On the Trail: Brock-Shumlin matchup lays out themes of the gubernatorial race

Editor’s note: On the Trail is an occasional analysis of 2012 campaign events and developments.

Screenshot from VPR video of Shumlin-Brock debate.

The first gubernatorial debate between Gov. Peter Shumlin, a Democrat, and state Sen. Randy Brock, a Republican, was a dignified matchup. Neither candidate was knocked down or even stunned by questions from the hosts, from each other or from listeners.

But Shumlin got a few more punches in than Brock was able to land over the course of the 90-minute debate, as they politely traded jabs within the strict guidelines of the Vermont Public Radio format.

Listen to the debate.

The two candidates, predictably, disagreed on health care, renewable energy and whether the state should have a moratorium on industrial wind. They agreed that the F-35 fighter jet should be based at Burlington Airport and they both oppose the renewable portfolio standard for renewable energy projects.

Questions they posed to each other about nuclear power and industrial wind generated the most revelatory remarks. Though Brock scored points on renewable energy and the real jobless rate, he had a tough time answering Shumlin’s barbed queries on social issues, namely about his gay marriage stance (he voted against it) and the governor’s assertion that the Franklin County senator stood idly by as Gov. Paul LePage compared IRS agents with Nazis at a press event in June. Shumlin, for his part, more often fell back on rhetoric instead of answering Brock’s questions directly.

Round 1: Nuclear power

Shumlin, who has long sought to close Vermont Yankee, the state’s sole nuclear power plant, asked Brock about a Newport Daily Express story in which he said he favored building a new nuclear power plant. Shumlin asked where he intended to do that.

“One of the places to build it is … on the current site in Vernon that does appear to have sufficient space to do that,” Brock said. He explained that he was proposing “a new state-of-the-art plant” that reprocesses nuclear fuel (so it wouldn’t have to be stored on site) like the facilities in France that President Barack Obama supports. “Hopefully, it wouldn’t take as long as the Walmart in St. Albans (to build),” Brock said.

Shumlin shot back: “The math doesn’t work. Even if it were a good idea … It takes five years to cool down a nuclear plant and 10 years to take the carcass of that plant away.” He said it would be 15 years before a new plant could be built in Vernon, and he doubted it could be constructed even then. “A new plant hasn’t been built in America for 35 years,” Shumlin said.

Later, Brock needled Shumlin about the Vermont Yankee lawsuit.

Shumlin said he was confident that “in the end justice will prevail” and the plant will be shut down. The governor was talking both about the Second Circuit court appeal Vermont Attorney General Bill Sorrell has filed and the Vermont Public Service Board, which has to issue a certificate of public good for the continued operation of the plant. Vermont Yankee’s license to operate expired in March of this year.

In a third salvo, Shumlin took Brock to task for supporting a new plant now, when as a state senator he opposed the relicensing of Vermont Yankee in 2010. As he did on several instances in the debate, the governor asked Brock if “he would vote now as he did then.” The response each time was “yes.”

Brock said he voted against the continued operation of Vermont Yankee because he believed “Entergy Louisiana” couldn’t be trusted.

Round 2: Industrial wind

The governor is perhaps no more vulnerable on any issue than industrial wind, which has stirred the ire of communities in the Northeast Kingdom and Rutland County.

Brock asked the governor if there should be a “two-year moratorium on industrial wind, the particular kind of wind (that) uses 400 foot towers that blast off the tops of our ridgelines and require interstate highway lanes up the sides of the mountains.”

“We need to do more study,” Brock said. He also said he wanted to “look at the regulatory environment that allows this to happen.”

Several times, the Republican said he had heard from Vermonters “who feel the governor isn’t listening to them” because he is willing to protect the scenic views of certain parts of the state at the expense of others.

Shumlin said “no on a moratorium,” but called himself “a big believer in local control (so if) “a community votes against it I will be against it.”

“I told Liz Miller to go to the PSB and tell them we won’t support it,” Shumlin said.

But local control referred to the community on which the towers would be built. Not the next towns over. While Brock noted that the projects had a “significant effect on surrounding communities,” Shumlin did not make that observation. “If they (the specific town) say no, I say no,” Shumlin said. “If they say yes, I say let’s go.”

Round 3: Green jobs

Brock took aim at an oft-quoted phrase the governor uses to bolster his credibility as a jobs creator: A survey that showed Vermont has more green jobs than any other state in the country.

The information Shumlin has used to bolster his claim, Brock says, is based on “junk statistics” in part because the survey included lawyers who work for environmental groups.

