by Peter Freyne
Democrat Scudder Parker’s been around a long time, but unlike the guy he’s running against, Republican Gov. Jim Douglas, this is his first statewide shot. His supporters regularly remark about “how smart he is,” how great and timely is his “expertise on the energy issue.” And about how the "heart" of the former minister and state senator is firmly “in the right place.”
But politics is about putting all the pieces together, honing down one’s message and communicating that message to the electorate effectively. Packaging counts if victory is your true goal. Jim Douglas and Howard Dean will tell you that.
As we alluded to in this week’s column, Scudder’s campaign has been having packaging problems. We’re talking free media. Ch. 3 & Ch. 5 on the tele, the Freeps and the Rutland Herald/Times Argus, the Associated Press bureau (with the brand new bureau chief from Atlantic City), and Vermont Public Radio.
Instead of calling press conferences on the Statehouse lawn to highlight Gov. Jim’s weak spots in the areas of energy, government secrecy, global warming and health care, Parker’s campaign has been communicating via scattershot with emailed press releases on a host of topics. No follow-up calls, though. No requests for interviews Neither face, nor mention on the Six O’Clock News.
For example, last Friday afternoon, the Parker team released a 700-word statement by the candidate on Douglas’ embarrassing and failed attempt last winter to keep public records over in what used to be Tom Torti Land out of the hands of The Conservation Law Foundation, a group our Guv regularly labels “extremists.”
Our Republican governor got caught doing something he rarely does - publicly leaning way too far to the right. And once Vermont’s leading Republican realized it, we all witnessed one of the fastest political “sex-change” operations in memory. Douglas transformed himself, at least verbally, into a champion of open government!
From Parker's Friday afternoon statement:
Governor Douglas has encouraged a dangerous trend toward closed government that we should not tolerate. This a trend in the fashion of closed government and secrecy instituted by George Bush. Governor Douglas has reached far beyond the privilege a governor needs with his staff. From someone who has supported open government throughout his career, this is the ultimate flip-flop to serve narrow political interest. This is about control of government. Governor Douglas wants to hide important policy discussions from the public.
Good issue. The incumbent is vulnerable by virtue of past deeds. But the challenger releases his “attack” late on a Friday afternoon when the state's rather compact mainstream media has already charted their courses for Friday night TV and radio, as well as the morning papers.
Not a peep.
Then Monday comes along and there wasn’t a single political presser/media event anywhere. A wide open plate. A free-media opportuity missed. Even WGOP, er, WCAX-TV would have had to cover it.
You’d think a Democrat challenger with significant ground to make up would jump into the media fray in person, stand on the Statehouse lawn and whack the Republican incumbent clearly. and concisely for his pro-secrecy tendencies when it comes to public records
Oh, well, nobody ever said politics was easy. eh?
On a brighter note for Candidate Parker, “Freyne Land” has learned from reliable sources that the chairman of the Democratic National Committee has been booked to spend a day in the Green Mountains campaigning with Scudder. We’re hearing the first week of September.
But It’s going to take a lot more than the Great Howard Dean to get Scudder closer to Douglas.
Hey, remember the 1990s when Dr. Dean was our conservative governor? Loved by Vermont Republicans while scorned by Vermont’s liberal Democrats and Progressives! The Vermont leader who refused to take a position on same-sex marriage prior to the December 1999 landmark court decision? The leader who appeared ashen and in need of medical attention an hour after the Amestoy Court’s ruling was released saying gay couples have marriage rights, too. The leader who described himself that day as feeling "uncomfortable about it just like anybody else."
But by the time he wrapped up his gubernatorial career three years later in 2002, Howard Dean had quietly began his presidential quest in earnest. Dean had undergone his own political "sex-change" operation. When it came to marriage rights for gay couples, Dean was positively born-again!
To gay organizations from New York to Los Angeles Howard Dean, the governor who signed the Vermont Civil Unions Bill was an absolute hero! They didn't care that he'd did not support homosexual marriage rights until the Vermont Supreme Court forced him to. Instead, They feted Gov. Dean at human-rights awards dinners, donated to his presidential quest and gave the unknown governor of Vermont two things he lacked - name recognition and a political base.
Now look at him!