In a debate last week, WPTZ moderators let the two gubernatorial candidates go at each other with new abandon.
Gov. Peter Shumlin, the Democratic incumbent, and Randy Brock, the Republican challenger, appeared to relish the opportunity to plunge the needle in sensitive areas, and both came away bleeding.
Brock lost his cool and went defensive twice: Once when Shumlin raised questions about his business plan and another when the governor said his Republican rival wanted to raise property taxes on middle class Vermonters.
When Shumlin gave Brock a hard time about his “business in a box” plan that he said would cost $6,500 for unemployed workers, the state senator sputtered: “You didn’t listen to what I said. That’s not what I said. You didn’t read my plan. I didn’t say that.”
Nothing Brock said seemed to penetrate the governor’s shield of nonchalance.
Brock came back with questions about the governor’s property transactions in East Montpelier, which he characterized as a “heck of a deal.” Shumlin said he was happy to have the opportunity to talk about it because the purchase had been “extraordinarily misrepresented in the press.”
The governor described the purchase, in which Tom Hagemann, a campaign contributor and Texas defense attorney who specializes in corporate fraud campaign, gave him a reduced price on the 27-acre parcel, as an exchange among old friends. Shumlin and Hagemann are “best friends.” They vacation together and their children are good friends, he told the WPTZ audience. “We are as close as any two people can be,” the governor said.
“Most people don’t spend $35,000 and gain $113,000 over night,” Brock retorted.
“That’s because I’ve improved the property,” Shumlin said. “Phil Scott built a road. We put in a septic system. We built the foundation.”
Brock questioned: “All I can say is, you got a heck of a deal, and you ought to be doing that for the state of Vermont.”
“I am every single day,” Shumlin replied coolly. “I am doing that for the taxpayers every single day that’s why we’re growing jobs and economic opportunities under my watch.”
Shumlin characterized Brock’s comments on VPR about the income sensitivity program for Vermonters making $30,000 to $50,000 as “your plan to raise their property taxes because you see it as an entitlement program.”
“That’s not what I said at all,” Brock retorted. “What I said was when the income sensitivity program was originally designed, it was designed as a program to help people who perhaps — seniors for example — who have seen their property taxes increase over time simply because land value has increased, but their incomes remained fixed. It’s morphed into much larger program that does resemble an income tax. What I said was, we need to look at our entire tax code.”
After Brock’s explanation, Shumlin looked right at the camera and said: “All I can say is, if you you’re a middle class Vermonter, watch out. What I’m hearing is, Randy is willing to reduce income sensitivity on property taxes, the one thing that is making property taxes affordable.”
Brock: “Governor, that’s not what I said.”
At that point, the WPTZ clock ran out on the question.
But there was no time limit on the blowback on Brock’s parsed responses. The Vermont Democratic Party immediately issued a terse press release with the subject line: “Brock Denies His Own Statements During Gubernatorial Debate.”
Brock ran away from his “business in a box” proposal, claiming he never told unemployed Vermonters at a press conference, “Suppose you are unemployed and you want to buy a franchise. What would you do? You would go and buy a franchise.” (“Brock in a Box” Seven Days 3 Oct. 2012).
Again, Brock denied his previous statement on income sensitivity, when in fact he stated, “It’s now morphed into what is really a middle class tax entitlement.” (“Brock Says His Message On Economy” Vermont Public Radio 1 Oct. 2012).
Was Brock equivocating with his refrain: “That’s not what I said”?
So, did Brock say he’d eliminate income sensitivity in the property tax? The VPR story sure makes it sound like he did, but now he’s saying it’s only one of several options for overhauling Vermont’s tax code. He’s not saying he’d do it, but he sure isn’t taking it off the table, either.
Correction: We originally misidentified the author of the Seven Days story as Paul Heintz.