Milne takes aim at Shumlin as Aug. 26 primary nears
ST. ALBANS — Republican gubernatorial Scott Milne is a candidate still in the process of becoming a candidate.
The 55-year-old Pomfret resident freely admits that he is still developing an understanding of many of the issues and doesn’t yet have specific policy proposals. They’re in the works.
Before he can take on Shumlin in the fall, Milne faces two other contenders in the state’s only major primary. In an interview with the St. Albans Messenger lastweek they barely drew a mention as Milne focused his attention on Gov. Peter Shumlin.
“If Howard Dean was governor, I wouldn’t be running,” said Milne. He believes Shumlin is leading the state in the wrong direction. “I’m a sincere voice for the hopefully hundreds of thousands of people who agree with me,” he said.
Asked why people should support him, as opposed to why they shouldn’t support Shumlin, Milne said, “To win I need to clearly highlight the failures of the Shumlin administration.”
His criticisms focus on a handful of areas: Shumlin’s “tone” when dealing with businesses, education and health care.
Acknowledging that “it’s easy to be a Monday morning quarterback,” Milne criticized the management of Vermont’s health care exchange — Vermont Health Connect. Shumlin announced last week that the state would replace the original contractor hired to create the system with a new company in September.
Milne points to other states that spent less money and whose exchanges reportedly functioned more easily. “I like the New Hampshire example where they spent $10 million and it works,” he said.
He also pointed out that instead of contracting with companies outside Vermont, the software development for the exchange could have been done in state, bringing developers into Vermont to work on the project.
“There are two Vermonts,” Milne said, speaking of economic growth in Chittenden County and its environs and the stagnation in the rest of the state. The majority of Vermont’s counties have seen zero job growth since the end of the recession, he noted.
“Even the prosperous part of Vermont is not as prosperous as it should be,” said Milne.
“There’s a perception that Vermont is not business friendly,” he added.
Shumlin’s actions while governor have not altered that perception in Milne’s view. He cites Vermont Yankee as an example, arguing the state could have negotiated a 10-year extension for the nuclear plant to be followed by a 25-year shutdown schedule. Instead, the company will likely use the full shutdown period allowed by law, Milne argued.
Although the Vermont Legislature voted to close the plant in 2010, that vote was found invalid by a federal court, which ruled the authority to regulate a nuclear power plant lies solely with the federal government.
After winning in court, Entergy, owners of Vermont Yankee, announced that they were closing the plant for business reasons, primarily competition from cheaper sources of electricity.
It is unclear what, if anything, the state could have done to alter that calculus.
Milne says the situation with Entergy “speaks to (Shumlin’s) inability to work with business.”
The bill to require labeling of genetically modified organisms used in foodstuffs is another example of Vermont being unfriendly to business, according to Milne. “Other states have passed bills in a much more business friendly manner,” he said.
While Milne is still developing his economic policy, he said, “It would start with a more balanced government in Montpelier and a more business friendly tone in the governor’s office.”
On education, Milne criticized Shumlin for not having a plan for school tax reform. “I’ll work very closely with the Legislature to get something on the table,” he said.
What he won’t do, Milne said, is tell voters to reject their school budgets in order to send a message to Montpelier.
Asked about the merging of supervisory unions and school districts as a way to reduce costs, Milne answered, “I think it should be bottom up. I think there’s smart people who can figure it out at the local level.”
While specific policy proposals are still in the works, Milne does have ideas about an overall approach to governing.
He believes the governor’s office should be “much more focused on what’s practical than what’s political.”
Milne also favors local governance, claiming local boards make better decisions than the state government. “The more locally things can be done, the better,” he said.
“We need to be much more common sense in how we operate government,” he added.
He’s also an advocate for more transparency, and is particularly critical about the lack of transparency regarding the creation of a single-payer health care system. The Shumlin administration missed its own deadlines for revealing a plan for paying for a single-payer health care system prior to Shumlin’s re-election in 2012.
“I’m not philosophically opposed to single-payer,” said Milne. “I’m skeptical of it.”
Milne was also critical of what he sees as poor management at key agencies. The “team of rivals,” in which Shumlin appointed his former Democratic rivals for governor to head key agencies, may have been good for healing the Democratic party, but has not been good for the state, according to Milne.
He would seek to improve the management of state agencies, Milne said.
“The skills that it takes to get elected year after year are not what you need to lead, particularly in challenging times,” he said.
Asked what national Republican leaders he feels an affinity for, Milne mentioned John McCain before he changed direction after his loss to George W. Bush in the South Carolina primary in 2000.
He also spoke of Vermont leaders such as Jim Jeffords and Deane Davis. While at the Champlain Valley Fair as a child, Milne helped out the Davis campaign.
“Deane Davis gave me three bucks to put bumper stickers out for him,” said Milne. He placed them over stickers for Davis’ rival, Jack Daley.
Both his mother and grandfather served in the state Legislature as Republicans. His mother lost a primary election after voting in favor of civil unions, but then ran as an independent. She knew she wasn’t going to win, but “she thought it was important … to continue to articulate that what she did was the right thing,” said Milne approvingly.
Milne was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., while his father was attending school there. The family moved back to Vermont when he was still too young to remember having lived elsewhere.
He graduated from Spaulding High School and first met former Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie at Boys’ State, where Dubie bested Milne and five others in a race for governor.
Milne attended a small liberal arts college in California, and remained out West until 1987 when he moved back to Vermont and purchased the New Hampshire office of his parents’ travel business.
Milne Travel now employs about 50 full-time employees.
“I fully understand the challenge of making sure people get paid and checks clear,” he said.
“I think the Republican Party should be a voice for people living paycheck to paycheck,” he said.
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