“Have you been to Lowell where they’re building the towers?” Brock asked. He said most of the construction workers on the site are from out of state, judging from the license plates in the parking area for the project.

Shumlin defended the survey. “I’m proud of our green jobs record,” the governor said. “Not all of the (jobs) are for lawyers.” He said Vermont is building “the best solar trackers” and “the smartest small windmills in the world.”

The Republican says he supports green jobs too — the kind that generate greenbacks in Vermonters’ pockets.

Round 4: Gay marriage

Shumlin, who introduced legislation to allow gays to marry in Vermont, said Brock was one of a small minority of senators who opposed the gay marriage bill in 2009. He asked Brock if he would vote now as he did then on the issue.

Brock said yes. He said his vote was against the “I believe redefinition of the marriage from that of between one man and one woman”– it was not a “vote against people who are different than a traditional heterosexual couple.” He said he supported the “background of the decision from the Vermont Supreme Court” allowing gays to form civil unions.

He would not seek to repeal the law should he become governor, Brock said. “It’s over, Vermont has made its decision and it’s time to move on,” he said. “I’ve certainly moved on.” Brock, who is a justice of the peace, said he recently married a same sex couple who are supporters of his campaign.

Shumlin asked the question again: “If you could vote on the right side of history on that question today would you vote yes on marriage equality or no?”

“Seeing as it’s a reality today, I would vote yes,” Brock said.

Round 5: Pot legalization and the LePage incident

Brock asked if Shumlin thought his solicitation of contributions from NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, was appropriate given that statistics show Vermont has highest per capita use of marijuana among teens.

Shumlin responded: “I don’t accept campaign contributions in return for anything. I don’t believe a Vermont public official accepts contributions in return for anything. This is not Chicago.”

The governor said he firmly believes Vermont should decriminalize small amounts of marijuana at a time when the state should be allocating more resources toward cracking down on crimes related to bath salts, oxycontin and other hard drugs.

The debate at times took on the tone of a courtroom cross-examination. Take this question from Brock, for example: “Did you or did you not in the same telephone call indicate you wanted to be a national spokesman for NORML and in same phone call ask for a contribution?”

Shumlin said no, “what he reported was he had spoken with the Soros Foundation to find ways to articulate on national level my belief that we have a misguided marijuana policy.” The governor then talked for a few minutes about the seriousness of oxycontin and bath salts and misallocation of resources to fight small amounts of marijuana.

Later, he said “I believe I can be a voice and should be a voice for a more sane drug policy in Vermont and America.”

In a similar vein, Shumlin asked Brock whether he regretted inviting Paul LePage to Vermont after the Maine governor, in a meeting with the press, compared IRS agents with the Gestapo.

Brock’s response? “Gov. LePage has never been known for his political correctness and he certainly didn’t disappoint this time.” Brock said he didn’t agree with LePage’s statement, but at the same time, he believed the Maine governor was using hyperbole and Brock compared the remark to the use of the “soup Nazi” on the sitcom Seinfeld.

“So you’re defending his remarks?”

“I said I didn’t agree with his remarks, they were not my remarks and I thought they were unfortunate,” Brock said.

“I just heard you say he didn’t really mean it?” Shumlin asked.

“What I said was, he was using it as hyperbole, and that was very clear,” Brock retorted.

Editor’s note: This story was updated at 6:11 a.m. Sept. 13, 2012.

Watch the video of the debate produced by VPR.

Anne Galloway


  1. Hod Palmer, :

    Was there no discussion of health care? The # 1 Shumlin iniative that we don’t yet know who will be covered, to what extent, or how it will be paid for? Amazing!

    • As noted in the piece, health care was discussed. VTDigger will be analyzing the stances of the two candidates on the issue in another post. Please check out the VPR video or podcast to find out what they said last night. The debate starts with a discussion about Irene. Health care comes shortly afterward.

  2. Shumlin,


    “Shumlin shot back: “The math doesn’t work. Even if it were a good idea … It takes five years to cool down a nuclear plant and 10 years to take the carcass of that plant away.” He said it would be 15 years before a new plant could be built in Vernon, and he doubted it could be constructed even then. “A new plant hasn’t been built in America for 35 years,” Shumlin said.”

    A new, latest-technology plant, 1,000 MW, can be built next to the existing plant while at the same time the existing plant is being decommissioned. Many thousands of high-paying/good-benefits jobs for at least 10 years, plus about 650 permanent plant jobs for 50-60 more years. If France do it, so can the US.

