In Thursday’s lieutenant governor debate, Republican Scott Milne launched an all-out attack on Democrat Molly Gray for her supposedly spendthrift agenda and, naturally, her spotty voting record. He scored some points in the process.
He also opened the door to an attack-oriented campaign at odds with his self-positioning as a moderate Nice Guy. And to considerations of each candidate’s personal history. He may live to regret that, since there are a few known skeletons in his otherwise unexplored closet. Let’s start by comparing the two candidates in their formative years.
While graduating from law school, becoming an attorney and establishing herself as a globetrotting professional deeply engaged in justice issues, Gray frequently failed to vote.
Meanwhile, in his youth, Milne was a cocaine user and impaired driver with two DUI arrests.
I dunno, seems like a wash to me.
I can already hear the cries of “Unfair!” After all, Milne’s known offenses date to his collegiate years, while Gray failed to cast votes through her 20s and into her early 30s. And who among us didn’t snort a line or drive drunk in our wild-and-crazy college years?
Well, not me. And not Gray either. The point is, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone,” and Milne cast the first stone. Fact is, neither candidate emerged from the womb in a state of grace, and moral equivalencies are drawn in the eye of the beholder.
Of course, we only have Milne’s word for it that his offenses were confined to an 18-month period in his student days. Back in July 2014, when he’d (by default) become the top Republican contender for governor in a year when Peter Shumlin looked unbeatable, Milne issued a well-timed confession in a press release issued on the Third of July — a Thursday leading into a long holiday weekend. Milne himself said he made the disclosures in order to prevent his past from becoming weaponized against him by the Shumlin campaign.
At the time, Milne wasn’t considered a serious contender by anyone not named “Milne.” I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the Vermont press corps dutifully reported Milne’s disclosures and didn’t bother to probe any further. We only have Milne’s word for it that he hewed to the straight and narrow after those 18 out-of-control months.
Not that a history, however long, of substance use is disqualifying. A hard-knocks past can be an asset to an officeholder if it helps create understanding of people’s real-life struggles. But it’s a clear example of us knowing a bit of Milne’s past but only the bit he’s volunteered.
Milne is the one who opened the door to bare-knuckle politics. He also has deep-pocketed conservative interests who will be more than happy to run Gray into the gutter if it’ll help defeat her.
In that regard, we also have numerous reports of what sounds like a grossly biased push poll targeting Gray, conducted by who knows who.
And someone allied with Milne is conducting a massive public-records fishing expedition into Gray’s communications. That’s fair game, since she works for the Attorney General’s office. But again, it’s Milne setting a clear precedent for deep dives into a candidate’s past activities. One would assume, nay hope, that Team Gray is doing likewise. Sauce for the goose, after all.
Of course, they don’t need me to tell them that. The pro-Gray Alliance for a Better Vermont Action Fund today reported on Milne’s own spotty voting record. He has failed to vote eight times since 2008. The missed elections were mainly primaries plus the 2010 general election — a crucial one in Vermont, since Jim Douglas was retiring and the race between Brian Dubie and Peter Shumlin was red-hot. Gray, meanwhile, missed three presidential elections and an unknown number of primaries.
She clearly has the worse record in that time frame… but Milne is far from perfect. We’re again entering the realm of subjectively assessing the past behavior of two imperfect people. And we don’t know Milne’s voting history before 2008 as far as I know. Maybe he voted rarely if ever in his early adulthood.
And most of his history as a citizen and businessman is as yet unexplored. I do know one unsavory passage that hasn’t been brought up this year: Milne’s effort to build a major development on Exit 1 of I-89, a rural area on the outskirts of Quechee. He and his partner David Boies III (son of the renowned political attorney) had proposed, as I described it in 2014,
Quechee Highlands, a 168-acre mixed-use development that would be built along I-89 near Exit 1. Reportedly, Milne has already invested $4 million in the deal, which has run into trouble with local and state regulators, and Milne himself has angrily threatened an all-out legal battle. Kind of at odds with his pleasant, moderate image, eh?
That’s right. At the time he was running for governor, he was deeply leveraged in a development scheme that had run afoul of the Act 250 process. And members of the Boies family donated tens of thousands of dollars to Milne’s campaign. He turned his struggles into an attack on Shumlin, claiming that opposition to Quechee Highlands was born of political pressure from the state.
(The scheme was killed by the Vermont Supreme Court in 2016, in a ruling that Exit 1 was “not an appropriate location for major development.” Which put to rest not only Milne’s champagne dreams, but any claim that his problems were based on politics.)
Milne still promotes himself as the owner of his family’s business, Milne Travel, but in fact he sold a controlling interest to a travel industry giant four years ago. He still has an executive title, but the bulk of his recent financial activity has been in the very new-agey and faintly scammy cryptocurrency arena. He never mentions that, does he?
Indeed, he seems to be doing very well in the Bitcoin space. In 2018 he reported income of $1.7 million, the bulk of it from dealings in digital currencies.
There’s no evidence of dirty dealings in digital cash. But there’s no evidence he’s clean either. It’s just one more unanswered question about the man who wants to be a heartbeat away from the governorship.
Gray’s voting record is troubling. The rest of her adult life has been spent in trying to do good. I hope we get more insight into Milne’s past, so we can cast an informed judgment on who has the better claim to our support.
Meanwhile, Milne has forfeited any claim to being an above-politics Nice Guy. And he has no grounds to complain if his opponents conduct thorough researches into his personal, political and financial lives.