Tag Archives: Fred Tuttle

A Bit of a Kerfuffle at the Ethan Allen Institute

Hey everybody, meet Myers Mermel, the new president of the Ethan Allen Institute.

For those unfamiliar, EAI is Vermont’s most prominent conservative “think tank,” best known for such influential operations as the seldom-heard Common Sense Radio and a steady supply of seldom-read opinion pieces. It was headed for many years by former vagabond John McClaughry, who remains a prolific writer of those opinion pieces. After he stepped out of leadership in 2013, former VTGOP chief Rob Roper took the reins. Roper retired last March, and was replaced by serially unsuccessful political candidate Meg Hansen.

Well, Hansen didn’t even last a year. She’s been ousted in an apparently messy process that culminated last night in Mermel’s razor-thin election to the presidency. The vote of the EAI board was reportedly five for Mermel, four for Hansen, and two abstaining.

Here I must pause to delineate established fact from informed hearsay. Mermel has confirmed he is now EAI’s president. He would not otherwise comment. Everything else I’m about to write comes from a single anonymous source, because official mouths are firmly zippered shut chez EAI.

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Shorter Milne: “My heart will go on”

Scott Milne, the lone constant in an ever-changing world.

Scott Milne, the lone constant in an ever-changing world.

Scott Milne’s Dec. 8 announcement that his campaign for governor would continue was, perhaps, the quintessential Milne event.

Defiance of conventional wisdom? Check.

Tortuous logic in support of his own position? Check.

Abandonment of previous tortuous logic? Check.

Self-serving interpretations of history and recent events? Check.

Sarcastic cracks about the media? Check.

References to his own humility? Check.

References to his own brilliance? Check.

Malapropisms? Check.

Outright blunders? Check.

And, finally, an almost complete absence of Republican bigwigs? Check.

Double-check, in fact. Milne made it clear that there’s no love lost between him and the VTGOP establishment.

First the topline, then we’ll go down the checklist. Yes, Milne will carry his campaign forward into the Legislature, where he wants each lawmaker to do his/her Constitutional duty and select the best person to govern Vermont. His remarks were full of the usual exaggerations about the calamity that awaits Vermont if Peter Shumlin returns to office.

But at the same time, he won’t be actively campaigning.

I am not going to proactively be trying to convince legislators to vote for me. My door is open. …I don’t think it’s something I should be twistin’ arms for.

As I wrote earlier, Milne was rhetorically aggressive and tactically passive.

And now, the checklist.

A pre-launch moment, with WCAX's Kyle Midura doing some TV thingy.

A pre-launch moment, with WCAX’s Kyle Midura doing some TV thingy.

Defiance of conventional wisdom. Almost too many examples to count. He will carry on, in spite of (1) historical precedent, (2) a heavily Democratic legislature, (3) common sense.

Oh, and he’s done virtually nothing to prepare for running the state, should the Legislature elect him:

Tortuous logic in support of his position. Milne took a page from the Antonin Scalia Book of Constitutional Originalism by saying that the state Constitution was the only relevant text to be considered. He patched together two separate items from said document: The mandate for the Legislature to settle elections when no single candidate wins a majority, and the oath taken by lawmakers. (Which, as we’ll see a little further on, turns out NOT to be the right oath.)

Abandonment of previous tortuous logic. Earlier, Milne had posited a couple of rationalizations for his election: (1) Lawmakers should vote the way their constituents did, instead of abiding by the statewide results. (2) The historical precedent is significantly weakened because wasn’t obeyed in the 1978 election for Lieutenant Governor.

There was no hint of either argument today. He’s on to brand-new tortuous logic that we haven’t had a chance to disprove yet.

Self-serving interpretations of history and recent events. He asserted that there is no historical precedent for electing the top vote-getter, even though the last time it didn’t happen was in 1853. Apparently he’s spent some time in the history books, and has constructed his own aircastle of argument. It goes like this:

After the mid-1800s, there was almost a century of unbroken Republican rule with no close tallies in the general election. That wipes out most of the precedent. Then he posits a self-servingly narrow definition of history: 1986 was the only comparable occasion, because it was the only other time when an incumbent governor received less than a majority. All other occasions, like Jim Douglas’ win in 2002, conveniently enough, do not apply.

