Wow. If the first gubernatorial debate saw Brenda Siegel winning on the issues and Phil Scott winning on, well, being Phil Scott, the second debate [Brought To You By Your Friends At VTDigger] was better for Siegel and worse for Scott.
He put on quite the show, recycling his talking points from previous campaigns, freely asserting that he would offer no new proposals during the campaign, was frequently passive aggressive toward Democratic lawmakers and Siegel herself, and blamed everything that’s gone sideways during his tenure on the Legislature, the federal government, and the Covid pandemic. In his own eyes he is blameless, beyond repute, perfect in every way.
Again, I don’t get why everybody thinks he’s a Nice Guy. He’s not. He’s just not. If anything, five-plus years in the corner office, surrounded by yes people, has made him more isolated and self-satisfied.
And in terms of ideas, he’s tapped out. He offered more of the same. Claimed it was working, or would work sometime soon, or would have worked by now if it wasn’t for that darn pandemic.
Siegel, on the other hand, was in command of the facts and her [Brenda] agendaTM. Her answers were clear, concise, and thorough. She was calm and, dare I say it, gubernatorial. She’d been a little too caffeinated in the first debate, as she often is in real life because she’s so passionate about her issues. Tonight there was none of that.
Will it matter? After the first debate I didn’t think so. Scott is so well established in the minds of Vermonters as the sensible shepherd who may not be exciting, but he won’t let the wolves into the flock. Now, I see some light at the end of the Minter/Hallquist/Zuckerman Memorial Tunnel. Siegel is on a positive trajectory.
It’s still a very long shot. Any Democrat or Progressive who watched this debate would come away with a positive view of Siegel. Moderates might have been moved to give it some thought, at least. But most people don’t watch these debates. As of this writing, the YouTube stream slash archive had gotten 1,799 views.
That’s, like, ridiculously small. In 2020, more than 362,000 people voted for governor.
Well, what about media coverage of the debate? Digger posted a pretty decent write-up that appropriately credited Siegel for going on the attack. That probably attracted a few thousand readers. As far as I can tell, no other outlet even bothered!
So it’ll help Siegel, but it’s far from decisive. It’s one small turn of the ol’ spigot. Election Day is about five weeks away. She doesn’t have much time.
Okay, let’s turn our attention to some notable moments from the debate.
On child care, Siegel endorsed Let’s Grow Kids’ proposal that no family should pay more than 10% of their income for child care. Scott alluded to some things he’s proposed in the past, some of which the Legislature didn’t go along with, and then pivoted to the familiar ground of the workforce shortage. He mentioned “cradle to career,” which is one of his pet phrases but has nothing to do with child care.
On more than one occasion, Scott defended a veto with what seemed to be untruths, or at least deliberate shadings of the truth. He said he vetoed bills to address the opioid crisis because they would have directly led to policy implementation. Siegel insisted the bills contained studies, not implementation; “I did read the bills, I worked on the bills. I know those bills. And they were studies.”
Scott also blamed the sharp rise in opioid-related deaths to the pandemic, saying that before Covid “we saw the curve bend in the right direction” thanks to his policies, which should start working again, I guess. He rejected what he called “experimentation,” meaning anything he hasn’t already tried.
On housing, Siegel advocated a comprehensive plan including emergency, transitional and permanent housing. Scott pointed to measures already enacted and said that they wouldn’t work overnight.
On two different occasions, Scott labeled an event “unacceptable” but offered no solutions or fixes. One was the eviction of a 93-year-old Stowe man so the property owner could convert it to short-term rental. The other was sexual harassment and abuse in the Vermont National Guard. Unacceptable, but accepted.
The lamest of the lame was Scott’s position on climate change. His own Natural Resources Secretary Julie Moore thinks we’ll miss our 2030 carbon reduction target. That seems to be fine with Scott, because he offered nothing beyond the electric vehicle incentives and charging station buildout already underway. He ruled out any expansion of public transit, and he has said he sees no need to develop renewable energy in-state.
When Siegel had the chance to ask Scott a question, she recited the familiar litany of mismanagement in the unemployment program, housing assistance, and child care funding. She asked why Vermonters should pay the price for those mistakes.
“I knew there was a question in there somewhere,” Scott said. “So much for not, uh, grandstanding, so to speak, right?” Then he got out his pass-the-blame Super Soaker. The feds didn’t upgrade our unemployment computer system. They keep imposing rules on how we can spend Covid relief money. The pandemic screwed everything up.
Well, sure, but he forgot to mention that when the UI claims were piling up furiously, his Labor Department waited almost a month before hiring additional staff to handle the load. That was his administration’s fault and no one else’s.
The saddest moment came when Scott was asked if he would offer any new ideas or proposals before Election Day. Nope, he said, not once but twice. “Well, we’re not ready to, we’re talking about a lot of issues and we have a lot of need.” “I’m not going to, uh, not going to talk about that before I’m ready to finalize.”
Pig in a poke? Or no ideas worth highlighting? I mean, throughout the two debates Scott has made it clear that his old plans would have borne fruit if not for the pandemic, and now that the pandemic is over (it’s not, but play along for now), they’ll work a treat. No need for anything else.
Siegel’s hardest punch came in her closing statement, which was a thorough indictment of the Phil Scott years.
In the last six years, the things that matter most to Vermonters have not gotten better, they’ve gotten worse. Vermont has not become more affordable, it has become less. The housing crisis has been barrelling at us, and we still do not have a plan. The governor has presided over the most overdose deaths in the history of our state, and he keeps vetoing the bills. The climate crisis is exploding, and our Public Utilities Commission is preventing progress. What I know is that there are solutions. Together we can have safe and strong commiunities. This is going to be a tough fight, but it’s not even close to the toughest fight I’ve had to face in my life, and I’m still standing
To judge by this debate, Scott has lost a few mph from his fastball and Siegel is hitting her stride. Chances are, he’ll win anyway. But Siegel is sure making it interesting.