GOP gov candidate Milne urges focus on 'practical'
BRATTLEBORO -- If there's a key word in Scott Milne's run for governor, it might be "moderate" -- or maybe "practical."
The Windsor County Republican, seeking his party's nomination in the Aug. 26 primary, wants to tame the state's progressive tendencies, rein in governmental spending and open his arms to the business community.
Milne is sharply critical of the administration of Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin, though he also acknowledges that he still lacks detailed policies on critical topics such as health care, the economy and education.
Nonetheless, Milne asserts that "I've got a very clear platform on how we're going to run the business of the state."
"We need to be focused on what's practical," he added, "less so than on what's political."
Shumlin, a Putney native, is a clear favorite to win a third term in this heavily Democratic state. Among other issues, he has touted his record on green energy growth, education and jobs, noting Vermont's low unemployment rate.
Aside from Shumlin, there is one other Democrat running for governor in the primary -- H. Brooke Paige of Washington. Milne faces two other Republicans -- Steve Berry of Wolcott and Emily Peyton of Putney.
Also running is Liberty Union candidate Pete Diamondstone of Brattleboro.
On the GOP ticket, attention has focused on Milne, though his political experience consists of an unsuccessful run for the state Legislature in 2006.
"I lost, but that was a great experience in my life -- I enjoyed that," he said.
Milne may be better-known for operating Milne Travel American Express. He got into the business by purchasing a one-person branch office from his parents in 1987, and the company now has 50 full-time employees; eight offices in four states; and employees in 10 states.
He is president of the Vermont Society of Travel Agents and is involved with the Vermont Chamber of Commerce.
Milne also professes a longtime interest in politics. He has familial roots in that field: Milne's mother, who died Aug. 11, had been a state representative from Orange County in the 1990s and early 2000s; also, his father is the clerk of the Vermont House of Representatives and a Selectboard member in the town of Washington.
Given Milne's knowledge of the state political scene, he openly acknowledges that the odds are stacked against a Republican gubernatorial candidate who got a relatively late start and is running against a Democratic incumbent.
"No incumbent (Vermont governor) has lost in 50 years. It's a high bar, and there's good competition," Milne said. "But I think it's pretty clear, in my opinion, that the Shumlin administration is the biggest failure of an administration that we've seen in 50 years."
In a recent visit to the Reformer, Milne detailed his issues with the current administration on several fronts including:
-- Health care:
Milne jumped on the Shumlin administration's dismissal earlier this month of an information-technology contractor that was handling the state's troubled Vermont Health Connect website. That is symptomatic, he believes, of the way the state has pursued a rocky transition to a universal, publicly financed health-care model.
"This era of, let's be the most radical, progressive state in the country every day needs to come to an end. And health care, the way that was hatched, is a good example of that," Milne said. "Gov. Shumlin's had years to come up with how he's going to pay for this, what it's going to cost, what it's going to look like. He hasn't been able to do that."
Milne said he is "skeptical that single-payer is something that is going to make sense." He could not yet say, however, what his approach to health-care reform might be.
"I don't have a specific plan for what we'll be doing with health care in a Milne administration. I will have that in September," he said.
-- The economy and governmental spending:
Milne isn't sure Vermont's unemployment rate is an accurate barometer of actual economic conditions in the state.
"What I would ask people in Brattleboro is to go talk to the local food shelf. Is the demand disappearing, or down? What I'm hearing from food-shelf people and homeless-shelter people is, that's not the case at all," he said. "The number of people working and the number of jobs available are not increasing."
Milne said stagnant economic growth has been outpaced by increases in state spending. He calls for a "common-sense" approach to spending, but he did not name specific areas where there should be cuts and admitted he was not optimistic about decreasing the tax burden on Vermonters.
"I don't see that Vermont's going to do much to change taxes. Tax rates aren't going to go down, I don't think," Milne said. "We've got to get spending in check so there's more money to be spent on economic development."
-- Business climate:
Milne said one approach to economic development is adopting a more business-friendly approach. For instance, he decried the Shumlin administration's approval of a bill that makes Vermont the first state to mandate labeling of food that contains genetically modified ingredients.
"To pick a fight with the food industry creates an image of Vermont (not) being business-friendly," Milne said.
"I think we have a culture of treating businesses like they're a cash cow -- let's just milk them, and they ought to be grateful that we're letting them stay here," he added. "And the only time that was true was when we really did have cows as our primary industry."
-- Vermont Yankee:
Milne believes Shumlin's clear opposition to the continued operation of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant played a role in owner Entergy's decision to shut down the Vernon facility at the end of this year.
He said he would have worked more collaboratively with Entergy. Milne also was critical of the fact that the state is handing out $10 million in Windham County economic-development funding to be donated by Entergy over the next five years.
"I think that should be handled down here unless there's a really good reason for it not to be," he said.
But Milne did not have alternative, specific plans for programs or funding that might help Windham County recover from the loss of Yankee.
"A more common-sense business approach would be more helpful for this part of Vermont," he said, adding, "I don't want to make something up. It's a tough nut."
Milne, in a statement of principles released in July, complained of rising property taxes and declared that "the time has come to rethink how government funds education." And he seemed to criticize a recent legislative proposal to consolidate many of the state's smallest school districts.
"Is the loss of access to local decision-makers really the problem?" he asked.
But in his visit to Brattleboro, Milne -- while saying he prioritizes local control -- also did not have a detailed education plan.
"What I've promised people is, we'll have a specific goal and a promise that we'll have something either from the Legislature that we'll work cooperatively with them to get on the table in the first half of the biennium, or if we're unable to do that, we'll have our own proposal," he said.
The campaign is online at www.scottmilne.org.
Mike Faher can be reached at email@example.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.
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