation of a well-regarded candidate for governor.
And it just keeps getting worse. Today, prominent environmental groups threw their support behind Sue Minter. And then Dunne compounded the damage by trying to re-explain his new position on renewable energy siting — and in the process, he provoked backlash from the very people he tried to bring on board last Friday, the opponents of ridgeline wind.
Add it all up. Governor Shumlin and most Democratic lawmakers are mad at Dunne because he threw shade on Act 174, the compromise siting bill they carefully shepherded into law this year.
The environmental community is mad at Dunne for shifting ground on renewables in a way clearly intended to empower its opponents.
And now those opponents are mad at Dunne. The Queen Bee of oppositionalism, Annette Smith, sees Dunne as a fake and a poseur. Gubernatorial candidate Peter Galbraith, last seen complimenting Dunne in the latter’s ill-fated Friday press release, now says:
Everything in my platform is based on progressive issues I fought for in the Senate – my positions don’t just change with the wind. #vtpoli
— Peter Galbraith (@GalbraithforVT) August 3, 2016
As the Dunne campaign desperately struggles to extricate itself from the quicksand (and you know what they say about the wisdom of struggling in quicksand), let’s try to unpack the debacle and see how things went so horribly wrong.
In truth, Dunne’s Friday press release wasn’t so radical a shift as it appeared. But it was written deliberately to make it appear more radical than it was. He blew all the dog whistles: he referenced the (unproven) environmental effects of wind energy, he strongly implied Vermont could reach its clean-energy goals without more wind farms, and he promised that if any community voted against a wind project, he “would use all the power of the governor’s office to ensure that is the end of the project.”
In retrospect, it was an artfully-worded statement designed to attract the votes of hard-line wind opponents without actually changing his policy stance very much. Turns out it was too clever by half.
By adopting the language of wind opponents, he alienated supporters of renewable energy and mainstream Democrats. But wind opponents saw through the verbiage and realized his revised position fell short of their expectations.
Today, Dunne insisted that his Friday position wasn’t much different from Governor Shumlin’s. And the funny thing is, he’s right. But he couched it very differently. He did not, in fact, ever call for local veto power over wind developments — he just said he’d use the power of his office on behalf of communities who vote “no.” Today, he explained that he doesn’t want to change Act 174 to allow for local control — which only served to further infuriate wind opponents, while failing to win back any of the people who reacted harshly to his Friday announcement.
Matt Dunne tried to have it both ways. He ended up with neither.
And here’s one more thing, purely speculative. Today, Bernie Sanders issued a (belated) endorsement of David Zuckerman for lieutenant governor. One has to wonder if Bernie would have endorsed Dunne as well, if not for this rolling debacle on renewable energy. We may never know. But if Dunne effectively lost Bernie’s blessing, that makes his wind-turbine misadventure all the more damaging.