Nor does Mr. Douglas’ own advice to maintain the precedent and exit the race.

Sarcastic cracks about the media. This time, Seven Days’ Paul “Be Your Own Boss” Heintz was the main target. (Although when I asked for a copy of his speech “so I wouldn’t misquote you,” he shot back with “You’ll probably misquote me anyway.”) Milne slammed Heintz a couple of times for asking the same question four times. Heintz only repeated the question because Milne didn’t give a straight answer.

Mahatma and the media in the Cedar Creek Room. VPR's Peter Hirschfeld is crouching stealthily at left.

Mahatma and the media in the Cedar Creek Room. WPTZ’s Stuart Ledbetter suffering from head tilt at center; VPR’s Peter Hirschfeld crouching stealthily at bottom left.

References to his own humility. “I think what Vermonters like about my humble campaign is that we didn’t try to sell people things.”

References to his own brilliance. This came in response to questions about whether he’s been preparing to assume the Governor’s office. Like, say, naming a cabinet or prepping a budget.

All this mumbo-jumbo about how tough it is to be Governor and how you’ve got to do all this stuff. You look to Governor Walker in Alaska who won in a recount and was inaugurated two weeks later.It’s entirely possible to put together a team that can do a credible job.

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.”

Governing Vermont: it’s a doddle.

Malapropisms. The best one came directly after the above quote: “I have zero lack of confidence that this isn’t going to go in a very good direction very quickly if I’m elected.”

If I count correctly, that’s a triple negative.

Outright blunders. See my previous post about Milne’s apparent confusion over Constitutional oaths. He said that lawmakers, in choosing the next governor, should abide by their Constitutional oath. And then he quoted the Voter’s Oath, formerly known as the Freeman’s Oath.

The oath taken by lawmakers is completely different. Oopsie.

Almost complete absence of Republican bigwigs. There was a small cheering section stationed behind the gaggle of journalists, cameras, and blogger*, but as far as I could tell, no Republican officeholders or state party officials attended the event. Which is curious, since most top Republicans profess to backing Milne’s claim to the governorship. If they were serious, you’d think they’d be on hand to provide some moral support and give some good quotes to reporters.

*That’s me. 

When asked about party support, Milne was rather cold toward the VTGOP.

I think I helped the Republicans statewide about as much as they helped me. I’m not indebted to them, they’re not indebted to me. …I don’t owe the Republican Party anything in the state of Vermont. I clearly don’t owe the national Republican Party anything. This is clearly going to be a Scott Milne administration, designed to do what’s best for Vermont regardless of politics.

Perhaps this is nothing more than political repositioning: in the Legislature, he doesn’t need to convince Republicans, he needs to get centrist Dems on board. So it’s only natural that he’d try to brand himself as a moderate maverick with no particular party ties. On the other hand, he professes to be an honest, humble, anti-politician, so it’s difficult to imagine him taking a position out of pure political convenience.

Isn’t it?

Anyway, the news conference was kind of a clusterf*ck… but exactly the kind of clusterf*ck we’ve come to expect from 2014’s answer to Fred Tuttle.

Money can’t buy me love

"I'm not dead yet!" said a soft, muffled voice.

“I’m not dead yet!” said a soft, muffled voice.

The race for Governor of Vermont had all the makings of “Bambi Vs. Godzilla II: The Re-Flattening.” Scott MIlne was a badly underfunded candidate who ran a goofy, error-filled campaign, while Peter Shumlin was the consummate political pro with a huge bankroll and a far stronger party apparatus.

And yet, here we are in the early morning hours of Nov. 5, and the race is technically too close to call. Shumlin’s almost certain to finish first, but with an embarrassingly small margin. This election is a crippling blow to his dream of single-payer health care, and to whatever his hopes were for the rest of his political career. No longer is he the guy who outsmarted a tough Democratic field and Brian Dubie in 2010, romped to re-election two years later, and built a fundraising operation the likes of which had never been seen in Vermont; he is now, and forever will be, the guy who spent nine hundred thousand bucks and almost lost to Scott Freakin’ Milne, who now looks like 2014’s answer to Fred Tuttle. Which would put Shumlin in the role of Jack McMullen, ugh.

