* updated *
Two days after Republican Brian Dubie dismissed women's reproductive rights as an important issue in the race for governor, the Republican Governors Association launched an ad featuring pro-choice women who support the lieutenant governor.
You can watch the RGA ad here.
The ad comes after Democrat Peter Shumlin and his allies — including Planned Parenthood of Northern New England's Action Fund — have taken to the airwaves to assail Dubie's anti-abortion and social conservative views.
Though a recent Vermont Public Radio poll found that only 1 percent of voters ranked the issue of much importance to them when compared to the economy, the state budget and the enviornment, the issue has struck a major chord with women.
This Sunday, a pro-Shumlin, pro-choice rally will be held on Church Street in Burlington. At the same time, the Dubie campaign is having a pro-Dubie, pro-jobs rally at Battery Park.
In the RGA ad several women extol Dubie's support for women, children and families, a clean environment and creating new jobs. All say they are pro-choice.
"He's promised to protect our rights," said one woman.
"He's trying to scare us," say two different women one after the other.
"We are smarter than that," says another woman, who just happens to be Mary Alice McKenzie, a Dubie cousin, and currently the executive director of the Boys and Girls Club in Burlington.
McKenzie, an attorney, was formerly president of McKenzie's of Vermont and was the chairwoman of Central Vermont Public Service, the state's largest electric utility, from 2006 to 2009.
She was also one of a handful of "Democrats for Dubie" who attended a small rally last month in support of the conservative Republican.
“I believe very, very firmly in a woman’s right to choose, and I had to think hard about supporting a candidate who is not pro-choice. But this is an area that is settled law in our country, and I am more concerned about the issues right now of taxes, jobs, and the educational achievement of low-income children. Vermonters have a proud tradition of being independent voters. Brian Dubie is the right person to be Governor at this time in Vermont," McKenzie said at the time.
The RGA has not identified the other women in the ad, but all are believed to be Vermont voters. The Dubie campaign said none of the women are campaign workers or volunteers.
Planned Parenthod of Northern New England criticized the RGA TV ad, saying the ad skirts several key they claim to be important to Vermont women.
"The ad suggests that Brian Dubie won’t change the laws, but this ad skirts the real issues and blatantly distorts the facts. Brian Dubie has said numerous times that the laws should be changed so that abortion is illegal," said Jill Krowinski, PPNNE's director of Vermont Public Policy. "Vermont women deserve to know the facts, Dubie is anti-choice, he will cut access to critical services, and he opposes comprehensive sex education. Brian Dubie is wrong for Vermont women."
The issue has come to the forefront in the past week, with PPNNE's Action Fund spending $70,000 on an ad that criticizes Dubie's stance on women's reproductive rights. Along with opposing abortion, Dubie has also supports parental notification — even in the case of rape or incest, though he said in those cases he might be open to a judge being consulted.
Watch the PPNNE Action Fund ad here.
Earlier this month, Shumlin launched a pro-choice ad featuring Republican Helen Riehle, who served in the state senate from Chittenden County. Riehle served with Shumlin in the early 1990s and is now the director of the Vermont Program on Quality Health Care.
You can watch Shumlin's ad here.
Clearly the issue has struck a chord with voters — and generally campaigns don't run ads unless they poll well internally or are pushing just the right buttons. In this case, supporters of Democrat Peter Shumlin are banking on Vermont's history of electiong pro-choice governors — Democrat and Republican.
Dubie is being endorsed by the Vermont Right to Life Committee, as are other statewide officeholders. The group, which does not make its voting guide and recommneded candidates' list public, recently mailed flyers to its members around Vermont.
Mary Hahn Beerworth said the group either endorsed or offer its "preferred" candidate in each of the statewide races — other than races for auditor and treasurer.
The group, however, does not make the list public. "This list is really for just our members and for their education," said Beerworth.
Vermont Right to Life's list has come into play in the race for lieutenant governor. In that race Democrat Steve Howard uses the group's preferred ranking to claim that his opponent, Republican Phil Scott, is being "endorsed" by VRTL.
Scott said despite the preferred ranking by VRTL, he remains pro-choice.
"I think it's very unfortunate not only that my opponent has chosen to go negative, but also that his negative message is actually untrue. I am, and always have been, a pro-choice candidate," said Scott.
Beerworth backs him up on that claim.
"Phil is pro-choice and therefore we as an organization could never endorse him," said Beerworth. "However, compared to the other candidates in the race, he is the preferred candidate given his stances on other issues, such as parental notification."
According to a VRTL flyer obtained by Seven Days, Scott also told the group he supports a fetal homicide law and that public funds should not be used to pay for abortions.
Given these stances, Howard said Scott's pro-choice stance on other issues helped him receive the pro-life group's endorsement and his views, if enacted, would restrict women's reproductive rights.
"Planned Parenthood isn’t buying it, Pro-Choice Vermont PAC isn’t buying it and the women of Vermont shouldn’t buy it either," said Howard. Howard said if you look up "recommended" in any thesaurus you'd find it synonymous with "endorse."
In a recent mass media filing, VRTL listed a number of candidates — including state reps and senators — whom they're recommending their members support on Nov. 2. The list does include a number of pro-choice candidates.
For example, Len Britton, the Republican trying to unseat U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, is pro-choice, but is listed as the preferred or recommended candidate. Ditto in Chittenden County, where Charlie Smith, a pro-choice Republican, is being recommended by the group.
By contrast, in the U.S. House race Republican Paul Beaudy is endorsed because he is a pro-life candidate.
In its legislative survey (download a version below) the group asked candidates about a variety of issues, not just abortion. It also asked them their position on end-of-life care, conscience protection, fetal homicide, and protecting human embryos. In a question about late-term abortions, the group included a line drawing of the procedure.
They also asked whether candidates support, or oppose, the public funding of abortions.
"For over 30 years, the federal government has prevented the use of federal taxpayer funds to pay for abortions except in limited situations to protect the life of the mother or in a case of rape or incest. By court order, Vermont has been paying with state tax dollars for abortions performed for any reason for all women eligible for Medicaid and Dr. Dynasaur. If a state health care proposal to cover all Vermonters does not specifically exclude abortion from the definition of 'health care', it will force state taxpayers to fund all elective abortions, even for those who can afford to pay," read the question's preamble.
The group then asked: "Do you oppose any further expansion of abortion funding with taxpayer dollars in Vermont?"
In its survey Planned Parenthood asks candidates whether they support a minor's right to privacy when it comes to reproductive health and abortions, as well as whether they will support the public funding of family planning at both the state and federal level.
This issue has come up in the race for governor, with Shumlin allies claiming that Dubie hasn't been clear enough on his wilingness to ensure that the public funding of women's reproducive rights, including abortion, remain intact.
As I noted in "Fair Game" this week, pro-choice advocates fear Dubie could end up doing in Vermont what Gov. Chris Christie did in New Jersey — another liberal, pro-choice state. Christie slashed funding for family planning and women's reproductive rights, forcing several clinics to close or curtail hours.
Vermont Right to Life Legislative Survey: Download VRLC survey 2010
Planned Parenthod Legislative Survey: Download 2010-VT-Candidate-Questionnaire
Vermont Right to Life mass media filing: Download 101810vrlc
Vermont Right to Life flyer (Chittenden County/Burlington): Download Vrtl mailer
* This article has been updated to add a link to the PPNNE ad, and to include a statement from Jill Krowinski, PPNNE's Vermont policy director, reacting to the RGA ad.