At the first gubernatorial debate of the campaign last night, Phil Scott pulled a Dunne.
That is, he significantly changed a policy stance while passing it off as no big deal.
The subject was climate change. On many occasions, Scott has acknowledged climate change is real but declined to admit that human activity is responsible. Here he is, at a late-July forum on the Vermont economy in a time of climate change.
Yes, I do believe that climate change is real and it could be for many different reasons. …There are many who think it’s caused by human behavior. There are some who believe it’s due to climate change, uh, changing on a worldwide basis.
Maybe it’s because he’s gotten some pushback for taking a stance to the right of Bruce Lisman and Jim Douglas, who both acknowledge human impact. Maybe he’s repositioning himself for the general election. But he changed his tune substantially at last night’s forum.
Sue Minter asked him why he was out of step with 97 percent of the scientific community in refusing to acknowledge human impact. He began his answer by saying “You’re getting confused.” He then clearly stated that “climate change is real and man-made,” and then added “I was acknowledging that there are many who don’t believe that.”
His approach is to evade areas of controversy and “focus on areas we can agree on.”
So, he believes that climate change is human-caused — but he doesn’t want to challenge those who don’t?
Looking forward to Matt Dunne’s memoir of his bid for governor, working title “My House Is On Fire and All I’ve Got Is Gasoline.”
It’s been a remarkable, perhaps unprecedented, four days in Vermont politics: the self-immolation of a well-regarded candidate for governor.
And it just keeps getting worse. Today, prominent environmental groups threw their support behind Sue Minter. And then Dunne compounded the damage by trying to re-explain his new position on renewable energy siting — and in the process, he provoked backlash from the very people he tried to bring on board last Friday, the opponents of ridgeline wind.
Add it all up. Governor Shumlin and most Democratic lawmakers are mad at Dunne because he threw shade on Act 174, the compromise siting bill they carefully shepherded into law this year.
The environmental community is mad at Dunne for shifting ground on renewables in a way clearly intended to empower its opponents.
And now those opponents are mad at Dunne. The Queen Bee of oppositionalism, Annette Smith, sees Dunne as a fake and a poseur. Gubernatorial candidate Peter Galbraith, last seen complimenting Dunne in the latter’s ill-fated Friday press release, now says:
Everything in my platform is based on progressive issues I fought for in the Senate – my positions don’t just change with the wind. #vtpoli
Matt Dunne has forgotten the cardinal rule of what to do if you find yourself in a hole: Stop Digging.
The series of events he triggered with his spinaroonie on renewable energy siting continue to echo through Vermont’s gubernatorial race. It’s clearly the single most significant passage of this interminable campaign, which is why I keep writing about it. And I am frankly shocked at the lack of media coverage it’s received. (Except for Seven Days, which jumped on it immediately and has followed it ever since.) Digger? VPR? Free Press? Vermont Press Bureau? Bueller?
I withdraw the preceding comment. VPB’s Neal Goswami wrote it up Monday afternoon. VTDigger’s Mark Johnson filed a story that appeared Tuesday morning.
Today brought two more events, neither of which will do Dunne any good — and one that will further damage his standing (or what remains of it) with ‘mainstream Democrats.
For those who thought I was making a mountain out of a molehill, here’s your Monday morning wakeup: environmental activist Bill McKibben has withdrawn his endorsement of Matt Dunne for governor. He’s shifted his support to Sue Minter. The news was broken today by Seven Days’ Terri Hallenbeck.
This is big in two fundamental ways. First, obviously, McKibben is the planet’s number-one climate change activist. His endorsement of Dunne was effectively an environmental seal of approval.
Second, McKibben was an early and enthusiastic supporter of Dunne — indeed, he encouraged Dunne to run for governor, presumably because he thought that Dunne was the best candidate to continue Vermont’s renewable energy push. As recently as last Wednesday, McKibben co-signed a letter to the Addison Independent endorsing Dunne.
“We must battle climate change and continue down the path to 90% renewable energy by 2015. …But we must do this in a Vermont way.
… “Large-scale ridgeline wind projects should only take place with the approval of the towns where the projects are located.
… “Vermont’s renewable energy future is largely in solar and small-scale hydro.”
In short, Matt Dunne has executed a last-minute flip-flop on one of the key issues in Vermont politics. And that’s why a well-connected liberal insider told me today that “No one will ever trust him again.”
Welp, I forced myself to go back and watch last week’s gubernatorial forum on Vermont’s economic future in a time of climate change, as the organizers dubbed it. And I found something fascinating on the Republican side. As in the way a child is fascinated by turning over a rock and watching the critters disperse.
On the one hand, you had a guy who acknowledges the reality of climate change and the human role in it, but doesn’t want to do anything to address it. On the other, you had a guy who questions the scientific consensus on climate change but has a bunch of ideas that are kinda-sorta related to the issue.
Candidate A is Bruce Lisman. Candidate B is Phil Scott.
Most of this essay will concern Scott, because (1) his presentation was an appalling mess, and (2) he’s going to win the primary, so Lisman’s brand of environmental unconcern is of little relevance.
So finally we have a new poll of the gubernatorial primary races. The first, I believe, since the VPR Poll way back in February. The usual caveats apply: a single poll doesn’t prove a damn thing, etc. Still, there are at least a couple of points to be gleaned,
The poll was commissioned by Energy Independent Vermont, a “group of groups” promoting a low-carbon, high-renewable energy future. There were numerous questions about climate change and renewables policy, and the results were nothing new: broad consensus that climate change is real and (at least partly) human-caused; broad support for Vermont’s renewable energy policy and our goal of 90% renewable energy by 2050; and even substantial support for a carbon tax — when the question is carefully worded.
Those results are heartening to supporters of renewable energy, and are similar to numbers in past surveys. For us political junkies, though, the more interesting numbers are in the race for governor.