The lessons of that Beatles lyric will also have to be learned at Democratic Party headquarters, where much money was spent and a lot of smart people were paid to run a campaign machine capable of overcoming all the obstacles in their path. Myself, I put a lot of stock in that operation, and I was wrong. The Dems have some serious soul-searching to do. How could they have such a strong grassroots organization, and yet be so out of touch with the grass roots?

In terms of issues, my diagnosis is that the Democrats (and the Progressives) misread the electorate, failing to address the issue of the year — property taxes. There was a fatal degree of hubris in the Shumlin Administration’s continually trotting out fresh issues, all of which were worthy of attention — but which diverted the government away from the lunchpail concerns of real folks.

You know, all those people who get to vote.

Property taxes were #1 on that list. And the Democratic majority was seen as unwilling or unable to tackle the issue.

Aside from property taxes, the second biggest problem (in my humble and sometimes dead wrong opinion) is the feeble economic recovery, featuring endless stagnation for the working and middle classes. This is not Governor Shumlin’s fault; it’s the way America’s economy is going. But he gets credit when times are good, and takes the blame when they’re not. Times are still tough for a lot of Vermont voters. I’m not sold that Vermonters favor the Republican prescription of cutting taxes and regulation, but they do have to see some tangible benefits from a Democratic administration.

Finally, if 2012 showcased Peter Shumlin’s good side — the solid helmsman who kept things running after Tropical Storm Irene and steered Vermont on his chosen course — then 2014 showed him at his worst: the all-too-polished politico who says whatever he thinks people want to hear, who can’t be trusted, who’s not nearly as good at day-to-day operation as he is at crisis management, and who is, frankly, seen as arrogant and unwilling to listen to those who disagree with him.

Scott Milne was, literally and figuratively, the anti-Shumlin. He got a lot of votes merely because he was Not Peter Shumlin. But beyond that, his extreme lack of polish — which seemed to be a fatal flaw — actually made him seem authentic, especially in contrast to Shumlin, the political animal. That’s why I compare him to Fred Tuttle.

But the avatar of out-of-touch liberalism was Dean Corren, the spectacularly failed Prog/Dem candidate for Lieutenant Governor. He qualified for public financing, which gave him enough money to run a competitive race. And he failed to come anywhere close to Cass Gekas’ late-starting, underfunded campaign in 2012. Corren had good ideas, but again, they were untethered to the everyday concerns of voters. It was the worst possible year for a rather prickly Progressive policy wonk with blue-sky ideas on energy and health care. And Phil Scott was his worst possible opponent.

I’m sure somebody will accuse me of lipsticking the pig here, but this could turn out to be a very good thing for the Democrats. It ought to kick the complacency out of them, and the hubris out of the governor’s office. They’ll have to take a serious look at how it all went wrong and try to fix it. If they do, they can reform and refocus themselves without the usual necessary step of actually losing power.

On the other hand, we could be in for a period of infighting, mutual recrimination, and descent into actual defeat in two years’ time. One thing’s for sure: a lot of potentially good Republican candidates sat this one out because they thought there was no chance.

They won’t make that mistake again.

@bfp_fail: We interrupt this debate to bring you a picture of Peter Diamondstone nodding off

Well, I tried to watch it.

The Burlington Free Press hosted a gubernatorial debate at noon today, and livestreamed it online.

Or tried to.

The first half hour was fine. After that, it kept freezing and crashing. I spent most of the ensuing half hour waiting for isolated bits of audio. Which, as Darcie Johnston pointed out on Twitter, always seemed to happen when Peter Diamondstone was talking. And the frozen image on the screen was usually Diamondstone with his eyes closed. Around 1:00, I gave up.

The Freeploid can’t blame its failure on too many viewers, either. There was a counter onscreen that tracked the number of viewers, and the highest it hit was 74. That’s not enough to crash a livestream.

Well, it shouldn’t be, anyway.

