At the first gubernatorial debate of the campaign last night, Phil Scott pulled a Dunne.

That is, he significantly changed a policy stance while passing it off as no big deal.

The subject was climate change. On many occasions, Scott has acknowledged climate change is real but declined to admit that human activity is responsible. Here he is, at a late-July forum on the Vermont economy in a time of climate change.

Yes, I do believe that climate change is real and it could be for many different reasons. …There are many who think it’s caused by human behavior. There are some who believe it’s due to climate change, uh, changing on a worldwide basis.

Maybe it’s because he’s gotten some pushback for taking a stance to the right of Bruce Lisman and Jim Douglas, who both acknowledge human impact. Maybe he’s repositioning himself for the general election. But he changed his tune substantially at last night’s forum.

Sue Minter asked him why he was out of step with 97 percent of the scientific community in refusing to acknowledge human impact. He began his answer by saying “You’re getting confused.” He then clearly stated that “climate change is real and man-made,” and then added “I was acknowledging that there are many who don’t believe that.”

His approach is to evade areas of controversy and “focus on areas we can agree on.”

So, he believes that climate change is human-caused — but he doesn’t want to challenge those who don’t?

This… is leadership?

Not to mention, it’s a feckless approach to addressing climate change. If we have to get everybody on board, including those who refuse to accept the scientific consensus, then I’m sorry, but we’re never going to get any real work done.

On this, or any other issue. Imagine this: “I believe that drug abuse treatment is crucial to end the scourge or addiction, but many believe that tougher enforcement is the answer.  I wan to focus on areas we can agree on.”


Well, back to the main point: the flip-flop.

It’s barely possible that Scott’s earlier statements on climate change were spectacularly inarticulate, and last night he was merely fleshing out his actual stance.

Problem is, he has repeatedly said more or less the same thing. When he was in a Republican primary, he didn’t acknowledge human causation; now that he’s in a general campaign, he’s perfectly willing to admit it.

Sorry, that doesn’t pass the smell test. The timing is way too convenient for a Republican candidate who needs moderate voters on his side, and no longer needs to pander to the Know-Nothing wing of his own party.

But there’s a bigger problem with his shiny new stance: His reluctance to take any steps that would be controversial with the denialist crowd.

How much progress can we possibly make if every step has to be acceptable to those who deny the scientific consensus?

Scott pays lip service to Vermont’s goal of 90 percent renewable energy by 2050. He said it would be “difficult, but doable.” And then he added the kicker: “I hope we can make it.”

Pardon me. You hope?

Laying the groundwork for failure right up front, are we?

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Phil Scott has a curious vision of “leadership.”

(Broader reflections on the entire debate in a separate post later today.)


9 thoughts on “Phil-Lip-Flop

  1. katrinkavt

    Rebuilding trust is a big part of leadership. Much of Vermont has lost its trust in state government over the past 5-10 years, and I see a Governor Minter as presenting a continuation of that trend. Phil isn’t shiny and full of happy talk, but Vermonters recognize his honesty and his recognition of the very real hardships faced by the Vermont everyman. (See Peter Miller commentary in Digger).
    It sounds like you see denialists as a big bloc of folks….a “crowd.”

    1. Faith Biggs King

      Au contraire on all counts. Based on what I know of Sue Minter, it’s a crude analogy to suggest she is ‘like’ Peter Shumlin because..why, exactly? She served in his administration? Shook hands with the Dreaded Shummy, got cooties from him? Nah. That just won’t fly. She may be a bit of a techie/dull/policy wonk but I think she has sincerity and earnestness in spades. Not so sure that’s ever been true of Peter Shumlin. Regarding Phil Scott, his banal comments about focusing on ‘areas we agree on’ is pure happy talk and a sure-fire recipe for, you got it, nothing. Great rule for the Thanksgiving dinner table, but the governor? God almighty, this country would still allow slavery if Scott were in charge, what with his desire to make nice and allow every cockamamy position a seat at the table…….. He sounds like Shap Smith with that tentative, overly-conciliatory nonsense.

  2. Walter Carpenter

    “Much of Vermont has lost its trust in state government over the past 5-10 years, and I see a Governor Minter as presenting a continuation of that trend.”

    How so, since Sue had nothing to do with the Shumlin gaffs? Unlike Scott, however, she has written and balanced budgets, has run a department, has struggled with the ponderous Fema on behalf of Vermonters, built or repaired roads and bridges, and has had to help communities wrecked by Hurricane Irene, come back to life. But I suppose that is not something to trust now.

  3. katrinkavt

    I see Sue Minter Governor as different from Sue Minter in her previous jobs. I have no bones to pick with your list of her accomplishments. But she is firmly following the same horrible path with renewables that Shumlin promoted and which has a growing number of Vermonters feeling they’ve been had.

    And unfortunately, after Shumlin’s costly trail of failures, we are left with a situation that will require considerable pain, which is politically unpopular but imperative, imo. A governor at this point must set out a path to fiscal recovery before undertaking the list of good-perhaps-but now-now proposals Sue Minter is promoting. Between the flood of RE missteps and the many fiscal flops, Sue’s plank of ideas don’t instill much trust as a plan to get us back on track.

    I am surprised as a long-time D/P voter to find myself considering Phil Scott for Governor, but I think he would be both trustworthy and a dose of much needed, just-in-time medicine for Vermont – and especially those Vermonters who are seriously struggling and have been ignored mightily.

    1. Faith Biggs King

      I fail to see how austerity – and the further crippling of programs and services that struggling people depend on (with endless, vague calls for ‘cuts and efficiencies’ ) will translate into ‘medicine’. Pesticide for the Poor is more like it. Perhaps that’s the ultimate goal? More governmental stinginess and concern for upper-income people (and their tax bills) might chase those unpleasant po’ folks out of Vermont once and for all…… Make Vermont more like, oh, Mississippi. Then we’ll REALLY save money.

  4. nortryder

    “Good perhaps but not now proposals” ? That must be the same thing as “I’ll quit smoking after I get lung cancer”. Scott is a bit too cosy with every in-state and out of state developer trying to glom on to what ever thy can grab.


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