Tag Archives: Kristin Kelly

The Big Power in Vermont Politics

Not Exactly As Illustrated.

As someone who’s covered #vtpoli for more than a decade, I am well aware that the usual stomping grounds of the political reporter (the Statehouse and the campaign trail) are the tip of the iceberg: The vast majority of the political world is underwater. If you interpret our politics in terms of that surface 10 percent, you’ll probably know what’s going on — but you won’t know how or why.

This isn’t a matter of shadowy figures in vape-filled rooms, or envelopes of cash handed out in the middle of the night. It’s simply a matter of who’s got the pull, how they get it, and which way they’re pulling.

There’s one looming figure on our political landscape with the clout and connections to pretty much always get what it wants. It’s got a wider and deeper web of influence than any other individual, party, or entity.

Maybe you’ve already guessed that I’m talking about Green Mountain Power. Now, Vermont’s biggest utility would be a force in state politics no matter what, but GMP has raised its political work to the level of fine art. It carefully curates a plausibly benevolent public image, which allows politicians of all stripes to take its side. It maintains a small army of influencers, including lobbyists, media figures, and former politicians and government officials. It’s no stretch to say that GMP is a force to be reckoned with on any issue that touches its interests; but when you lay it all out at once, it’s damn impressive.

One dimension of the GMP operation is a truly impressive list of lobbyists, as reported to the Secretary of State’s office. There are 13 names on that list, including former lawmakers and officeholders, TV anchors, and veteran presences of the Statehouse hallways and hearing rooms. That’s a lot of muscle.

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Bit by bit, ever so slowly, Scott Milne is turning himself into a candidate

It’s way too late, of course. As I’ve said before, Milne is now doing the kind of stuff he should have done six months to a year ago: traveling the back roads of Vermont, meetin’ folks. Getting his name out there. Learning the ropes of a brand-new trade: running for statewide office. Becoming a halfway competent debater.

Fundraising.

That kind of stuff.

Shumlin/Milne at WCAX debateAnd if you squint a little bit and look closely at last night’s debate performance on WCAX-TV, you can get a glimpse of a real live candidate emerging from the primordial ooze.

It’s way too late, of course. But I’ll give him credit: Milne was a lot less twitchy and erratic than he was a few weeks ago. He was reasonably calm most of the time. When he wasn’t speaking, he held his face practically motionless. Which was a good thing, because WCAX used a split screen much of the time. He scratched his nose a couple times, but he didn’t pick it.

His message remains a mess. He recycles the same handful of tired attacks on Governor Shumlin (how many times did he say “reckless experiment”?). He works in snide little comments at every opportunity. (He responded to a viewer question about his vision for Vermont’s future by saying, ungrammatically, “My vision is a governor that doesn’t make promises that end up broken.” Cute, but not at all visionary.)

He also made a royal botch of his opportunity to ask Shumlin a direct question. His opening was so rambly that co-moderator Kristin Kelly had to interrupt, “Do you have a question for the Governor?” After which he meandered slowly through the firing of Doug Racine as head of Human Services, and Racine’s statement that he hadn’t met with Shumlin in over a year, Shumlin’s out-of-state travel… and at the end, his actual question was a batting-practice fastball down the middle of the plate: “Can you look in the monitor and tell them you’ll be a better Governor in the next two years?” Which gave Shumlin the opening to turn the question immediately back to his agenda.

Stupid.

And most of all, Milne still has nothing like a coherent plan for his hypothetical governorship. He has little or nothing to offer on health care, the state budget, school funding and governance, social services, or the economy. He preaches caution on all fronts; he says he will “listen before I act.” On multiple occasions, he said he would sign specific bills that he disagrees with — apparently signaling that he would frequently defer to the Legislature. As Shumlin pointed out, that’s an odd definition of leadership.

And once in a while, just when you least expect it, he slips out a scrap of a policy idea. Answering a question about improving the economy, he tossed off a passing reference to “tax incentives.” No details, no elaboration. Just a couple of quick words, and then onward.

This is how you roll out a major policy proposal? Really?

I’ll say this. Scott Milne has improved — from an F to maybe a C minus. Give him another 18 months or so, he might turn himself into a credible contender for the governorship.

Wait a minute… checking the calendar here… nope, sorry, he doesn’t have 18 months. He has less than four weeks.

Like I said: it’s way too late, of course.