BARRE — Scott Milne, the Vermont GOP-endorsed gubernatorial candidate, formally launched his campaign Wednesday with a one-two punch aimed at Gov. Peter Shumlin.
Milne promised not to vilify the governor’s character, and then promptly walked into a backhanded attack on Shumlin’s governing strategy.
“Bullying tactics are not respected where I come from,” he said. “Leadership is defined by trust, not brazen displays of power.”
In a flat monotone, Milne described the Shumlin administration as “ultra-progressive,” “radical,” “brazen” and “reckless,” as he took swipes at the governor’s health care, energy and economic policies.
The North Pomfret businessman portrayed himself as a moderate Republican, and he promised to run a low-budget, “contrarian” campaign of ideas that focuses on economic issues affecting the state, including affordable health care, high property tax rates and jobs.
“Our government should not take on unnecessary risks, particularly when we’re spending money we don’t have, raising taxes we can’t afford, creating programs that have no proven likelihood of success, and if you agree with me, we want to end this era of unbridled experimentation with our government,” Milne said in remarks to the media and a crowd of about 80 well-wishers, including fellow Republicans Rep. Tom Koch, Lt. Gov. Phil Scott and Sen. Joe Benning, at the Aldrich Library in Barre.
Milne said he is compelled to run for governor because “(Shumlin) must answer for his unkept promises and his mistakes.” He accused the Democratic governor of exacerbating the perception that Vermont is unfriendly to business, and he vowed to hold him accountable for the “long-term health of our economy.”
Businesses need and respect government, Milne said, but too much government is an “obstacle to the entrepreneurship and industry that we need in Vermont.”
Shumlin’s “massive overhaul” of the state’s health care system was Milne’s main target. The candidate is concerned about how the state can move Vermont Health Connect forward in a way that’s not “reckless” with people’s money and keep their confidence “that we’re going to have quality health care five to 10 years down the road.”
Milne said he will issue a plan for dealing with the glitch-ridden health care exchange system in September.
Though the candidate has not come out against the governor’s single-payer health care initiative, Milne repeatedly hinted at the riskiness of the plan.
“I promise to offer the voters of Vermont an alternative to the present administration, which has failed by steering the ship of state into unchartered (sic) waters, making promises it cannot fulfill, and I would argue, ignoring the basic needs of Vermonters,” Milne said.
Milne told reporters in an impromptu huddle after the event that he would tackle the state’s education finance system in the first year of the new biennium.
He dodged a question from AP reporter Dave Gram about whether the state should consolidate school boards and/or schools.
“What Vermont should be doing is to have a governor that’s not going to be spending the whole session flying around the country raising special interest money …” Milne said. “The governor should have been rolling up his shirtsleeves and walking to the capitol and working with the House leadership and the Senate leadership to get something on the table.”
Though Milne sang the familiar, pro-business refrain typical of Republican candidates, it is hard to say just how much support Milne actually has in the business community. Big-wigs who tend to show up for campaign events — large numbers of lawmakers, party leaders, conservative lobbyists, Chittenden County and state chamber of commerce leaders — were noticeably absent.
Former statewide GOP candidates like Randy Brock, Vince Illuzzi and Wendy Wilton, key lawmakers such as Heidi Scheuermann, Bill Doyle, Kevin Mullin, Peg Flory and Don Turner, and party stalwarts like Mark Snelling and Susie Hudson did not attend. Perhaps it was no surprise, however, that Thom Lauzon wasn’t around: The Barre mayor has made no secret of his support for Shumlin. He and his wife, Karen, gave the governor $1,000 each last year.
Milne, who has never run for statewide office, has raised a tiny fraction of what he needs to begin to get his message out to Vermonters. He has raised $20,000, while Shumlin has $1.077 million, or roughly 53 times Milne’s cash on hand.
He also is a late entrant to the race. Rep. Heidi Scheuermann, R-Stowe, seriously considered a run for the fifth floor; Bruce Lisman, founder of Campaign for Vermont, pondered a bid as an independent; Brock, the Republican candidate for governor in 2012, eyed another race. All three, in the end, decided against it.
Does he have a chance of winning? Gov. Jim Douglas, who was on hand to introduce Milne as the “next governor of the great state of Vermont,” told reporters that “incumbency is not a guarantee of success.”
Vermonters are looking for a governor who is not part of the system, in his view. Shumlin’s 49 percent favorability rating isn’t very high for someone who is, in theory, in synch with the electorate.
Douglas told the audience that the size of a war chest doesn’t necessarily dictate the outcome of the race.
“I have just two words: Eric Cantor,” he quipped, referring to the Republican majority leader of the U.S. House who recently lost his Virginia primary race.
“Things are changing, and I think Scott’s going to be able to take advantage of that tremendous opportunity,” Douglas said. “It’s a challenging time for our state, we’re struggling to recover from the Great Recession, and facing some headwinds as we do so.”
Douglas, who nearly stole the show, says the state has a high tax burden, an onerous set of regulations and a shrinking workforce. He said 8,500 jobs have disappeared since he left office in 2010.
“A low unemployment rate doesn’t matter much if the numerator and the denominator are both shrinking,” Douglas said.
The former governor also gave an excoriating review of Shumlin’s handling of the health care exchange, which he said was marked by incompetence and confusion, “but they’re going to go for more.”
“They’re going to shift a sixth of our national and state economy into an untested, single-payer, state-run, government-financed scheme,” Douglas said. “We don’t know how it will work; we don’t know how much it will cost; we don’t know how we’re going to fund it. Other than that it sounds like a great idea.”
Douglas said Milne has not been affected by the “stale air of the Statehouse,” and he understands the concerns of the average Vermonter. Most importantly, he will bring balance to state government, in Douglas’ view.
“To be perfectly honest, it wasn’t really good for the state to have my party controlling every office for over a century, and it’s not good for the other party to control all of the offices,” Douglas said. “I think the best ideas are crafted when all sides come together and find common ground.”
There are no Republicans seeking any statewide office below that of lieutenant governor.