Of course, since the Freeploid only yesterday announced a corporate “reset” that includes forcing newsroom staff to reapply for their jobs, this disaster may have been an inside job. Whatever the cause, it’s a dismal performance.

Speaking of dismal performances, Scott Milne continued to hammer on the shortfalls, real and imagined, of the Shumlin Administration without offering any plans of his own.

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.

And, according to the Freeploid’s Twitter feed (I’d stopped watching the unwatchable livestream by then), MIlne actually said he’d unveil a Lake Champlain cleanup plan by Election Day. 


At one point, he briefly paused his attacks on Shumlin to day “It’s easy to be a Monday morning quarterback. I’m talking about the future.” And then he resumed the attacks.

Milne has managed to dribble out a few ideas, inadequate and half-assed though they are: a two-year statewide property tax freeze, Challenges for Change, maybe a regional health care exchange. But with less than four weeks until Election Day, he remains the Man Without a Plan, with apologies to Fred Tuttle.

His excuse is that he doesn’t “have a background” in government. Well, sure. But is that a positive asset for filling our top executive position? What if an applicant came to Milne Travel and said “I don’t have a background in the travel business, but you’re doing a terrible job and you should hire me”?

And even if you put a value on bringing in a fresh perspective, why can’t Milne consult with some of his “expert advisers” and come up with a few specifics? He doesn’t need years of government experience to do that.

I’ll say it again: I had some hopes for Scott Milne when his campaign began. And there’s plenty of room for an informed critique of the Shumlin Administration. But he’s just been a disaster.

Postscript. I’d slam the Freeploid for its inexplicable decision to invite Peter Diamondstone and not Dan Feliciano, except that it led to the most entertaining moment of the debate. Diamondstone wasn’t there at noon; he appeared at about 12:10, panting furiously. And continued to pant for a couple of minutes, directly into his microphone, while Milne was trying to answer a question.

Well, somebody’s trying to fill all those empty slots

Last night I was having dinner with The Loyal Spouse, and we were talking about the Vermont Republican Party’s dearth of statewide candidates — no official hopefuls for Attorney General, Auditor, Secretary of State, or Treasurer. I half-jokingly said I was thinking of starting a “Me for AG” write-in campaign — asking my Tens of VPO Readers to consider writing me in for Attorney General on the Republican primary ballot.

I guess somebody out there was listening, because That Very Same Evening, the following showed up in my Twitter feed: Screen Shot 2014-08-05 at 3.57.43 AM

That’s the Burlington Republicans, or whoever does their Tweets, soliciting write-in votes for a Burlington lawyer for Attorney General. The Facebook link is to a newly-established FB page for a group called “RecruitFour.” Its purpose is to find Republicans willing to run for those statewide offices.

Guess this puts the kibosh on my own candidacy. But sorry as I might be to lose a chance at some Fred Tuttle-style low comedy, I’m heartened to see somebody — ANYBODY — step up and try to fill this embarrassing shortfall. It’d be a bad thing, really, if a random collection of write-ins (or a coordinated joke write-in campaign, ahem) were able to snag these precious ballot slots. As much as I revel in Republican misfortune, it is one of our major parties, and it has a role to play in the process. Not really a good thing for democracy if the Republican ticket were to include the likes of Yours Truly, Vermin Supreme, Lobsterman, and Annette Smith.

So far, Recruit Four has gotten all the way up to One. McCormack is a very youthful looking attorney with the law firm of Burak, Anderson & Melloni. According to his bio page on the firm’s website, he got his law degree from Boston University in 2000, and was admitted to the Vermont Bar in 2004.

RecruitFour describes Shane-O-Mac’s view of the AG’s office thusly:

Shane would make a great Vermont Attorney General because he believes this office needs to do more to curb our legislature from entering into unwarranted action that only leads to millions in legal costs–money we cannot afford.

Good old Republican thinking, that. Although I doubt that a Republican AG would get very far with that argument in a one-sidedly Democratic Legislature.

Anyhoo, best of luck to Mr.McCormack and RecruitFour. Even if it does force a premature end to my own political ambitions, it’d be good to have some actual Republicans running on the Republican ticket.