    Industrial Wind Energy:

    Subsidized the energy cost of industrial wind turbines, IWT, on 2500-ft high ridgelines in Vermont is about 0.10c/kWh (per GMP), unsubsidized about 0.15c/kWh (US DOE). This compares with an annual average grid price of 0.05c/kWh, unchanged for about 3 years.

    Communities, such as Lowell, get bribed into saying yes to IWTs by wind energy developers.
    Surrounding communities suffer just as much of the adversities of IWTs.

    Green Job Creation:

    Net Jobs From Renewables is a Hoax:

    RE promoters and politicians often tout job creation by RE projects, but do not mention the jobs lost in others sectors of the economy.

    Economists have used standard input-output analysis programs for at least 40 years to the determine the plusses and minuses of various economic activities. Numerous studies, using such economic analysis programs, performed in Spain, Italy, Denmark, England, etc., show for every job created in the RE sector, about 2-5 times jobs are destroyed in the other sectors.

    For every 3 green jobs created in the private sector, 1 job is created in government, but, as a general rule, for every job created in government about 2 jobs are destroyed in the private sector, largely due to added economic inefficiencies; no one would claim government is more efficient than the private sector.

    The above in tabular format:

    Job gain = Subsidized RE, 3 + Government, 1 = 4
    Job loss = Private due to RE, 6-15 + Private due to government, 2 = 8 – 17
    Net job loss due to subsidizing RE = 4 – 13

    Such job creation is unsustainable. Whether these government jobs are good or bad, needed or not needed, is irrelevant.

    Note: This is not the case with increased energy efficiency subsidies. They create jobs in the EE sector, but also create a net increase of jobs in the other sectors, because the reduction of energy costs enables more spending on other goods and services.


    Example of Job Shifting due to Subsidies:

    Under the Vermont SPEED program it will take about $230 million of scarce funds to build 50 MW of expensive renewables that produce just a little of variable, intermittent and expensive power that will make Vermont less efficient at exactly the time it needs to become more efficient.  

    The VT-DPS evaluated the program in 2009 and issued a white paper which stated about 35% of the $228.4 million would be supplied by Vermont sources, the rest, mostly equipment by non-Vermont sources, such as wind turbines from Denmark and Spain, PV panels from China, inverters from Germany.

    There would be spike of job creation during the 1-3 year construction stage (good for vendors) which would flatten to a permanent net gain of 13 full-time jobs (jobs are lost in other sectors) during the operation and maintenance stage.
    It gets worse. Under the SPEED program, these projects sell their energy to the grid at 3-5 times annual average grid prices for 20 years; the high-priced energy is “rolled” into a utilities energy mix, resulting in higher electric rates for households and businesses, higher prices of goods and services, fewer jobs, lower living standards.

    Most of the larger SPEED projects are owned by the top 1% of households that work with lobbyists, politicians and financial advisers to obtain generous subsidies for their tax-sheltered LLC projects that produce expensive energy at high cost/kWh and avoid CO2 at high costs/lb of CO2; inefficient crony-capitalism under the guise of saving the world from global warming and climate change.  

  3. Townsend Peters :

    When it comes to Vermont Yankee, Peter Shumlin is either a bungler or secretly supports the plant while pretending to oppose it.

    In my view, those are the only two explanations that explain the following conduct: In 2010, during the debate on the Senate floor on whether to vote yes or no on Vermont Yankee, then president pro ten Shumlin expressly referred to cobalt and tritium, which are radioactive substances associated with nuclear energy generation.

    Shumlin had to know by then, after years of very public legal advice by legislative staff and witnesses, that federal law preempts state regulation of nuclear energy on the basis of radiological safety.

    It would not take a nuclear engineer to figure out that talking about the issue during the debate on the Senate floor would hurt the state if and when the plant sued. And it did hurt Vermont. The judge cited the statements in his decision.

    But it’s not just those statements on the Senate floor. Shumlin repeatedly spoke about nuclear safety in the media during the period when Vt. Yankee’s continued operation was before the legislature, and the plant’s lawyers cited many if not most of them to the federal judge.

    And then, to boot, while the state’s appeal is going forward, the legislature enacts – with Shumlin’s support and signature – a major tax increase on Vt. Yankee. How can Shumlin not understand that this increase looks and smells punitive given the current context, even though it may be not intended that way? Sometimes discretion is the better part of valor, but now we have a second lawsuit on our hands.

    If Vermont ultimately loses the Yankee lawsuits, I for one believe a large share of the blame should rest with Peter Shumlin.

    And since he is not a stupid man, I must wonder if the result of no shut-down is really what he seeks, since he would have the political benefit of appealing to opponents without having actually to shut down the plant and lose the jobs and the potential in the future to buy its power.



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