Phil Scott serves up a man-sized portion of word salad

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.

Exsqueeze me?

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.


6 thoughts on “Phil Scott serves up a man-sized portion of word salad

  1. Jason Loomis

    Phil needs to contact Bill Lee to come and stand with him to make him look less stupid and more qualified. Trouble is, Lee would probably run circles on stage around Phil’s empty suit. Wonder what Phil’s excuse will be to duck out of the Vermont Digger debate this week.

    You can fool some of the people some pf time, but you can always fool Phil Scott supporters.

  2. eddo

    I just read today’s Burlington Free Press editorial decrying Scott’s debate no-show reasoning. They aren’t usually in the business of attacking Republicans, even going so far as to wonder what he has to hide. Wow!

  3. walter h moses

    Ah Phil Scott, what did you do to stir up the anakronism from Ann Arbor? Four of his last blogs, er cow flops have been after your hide. Gets boring doncha know.
    But take heart, he appreciates the likes of Klein, Shumlin, Sap Smith, Blittersdorf, Iberdrola, Paul Burns and other assorted fools.
    I would not want him think well of me and I’m fairly certain he doesn’t.

    1. John S. Walters Post author

      Oh, I have hardly begun to write about Phil Scott. He’s the gift that keeps on giving.

      You haven’t been reading me very long if you think I’m pro-Shumlin. I do not, however, consider him a fool.

  4. Wallace Nolen

    Why doesn’t someone in the new media ask Phil Scott [and his partner in Wheels for Warmth – RICHARD WOBBY] [see: ] to see proof that the required 6% sales tax of all the money that was collected during the eleven (11) years he operated this program was ever paid by someone to the Vermont Tax Department?

    Better yet why doesn’t someone in the news media ask Phil Scott [and his partner in Wheels for Warmth – RICHARD WOBBY] why they both did not comply with the requirements of Vermont’s General Business Law and register “Wheels For Warmth” until I blew the whistle about their failure to file with the VT Secretary State until May 14th, 2013 – some nine (9) years after they both admit on their website that they have been in operation for 11 years (as of 2013).

    Even better yet why doesn’t ask James Condos, the present Vermont Secretary [and who was in that position in 2013 when Scott and Wobby finally got around to complying with such requirements to file [and not they filed as individuals doing business as a partnership NOT A CORPORATION and therefore they cannot be considered a “not-for-profit” corporation like they presumably would like everyone to think they were! ] how much of a penalty did Condos (or his staff collect from SCOTT/WOBBY]? Under general business law the failure to timely fine should have paid a hefty penalty but ask SCOTT/WOBBY/CONDOS for proof that it was demanded as well as paid!!!!

    Ask SCOTT, WOBBY, and even Cassella Waste Systems – [which in 2015 partnered with SCOTT and WOBBY] in Wheels For Warmth why during this and all prior events that did not have a single van accessible never mind regularly properly lined handicapped parking space so that those people like myself who have ambulatory disabilities could attend and try to “participate” in such events?

    Better yet ask them all as to why to this day Scott’s Middlesex VT office and every one of Cassella Waste Systems’ offices/location do not have any properly lined, signed and sized van accessible as well as regular handicap parking spaces. [See:

    Even the handful of spaces that are at their offices none of them are closest to the entrances as required. [See: ]

    Now the real zinger! Why doesn’t someone ask Eric S. Miller, the US Attorney for the District of Vermont why he and his staff have refused to investigate my complaint filed months ago asked SCOTT, WOBBY and Casella Waste Systems which I personally filed?

    Do we really want to elect someone who cannot comply with the 26+ year old Americans With Disabilities Act or State Laws?

    Lastly why doesn’t the news media investigate and report the fact that no candidate including Scott has to my knowledge mentioned a single word about enforcement of the Americans With Disabilities Act and/or anything to assist the disabled????


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