I dunno, I’ve never found crooked smiles all that beguiling.
Time to saddle up. Apparently I have to revisit the undistinguished electoral career of Scott Milne, now that he’s been dubbed “a viable Republican” by the wise heads at VTDigger in a profile that shows him in the best possible light and ignores all his defects and shortcomings.
Starting with the idea that his performance in the 2014 gubernatorial election proves his statewide viability — so much so that his absolute drubbing by Sen. Patrick Leahy in 2016 somehow provides more evidence of his political magnetism.
It’s certainly true that Milne was given no shot at beating then-incumbent governor Peter Shumlin. His loss by a mere two thousand-odd votes was a shock to the #vtpoli world, this blogger included. But 2014 was no ordinary year. Shumlin had squandered all his political goodwill on his doomed venture into health care reform, and an ill-conceived land deal with a neighbor had reinforced a view of Shumlin as a shifty opportunist.
Compare 2014 with 2012. That year, Randy Brock was thoroughly trounced by Shumlin. Brock received 110,970 votes.
Two years later, Milne pulled his magician act, taking Shumlin to the limit. Milne’s vote total: 87,075 votes.
Shumlin, meanwhile, lost almost half his support. He earned 170,767 votes in 2012 — but only 89,509 in 2014. Shumlin had lost his mojo, and Milne was the lucky beneficiary. If the Republicans had nominated a halfway decent candidate, Shumlin would have been shitcanned.
The easiest interpretation of these numbers is that 2012 was a presidential year, when the electorate is much bigger and more liberal. But look at Gov. Phil Scott’s re-election bid in 2018: He beat Christine Hallquist by 151,261 to 110,335. In 2014, a total of 176,584 Vermonters voted for one of the two main candidates. In 2018, 261,596 did so.
In truth, 2014 was a complete outlier. Turnout was severely dampened by a lack of enthusiasm for the choices on offer — particularly for the terminally damaged Shumlin. (A lot of Vermont liberals didn’t vote, or didn’t vote for governor, because they didn’t like Shumlin but were certain he’d win easily without them.)
The truth is, Milne is a cipher of a candidate. His two campaigns have been characterized by snide attacks on his opponents and an almost complete lack of policy substance. This has allowed him to pose as a Phil Scott-style moderate. But in fact, Milne has given us precious little idea where he actually stands.
Well, occasionally he lets something slip. In a radio interview during the Senatorial campaign in 2016, Milne talked of going to war with North Korea.
I, I think we need to, um, support a strong South Korea, we need to not provoke ‘em, but we need to be, if they continue down this nuclear path, we don’t want to be drawing lines in the sand in my opinion, we want to have quiet diplomatic dialogue with them, hopefully there’s a change in the regime there, but they’re gonna have to join the, um, the world as we know it now or they’re going to have to be taken out.
(Transcription mine.) In the same interview, Milne said we made a big mistake in the Korean War by not invading the North. Which, as anyone who knows history could tell you, would have brought China into the conflict and may have triggered World War III.
Usually he steered clear of issues. In late September 2016, Milne said he was “not ready” to discuss specific policies he would pursue if elected — except for the ethical questions about Leahy he raised at every opportunity. If his Korea stance is a fair sample, then he definitely wasn’t ready.
Instead, he pulled stunts like the best-forgotten “DiCa” advertisement. Back in 2016, we’d had a real scare with the Zika virus. Team Milne slapped together a hastily-produced ad that showed Leahy being bitten by a mosquito and coming down with DiCa — as in District of Columbia. It was a nasty bit of work. Fortunately, the Milne campaign didn’t have money for an actual TV buy, but the ad still lives on thanks to YouTube.
He wasn’t any more ready for policy talk in 2014. He waited until late October to unveil his first policy proposal, and it was a doozy. He’d ginned up a two-part plan for cleaning up Lake Champlain. Part 1 was “Catalyze the cleanup of Lake Champlain without raising new revenue.” Part 2 was to raid the Vermont Housing and Conservation Trust Fund to the tune of $7.4 million a year.
To fund a cleanup whose estimated cost was $150 million a year.
I guess that explains why he typically stayed away from specifics. Indeed, in a spectacularly inarticulate radio interview, Milne said his campaign wasn’t about substance — it was about slamming Shumlin.
I’m more interested in the campaign, making sure I’m out meeting Vermonters and reconfirming the reason I got into the race, which is a real fear of the direction the Shumlin Administration is taking the state, and the need for a, hopefully what the people will judge me as an articulate voice of opposition to that.
Ah, well I remember the bumper stickers: ‘SCOTT MILNE: An Articulate Voice Of Opposition To That”
I could cite many more examples. In fact, I wrote a three-part series called “The Milne Transcripts” based on that single radio appearance. His performance was that bad.
I will freely remind you that I thought Milne was an unelectable boob in 2014, and he came thisclose to becoming governor. Still, I have absolute confidence that if he wins the Republican nomination for lieutenant governor, he will lose badly to whoever wins the Democratic nod.
But it will be entertaining — in a sick. sad, substance-free sort of way.