The Milne Transcripts, part 5: I’m not telling you

The latest in my series of posts about Scott Milne’s epically bad July 25 appearance on WDEV’s Mark Johnson Show. Not only is he not ready for prime time, he’s not ready for 9 a.m. on a weekday. 

If the late Fred Tuttle was the Man With A Plan, then Scott Milne, Republican candidate for Governor, seems to be the Man Without A Plan. Time after time during the interview, he refused to take positions on important issues. He deferred until September or even until after the election; he said issues were too complicated for him to immediately answer.

His usual excuse was that he’s only been running for a short time. “I’m new to this game,” he told Johnson at one point, “I should get 30 days.” This is a reference to his campaign strategy: August is for attacking the Shumlin Administration, and September is for unveiling his own policies.

Well, I can sympathize with a candidate who’s just getting started — but whose fault is that? Which inexperienced candidate waited until the last possible moment to launch his campaign?

Er, that would be Scott Milne.

It’s like an actor who agrees on short notice to step into the lead role in a play, but when the curtain rises on Opening Night, he tells the audience he needs more time to learn the part because “I’m new to this game.” You think the audience would walk out?

Sorry, Mr. Milne. You signed up for this. You knew the calendar. The lights are up, the curtain is drawn, and you’re on.

Let’s look at his platform of procrastination, shall we?

— On health care reform, he refused to take a stand on the concept of single-payer (although he also called single-payer “reckless” more than once, so take your pick):

The single-payer is clearly something that we’ll be continuing to look at, and talk to the folks that I’m talking closely with now, and we’ll have some more specific ideas on that before the election.

— He calls Vermont’s economy his top priority. What will he do? “We’ll have a plan for fixing the economy” before Election Day. But he did offer a hint about his plan — albeit a useless one:

Our primary, um, fix that we’re going to offer to Vermont is, uh, a much better tone and friendly tone towards business, and then some specific plans about how to attract business and keep business in Vermont.

Aha. His “primary fix” is a better “tone.” Which makes sense; his primary criticism of Shumlin is the “unfriendly tone” toward business. If we just adopted a better “tone,” our economy would shoot through the roof.

— At one point, a caller asked about the then-extant possibility that Vermont would temporarily house some of the immigrant chlldren who have crossed into the US. He began with some good hemming and hawing:

The, um, situation of, ah, folks coming into, ah, Vermont from Central America is, is a really tough one.

After that inarticulate start, detoured into a standard Republican attack on President Obama, filled with ums, ahs, awkward pauses, and even a “Holy Shamoley,” before Johnson prompted him to answer the actual question.

Uh, I don’t know yet. I mean, I’m not going to jump up and down and say no. … I think it’s a complicated decision that deserves a lot of thought.

And then he patted himself on the back for having no opinion on the issue — because taking a stand would be the easy thing to do. Uh-huh. Also the leaderly thing to do.

— On the vexing subject of reforming public-school funding and organization, Milne plans an even bigger dose of delay:

I don’t think we’re going to have a specific plan before the election. What I’ve promised is, there’ll be a plan from the Milne Administration in the House and Senate in the first half of the biennium.

I can understand why he doesn’t want to stake a position during the campaign; the issue’s a toughie, and he’d be alienating some voters no matter what he said. But again, not exactly Leadership in Action.

All this deferral makes Scott Milne look weak. It’s even worse when he sounds weak as well: his voice hesitant, his sentences often incomplete and littered with “ums” and “ahs.”

Scott Milne posits his procrastination as The Big Plan: the “August Strategy” of attacking, the “September Strategy” of revealing his own ideas. I would argue that this is completely ass-backward: Now is the time when Scott Milne has the stage to himself, because Governor Shumlin won’t formally start the campaign until after Labor Day. Milne should be rolling out his proposals this month, and engage the Governor in September and October, when the two men will be sharing the stage.

Of course, the September Strategy is a convenient rationale for a candidate who’s just getting his feet wet and hasn’t worked his way through the issues. He said so himself, frequently referring to “the people I’m talking to” as he formulates his own views.

Not a good look for a man claiming to offer “leadership.”

Best get crackin’, Mr. Milne. You’re on stage, you’re fumbling it, and you’re losing the audience.