I’ve often mentioned State Rep. Heidi Scheuermann (R-Stowe) as a potential rising star in Vermont politics. She’s got a lot going for her: a high profile among Republican lawmakers, strong connections to the now-ascendant moderate wing of the VTGOP, co-leadership of the putatively bipartisan Vision to Action Vermont (V2AVT), and founding membership in Campaign for Vermont, presumably giving her an in with CFV moneybags Bruce Lisman.
Some folks had demurred from my view that she’s a rising star because of her shortcomings as a public speaker. Well, based on today’s appearance on VPR’s “Vermont Edition,” they’re right. Scheuermann simply isn’t ready for the spotlight.
Scheuermann appeared on VPR with Senate Minority Leader Joe Benning to discuss Republican legislative priorities for the new session. Here’s one of her answers, faithfully transcribed, including all the um’s, repeats, false starts and pauses. The question, just so you know, concerned the possibility of raising taxes to help balance the state budget. Also, just so you know, there was often a discernible quiver in her voice, revealing an unexpected degree of nervousness in a veteran politician.
Well, um, I guess I would say first and foremost, um, for the past, uh, we sort of have a new normal, uh, in the legislature, and that’s unfortunate. And that normal is the budget deficits, extremely, um, large budget deficits. Every year we come in, ah, we have budget deficits. And that tells me, uh, that we, um, are… that the, the Governor and the legislative leadership and those who support these budgets are doing so, um, w-without an eye on the future and exactly how, how we’re going to pay for it.
Um, so when we come in with a budget of fi — with a five, four or five percent increase and, and tax receipts of, or an economy growing at two percent, um, that’s, you know, that’s a real problem and I think we should, we need to, like Joe said, really, uh, really concentrate on, on where we go from here, um, and understand that this can’t be a new normal, and that we have to address it in a comprehensive and fundamental way, and that is bringing the government into the 21st century, in my view. I think we are still stuck in a, um, 19th and 20th century state government, um, and I think we have to move it into the, into the 21st century with, um, with, ah, services being provided more efficiently and effectively, um, with… um… with m-more, um, communication with the outside instead of this internal sort of, of, functioning government that we have, with, with people in the offices, ah, five days a week, um, reading reports. Um, again, they work hard, our state employees work hard, but, ah, but I think we need to move the government into a, into um, into the 21st century.
That said, um, I also think we need to focus first and foremost, um, on our economy and the health of our state’s economy, and we have neglected that for years, and, um, and that’s why we’re in the position we’re in.
Scheuermann has now spoken for almost two minutes. She tries to continue, but host Jane Lindholm interrupts with a redirect. She asks what Scheuermann would suggest in terms of streamlining government or making budget cuts. The answer?
I guess I would say, well, again, um, ah, I wouldn’t propose specific cuts right now until we really get into it. It’s really, it’s very difficult as a legis — as a citizen legislature, um, to get into specific departments and micromanage those departments. I think it needs to come from the administration and the leadership of the administration to set a, uh, to set an agenda for how exactly we’re going to do this, and streamline, and um have more effective and efficient services. I would say for example, again, when you’re talking about economic, the uh economy, and really trying to grow our economy, um, so that it is long-term sort of um… uh… laser-like focus on the economy, I think for example the Agency of Commerce, um, people should be in their offices once a week, [chuckle] one day a week. And they should be out in the fields four days a week and really just talking to people, seeing what businesses need, seeing what our, uh, small employers need, um, and what their challenges are, what their opportunities are, and where we as a state might be able to help.
So that is just one example. Again, I’ll go back to the economy. When you have, we have personal income tax — the reason we’re in these… in the situation we’re in is our personal income tax receipts are down. Um, and that, and that’s due to payroll and, and, and that our economy is stagnant. And, um, so we really need to focus on growing our economy. I hope that that will be, uh, the number one priority for our legislature.
Holy Mother of God. That’s almost Milnesque in its cringeworthy awkwardness. Although admittedly it’s not nearly down to Milne level in terms of positional confusion. It also took three and a half minutes of radio time, including Lindholm’s interjection.
For now, I’ll pass by the policy howlers (Empty out the Agency of Commerce four days a week? Not a single idea for budget cuts, after eight years in the legislature? Content-free references to the 21st century? A transparently token sop to state workers?) and keep my laser-like focus on her delivery. Heidi Scheuermann is an unpolished and unappealing speaker who can’t fight her way out of a sentence.
If she wants to stay where she is now — representing a safe Republican district and being one of the more prominent voices in the legislative minority — she can keep on doing what she’s doing.
But if she wants to be taken seriously for a leadership position or as a candidate for statewide office, then she needs to clean up her rhetorical game big-time.
For an example of how to do it right, just listen to her fellow guest, Joe Benning. He was comfortable and articulate, he got to the point, he kept things simple, and was very quotable.
One protip for Scheuermann: Don’t be so afraid of dead air. Don’t fill up every available space with “ums” and repeated phrases. Let it breathe. It takes some time and practice, but it’s a worthwhile investment. I’ve never been to Toastmasters, but I hear it’s a great place to hone your public-speaking skills in a friendly environment.
Postscript. One unrelated piece of advice. In the process of writing this post I Googled “Heidi Scheuermann” and this is a screenshot of the second match:
Yeah, I don’t think that’s her real nickname.
Intrigued, I clicked on the link to her campaign website, and saw several porny inserts in green type scattered around her “About” page. If you roll your cursor over the site, the porny inserts all disappear. If you exit the site and then go back in, the green inserts reappear. They remain on the page as long as you keep your cursor outside the frame.
This doesn’t look like an ideological attack, because the inserts are so random. But the good Representative may want to check on her website’s security.