Takeaways from today’s gubernatorial debate on women’s issues, viewable here…
1. Bill Lee has nothing to contribute to this campaign.
2. Phil Scott offers empathy, but no ideas or policies on women’s issues.
3. Sue Minter’s getting good at this.
And finally, and most importantly,
4. This debate shows why we need more women in political office.
Let’s take ‘em in order.
Firstly, Bill Lee is a joke of a candidate, even by the oddball standards of Vermont small-party politics. He arrived late, delaying the start of the debate by about 15 minutes. He’d done nothing to prepare. He had little to say on the issues. His answers meandered all over the place. At one point, he appeared to utterly forget the question and just rambled on until his time was up. And here are a few examples of the Spaceman’s forthcoming entry in Bartlett’s:
“I eat roadkill.”
“This is my first time in [the House chamber]. I like round things.”
“A lion sits on his ass and licks himself. It’s the females that go out and hunt.”
“God is a black woman named Lucy.”
Yeah, it was like that.
I’m sure this just charmed the pants off many members of the Vermont media corps. “What a character.” I can hear them say. “A real Vermonter.” “The kind of thing that makes Vermont politics unique.”
Also a big fat waste of time, and a significant dilution of the debate that really matters: the one that features two candidates with tangible chances of becoming our next governor. Also, there was an (I think unintentional) air of condescension about the Spaceman; because this was a debate on women’s issues, his lack of preparation and relevant ideas made him appear insensitive.
And need I remind you that we have Phil Scott to thank for the Spaceman’s presence? Thanks, Phil.
Secondly, Scott oozes concern for women, starting with the equivalent of “Some of my best friends are Negroes” — “Some of the most influential people in my life have been strong, independent women.”* But in terms of policy, he’s got absolutely nothing to offer.
*The Spaceman also rolled out his version of this tired old trope.
Scott acknowledges that things like child care, paid family leave, equal pay and access to education are important — but he’s not willing to spend one single dime on any of it, unless he can find the money by making government more efficient.
Which is what every candidate always says, but once they get in office they find it’s not so simple. I lived in New Hampshire when high-tech millionaire Craig Benson served one disastrous term as governor. He campaigned on promises to “run government like a business” and “finding efficiencies.” But when he had to cut the budget, multiple times, because of his refusal to countenance any tax increases, he resorted to across-the-board cuts. He failed to identify real savings; he just spread the pain equally.
So don’t hold your breath waiting for Phil Scott to deliver a leaner government and plow the savings into programs that help women. It ain’t gonna happen. I’m sure he honestly loves the women in his life and emphathizes with the struggles of working women, but his empathy is shallow and meaningless when it comes to governing.
Thirdly, this was Sue Minter’s best debate performance so far, and it’s not even close. She was clear and articulate. She put out her policy ideas, capitalized on chances to attack Phil Scott without being too abrasive*, and outlined the differences between the two candidates on women’s issues.
*Best line, right at the beginning: she thanked Phil for attending, and said “I’m glad I don’t have to debate an empty chair.”
She also made the crucial connection between women’s issues and economic progress. She noted, for instance, that 43 percent of Vermont women who work full time don’t make a living wage. If they had a higher minimum wage they’d be better able to care for their families. If it was easier to gain access to affordable higher education and child care, they’d be better able to get out of low-paying jobs. And if they could take paid family leave and enjoy their full rights in the workplace, they’d be better able to advance their careers. Women would earn more, and our economy would be more productive.
And, most tellingly, Minter provided powerful evidence for my fourth takeaway: the idea that we need more women in high office, and shouldn’t be afraid to prefer a female candidate when she’s equivalent to the always-available men. She clearly has a much firmer grasp of the reality of women’s lives than either of the two male candidates (notwithstanding their much-touted close relationships with women). She prioritizes women’s issues much higher than the candidates equipped with wedding tackle.
Indeed, you remember how Phil Scott’s Twitter account boasted, falsely, that he was “the only candidate who knows what it’s like to live paycheck to paycheck”? Well, what’s more important? That, or Minter’s first-hand experience with workplace discrimination and on-the-job pregnancy and the importance of family leave and child care? I say the latter.
I’d add a fifth point. This event proved the importance of carving out a specific place for women’s issues in campaigns. We have yet to evolve beyond the point where “women’s issues are everyone’s issues.” Women still face specific challenges. And as long as men greatly outnumber women in political office, we will need to ensure that women’s issues have a place in public policy debates.
This debate was an important one. And I must point out that, if Phil Scott had had his way, this debate would never have happened. As you may recall, the Scott campaign set two conditions for his participation: that every debate include all three candidates, and that every debate should be sponsored by a media organization, not any special-interest group.
He later had to back down (partially) because several debates, some without the Spaceman and some sponsored by special-interest groups, had already been agreed to, so he couldn’t weasel out of them. But he would have preferred to exclude the Vermont Commission on Women from holding a gubernatorial debate. Which would have been a real shame, and would have diminished the quality and scope of the campaign.
The musical inspiration for this post’s title: