I think I understand why they tried to cut off Phil Scott’s healthcare policy press conference after a mere eight minutes of questions. Because to judge by this week’s unveiling of his economic plan, he has a very hard time when he has to get specific.
The plan was presented in a 56-page or 39-page* booklet, which was supposedly comprehensive and detailed.
*It was originally touted as 56, but it turned out to be 39. That included fourteen and a half pages of large glossy photos, mainly featuring Phil Scott.
That all fell apart as soon as reporters started asking questions. And pretty soon, you could almost see the smoke rising from the candidate’s ears.
The most obvious FAIL was his inability to provide numbers for his “detailed” plans. He admitted that the costs of his numerous tax-incentive ideas haven’t been calculated. He acknowledged that there wasn’t any detail to his energy plan. He ducked a question about specific cuts he would make in the state budget. And when asked how much money would be saved if all 50 of his proposals were implemented, he answered thusly:
I don’t know, to tell you the truth. We haven’t done that analysis.
This is a guy who’s been in state government for 15 years. He should be intimately familiar with the workings of that big hulking machine. And he’s got a robust campaign organization; can’t someone do that kind of analysis?
After all, we routinely expect it from other candidates. If a Democrat proposed a big new program, they’d be expected to cost it out and suggest a revenue source. We should demand no less from Mr. Leadership.
The accounts of Scott’s presser included references to many of his “I don’t knows” and failures to provide details. But there’s another dimension to the event that went unreported: his spectacular, and sometimes rather alarming, inarticulateness.
You can relive the glory of the presser thanks to VTDigger’s Mark Johnson, who posted the audio online. It’s a tough listen.
I took the time to transcribe one particularly painful exchange, which I reproduce here verbatim. (Well, I gave it my best shot anyway.)
It began when a reporter noted Scott’s desire to encourage more housing in Vermont, especially for middle-income folks. The reporter asked Scott to define “middle income.” Scott’s answer went on for a full two minutes, and was so completely off topic that the reporter followed up by asking the same question a second time.
We’ll get to that. But first, Scott’s initial two-minute answer.
Middle income to me, uh, means, uh, a family ah working ah a couple of jobs, uh, uh, trying to make uh pay their property taxes, trying to put foods on table, trying to pay their mortgage or their rent, and not able to do it. Uh, I think that we have most Vermonters are in that category, uh, and for them to try to find housing has been difficult. Housing they can afford. Uh I think that’s ah part of our, uh, our, our, really uh one of our ah largest obstacles uh here in Vermont. When they are getting out of school, um, looking for opportunities, looking for jobs, ah looking for housing, ah they’re not finding anything that they, uh, they can, ah, that fits their needs or their budget.
So, um, we need to focus, I believe, on ah more downtown housing, I think that’s part of uh what we could do. Look at what, ah, what we’ve done with ah tax incentives for instance ah with our renewable energy uh sector. With uh with the solar industry has grown leaps and bounds over the last few years, and that’s all because of, uh, uh tax incentives, uh, I believe, uh, that’s led to the growth. If we could focus ah that same type of uh thought process toward housing, uh then I think we can solve a lot of what, ahh, we do.
Uhh we’ve had some initiatives ah, ah in the Legislature that I think that we should move forward on. Fred Baser had an, had an approach that I think was, ah, was interesting that had some, ah, some legs. I think that uh some buy-in, ahh, in fact from the Speaker, but we never, uh, never took to the next level. So I think we just need to focus economic opportunity, uh, focus on housing and affordability, and that’s a big part of it, so ahh again, with all of us uhh pulling in the same direction and having focus on what we can do to help ourselves, I think that, that’s the answer here.
Okay, you tell me. What in the Sam Hill was that about?
The reporter didn’t know, so he asked the question all over again. This time, Scott got to the point — but it was such a muddle that it would be awfully easy to misinterpret.
Well, anywhere… I would say, uh, middle income, to me, I’m sure there’s a designation for that, but, ahh, for a family uh up to, uh, let’s say $200,000. Uhh anywhere from ahh from zero to 200 would be ah something that uh I would advocate for.
At first glance (and second and third), Scott seems to be saying that “middle income” means annual take-home pay of “anywhere from zero to $200,000.” Which is ridiculous.
But when I look at his answer in context, I believe he was trying to say he’d encourage housing that costs anywhere between zero and $200,000. Which, from a policy perspective, is pretty much dead-on.
I listened to the entire press conference. There were lots of passages like this. His short answers were fine if unsatisfying: it’s no fun to hear the guy who wants to be our chief executive repeatedly admit his ignorance.
But he takes one step into the dark forests of public policy, and he immediately gets lost. He talks in rhetorical circles, and careens randomly from one fragment of a talking point to the next in search of familiar ground. It’s kind of stunning that someone can rise to this sort of political prominence without being able to ad-lib a simple paragraph without getting lost.
I tell you one thing. If he’s elected Governor, his weekly press conferences are going to be mini-festivals of unintended comedy.