Everybody hates Matt

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:


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.

9 thoughts on “Everybody hates Matt

  1. Brooke Paige

    It was a sad evening at the VT-PBS debate as the front-runners’ presentations took on a desperate tone, as they attempt to claw their way over the primary day finish line. Sad to see so much political capital expended all for the privilege of the victor having their “hat handed to them” in the November election. I don’t know if this was evident from watching the brief exchanges permitted by the one minute format, but the tension was palpable on the debate stage! More later, Brooke.

  2. Philip Beliveau

    I am all for renewable energy but conflicted on ridgetop wind. On the one hand I like the tech and look of turbines but as McKibben said the destruction of ridgetops is irreversible. I think tech is moving so fast we may not need them very shortly to reach out goals. As a landowner on the route of the gas pipeline I have no love for the PSB. That said it seems like there are two worlds with this blog reporting a massive fire in the Dunne camp and the rest of the media reporting a little smoke?

    1. John S. Walters Post author

      I calls ’em as I sees ’em. Can’t speak for other media, although standard journalistic practice counsels caution in forming conclusions, especially at such a crucial moment in the race. They don’t want to look like their thumb is on the scale.

      On the other hand, Paul Heintz basically agrees with me in his “Fair Game” column published (and posted online) today.

      And hey, I’ve been wrong before and I’m sure I’ll be wrong again.

  3. Mark Trigo

    I’m not sure what to make of Dunne’s campaign. On the one hand, before this kerfuffle, he seemed to be keeping up appearances. But if you scratched beneath the surface, something seemed wrong. For example, it was obvious at the Stars and Stripes parade in Lyndon that Dunne had very little support. It was somewhat embarrassing compared to Minter’s vibrant contingency that was marching a few steps behind. While these things may at first blush appear to be trivial, they certainly leave an impression upon people in attendance.

    I’ve also been troubled with Dunne’s position at Google. He was paid over a half-million dollars per year, but I can’t identify anything that he actually accomplished (of substance) to help the people of Vermont. If he did accomplish something, he is doing a poor job of educating people about it.

    Minter may not be perfect, but I get MUCH less of an “ick” factor with her.

  4. Harold W.

    I am by no means a political scholar or junkie, but who has been advising Mr. Dunne during this campaign season? Not very good advice.

    1. Macy Franklin

      Could be the same tone-deaf, over-priced out-of-state ass hats who have been advising Lisman. One thing Mr. Google and Mr. Wall Street clearly have in common, besides the self-appointed smartest guy in the room thing – more money than brains.

      1. John S. Walters Post author

        Ironically, I think there’s actually a real Matt Dunne in there who can’t get out. His whole campaign has outsmarted itself. If he’d simply presented himself as a native Vermonter who’s been successful in the tech world and knows how state government works, I think he would have been a much stronger candidate.

        Instead, he’s been trying to out-Bernie Bernie, and now he’s got himself caught in a wind-powered wringer. Both tactics played into the perception that he’s a phony willing to say anything to get elected. A competent technocrat with reasonably liberal views would have been much more real and more appealing.

  5. Pingback: The Primary Election Blows (or “insert wind joke here”) |

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