It made for an amusing read. VTDigger’s piece about Jim Barnett’s role in the Scott Milne campaign featured several Republicans doing verbal acrobatics as they tried to explain why the self-described moderate required the services of a political operator described as “a nasty guy,” a “hitman,” and “Mad Dog.” (The latter was bestowed on Barnett by the late Peter Freyne, grand master of the unflattering nickname.) And a guy who claims political assassins Lee Atwater and Karl Rove as professional inspirations.
So, how does he fit into a campaign that claimed, from the getgo, to be all about the issues?
“He knows how to win a campaign and there’s not a lot of people in the Republican world in Vermont that know how to win,” state Sen. Richard Westman told VTDigger.
OK, so it’s transactional. Fine. Them’s politics. But — and I know I’ve written this before — you can’t go negative and simultaneously claim to be Above It All. And you have absolutely no grounds to complain if your opponent follows you into the gutter.
In that vein, I hereby offer a script for a campaign ad that’s not negative, as Barnett and his colleagues put it, but is based on carefully selected facts designed to make Scott Milne look like a bum, and Molly Gray look like a saint.
[Ominous Music Of Doom, black and white images of Milne and news headlines]
“When Scott Milne entered politics, he carried a grudge.
“He wanted to build a huge development in the Vermont countryside.
“His plan was rejected by planning officials, and by the state Supreme Court.
“He went negative in his first two campaigns for office, hardly bothering to talk about the issues.
“This year has been more of the same. Negative attacks, and not much more.
[Positive music swells, full-color images]
“Molly Gray has devoted her life to public service — in Vermont, in Washington, and around the world.
“Now she’s come home to bring new ideas and a new generation to the state.
“Molly Gray, a fresh, clear vision for Vermont.
“Paid for by Alliance for a Better Vermont Action Fund.”
[fade to black]
That’s the spot. Looks like it needs a trim to fit into 30 seconds. But it could be a web-only ad of any length, designed to attract news coverage. Offered free of charge.
And it’s all true… or as former Barnett running dog Neale Lunderville put it, “When thinking about putting together anything political, you make sure that you are mooring it in things that are true.” My script is absolutely “moored in things that are true.” Before and during his 2014 campaign for governor, he was heavily invested in a proposed development off I-89’s Exit 1. It was rejected by the Act 205 Regional Commission, and killed two years later by the Vermont Supreme Court. And his first two campaigns were all about attacking the incumbent. And his third campaign is more of the same.
Now, I’m not a communications professional, so I’m sure a Democratic Jim Barnett could do better. But here’s the funny thing: We don’t have Democratic Jim Barnetts in Vermont. Democrats rarely descend to the bare-knuckle, kick-and-gouge style carefully honed by the Barnetts of the world. And enthusiastically embraced by Vermont Republicans who see this kind of attack politics as their best, or only, chance to prevail.
They’re probably right. Barnett was the last VTGOP state chair who could clearly be labeled a success. Under his leadership in the mid-Aughts, the party cheld three of the available six statewide offices and maintained a healthy bottom line. It’s all been downhill since he joined John McCain’s presidential bid in 2006.
So, welcome back, wandering son. Do your dark magic, and turn two-time loser Scott Milne into a winner if you can.
Just don’t act like you’re engaged in anything other than rank political opportunism.