The Issueless Candidate

@thevpo1, Vermont’s Trusted Source for Unfair Screengrabs

Early contender for Best Inadvertent Laugh Line, 2020 General Election Edition, comes to us from Sen. Corey Parent, who’s got such a tough re-election fight on his hands that he’s devoting his spare time to managing Scott Milne’s bid for Lite-Guv. Fortunately for him, VTDigger has no laugh track, so the line is presented as if it were… serious:

Parent also said Milne “has always run campaigns based strictly on the issues.”

Corey’s a seasoned pro at this point, so it’s not too surprising that he managed to get through that line without breaking character. But still, congrats on a job well done.

Truth is, Milne is about the most issue-free major party candidate in recent memory. His two previous runs for office have featured a lot of snark, plenty of criticism for the incumbent, and virtually no actual positions or proposals on the issues.

In support of his assertion, Parent references Milne’s 2014 gubernatorial campaign: “Scott famously nearly defeated Peter Shumlin on the issue of health care.”

Well, yeah, I suppose. But Milne didn’t actually take a position on health care. He simply tried to make hay out of the disastrous rollout of Vermont Health Connect and Shumlin’s failure to enact a single-payer system. Just as he tried to make hay out of Shumlin’s other failings.

During the 2014 campaign, Milne kept promising to release a platform for his candidacy — and then delaying any announcements.

The strength of Milne’s policy chops was on display at a Burlington Free Press-sponsored gubernatorial debate in early October. My rundown of Milne’s performance on “the issues”:

Single-payer? Let’s wait six years.

How to cut the budget? Get rid of the governor’s SUV and out-of-state travel.

When asked for specific cuts, he tried to make a joke, talked about bringing in smart people from outside who’d be willing to take pay cuts to work in his administration, made a half-hearted call-out to the long-discredited Challenges for Change, and concluded by saying “I don’t know.”

School funding? He slammed Shumlin for failing to make tough choices, but offered nothing of his own.

Milne did not, in fact, send forth a single policy proposal until October 15, when he issued an education reform plan that promised new investments in higher education by, ahem, robbing the Education Fund. DOA much?

His second plan was issued on October 30 — less than a week before Election Day. It was a two-part plan to address Lake Champlain water quality. The first: “Catalyze the cleanup of Lake Champlain without raising new revenue.”

Well, there’s nothing there. What about part two?

Amend the “Vermont Housing and Conservation Trust Fund Act” to allocate the part of the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board’s funds used for conservation to cleaning up Lake Champlain.

Bold type was Milne’s, in case you were wondering.

There were, as I noted at the time, two problems with this. First, it would have stripped VHCB of all funding for conservation efforts. Second, it would have freed up $7.4 million a year. Which sounds nice, but the estimated cost of the cleanup was more like $150 million a year.

In short, Milne’s only actual plan was pretty much a nothingburger.

His devotion to anything but policy was made clear a month after the 2014 election, when the razor’s-edge Shumlin/Milne contest was headed to a vote of the state Legislature.

At that December 8 presser, Milne was asked if he was doing any planning for the gubernatorial transition, just in case he, y’know, won. He said no: “All this mumbo-jumbo about how tough it is to be Governor and how you’ve got to do all this stuff.”

Later, when asked if he had started writing a budget (due two weeks after inauguration), he lifted up a page from his prepared speech, showed the blank back side of the paper, and said “It’s right here.”

Ooooookay then. Now we move on to Milne’s 2016 run against Sen. Patrick Leahy, which ended in a rout. The Republican’s campaign was built on attacks against Leahy’s ethics, his long tenure in Washington, and his support for the scandal-ridden EB-5 program. Issues? Naah.

We take you to a late-September 2016 press conference, dutifully covered by the Free Press’ April Burbank (now April McCullum). She began her story thusly:

Scott Milne said he’s “not ready” to discuss specific policies he would pursue if elected to the U.S. Senate, other than ethical questions he has raised about his opponent, Sen. Patrick Leahy.

Nice. Six weeks before the election, and Milne proudly declares that he is “not ready” to talk policy.

Maybe it’s just as well, because when he tried to talk about North Korea a few days later, he discussed the possibility of all-out war.

So yeah, it’s probably for the best when Scott Milne stays away from “the issues.”

Just don’t try to tell me that Candidate Milne is focused “strictly on the issues.”

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