Cross-posted at thevpo.org.
The New Candidate For A New Millennium, Scott “Mr. Bunny” Milne, is off to an inauspicious start. He doesn’t have a campaign website yet, so there’s no established way for supporters to, like, give him a campaign contribution. He has yet to hire a single staffer. And he acknowledges that he has yet to formulate positions on some key issues.
Plus, at last Saturday’s VTGOP confab, he was a tad underwhelming. The Freeploid’s Terri Hallenbeck:
He then launched into a story about raising rabbits as a kid and how his out-of-state relatives enjoyed watching them breed, prompted by the premise that he got his rabbit cages in Wolcott, the town where Berry lives. In the parking lot afterward, Milne wondered how well the rabbit story had gone over with his audience. He has three months before the primary to weed the rabbits out of his political speeches.
So the novice candidate is off to a bumpy start. Understandable, but time is a commodity in short supply chez Milne. So what should he do? How can this longshot candidate elevate his slim-to-none chance of upsetting Governor Shumlin, or at least help to promote a new, more inclusive type of Vermont Republican Party? I’ve got ideas, and as usual, I doubt he’ll take ’em.
First thing: attach himself at the hip with popular Lt. Gov. Phil Scott. Do joint campaign appearances as often as possible. Announce common initiatives and policy ideas. Scott usually likes to hoe his own row, but he should be amenable to a little partisanship this year, since Governor Shumlin done left him at the altar and endorsed Progressive Dean Corren.
He should spend a lot of time talking with key business leaders. But not the Usual Suspects, no sirree. No BIA, no Ethan Allen. I’m talking about Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility. I’m talking about some of the centrist business types who’ve abandoned the VTGOP in favor of Shumlin. I’m talking about Bruce Lisman; for all his faults, he does have a solid good-government orientation. Heck, he even has a few good ideas. Milne ought to make an overt play for the Campaign for Vermont crowd, and point out where the Shumlin Administration has fallen short on their key issues.
After the jump: health care reform, taxation, and more.
In terms of policy, he’s done a good thing by proclaiming himself a single-payer skeptic instead of an outright opponent. He would do well to refine his message by taking a stand in favor of universal coverage as a goal in some form or other. He should talk more about that, and less about cost concerns.
There’s lots of room for criticism of Governor Shumlin on health care. But it should be put in terms of managerial competence, not the usual tax-and-spend bumpf. Milne can legitimately question Shumlin’s ability to deliver, based on past and current track record. He can position himself as a champion of responsible governance in the tradition of George Aiken. That’s the true heart of moderate Republicanism, and it’s a message that could appeal to centrists and independents.
On many issues, I’d argue that Milne doesn’t have to develop specific proposals. As a general principle, he can position himself as a competent manager willing to work with the almost certain Democratic majority to find solid, responsible solutions. This is different than the VTGOP’s constant call for “balance in Montpelier.” This is a call for a new, inclusive approach to government.
Milne could even slip to Shumlin’s left on taxation. The Governor is a resolute foe of raising taxes on the wealthy. Milne could outline a thorough tax-reform plan including the school funding mess and a rebalancing of the entire system. Some new revenues could be drawn by cutting loopholes and deductions for top earners. If those revenues are balanced by lower taxes elsewhere (a plan promoted by the Democratic legislature in 2013 but blocked by the Governor), Milne would probably offend some of the dead-enders, but he’d gain respect across the board.
And yes, as I’ve written before, the wealthy get off relatively cheaply in Vermont’s current tax structure. If you include all taxes on working-age Vermonters, the wealthy pay a smaller percentage of their incomes in taxes than any other group — including the bottom 20%.
On some issues, Milne can articulate a more traditionally conservative view if he establishes himself as an independent thinker. For instance, he could posit a more balanced cost/environmental approach to renewable energy — but only if he acknowledges the truth of climate change and our responsibility to address it in tangible, concrete ways.
He can continue the good-management theme on a variety of smaller trouble spots, such as the current DCF mess (but please don’t talk about Challenges for Change) and the whistleblower brouhaha: part of being a good, sharp-eyed manager is to welcome the input of employees with valuable perspective.
Any of these suggestions can be modified or swapped out for better-fitting parts. But I think I’ve outlined a way for Scott Milne to establish himself as a credible alternative to Governor Shumlin, and as the harbinger of a new and more appealing VTGOP.
I’m not saying I’d vote for this candidate, and I’m sure not claiming he’d win. But he’d make a good showing, and he’d get at least a feeling of satisfaction for all his hard work.