WHITE RIVER JUNCTION — Democratic gubernatorial candidate Matt Dunne sought to quash the furor over the wind siting policy he articulated Friday at a news conference Wednesday by lashing out at fellow candidate Sue Minter and outgoing Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin.
Dunne, a former Google employee and Windsor County state senator, called for the news conference at his White River Junction campaign headquarters Wednesday morning. Dunne has been floundering since he released his policy position Friday, which called for communities to first approve wind projects by popular vote before they could proceed.
The policy position caused an immediate backlash. Environmentalist Bill McKibben withdrew his endorsement of Dunne in favor of Minter, a former secretary of the Agency of Transportation. And Vermont Conservation Voters, who had intended to remain neutral in the primary, endorsed Minter on Tuesday.
After a Dunne spokeswoman said Dunne’s position was in line with Shumlin’s, Shumlin issued a statement essentially accusing Dunne of lying. On Wednesday, Dunne and his campaign manager, Nick Charyk, pushed back.
Charyk, speaking at the news conference, said Dunne has ruffled feathers throughout the campaign by taking “hard stands for what he believes in and for what Vermonters all believe in.”
“Last week he ruffled a couple more feathers over his stance on wind siting. I’m going to be very, very clear — Matt has always believed that local communities need to be involved in how we site wind turbines. It’s what he’s been saying in interviews, at forums and most importantly, he’s been saying it directly to voters out on the campaign trail,” Charyk said.
The Dunne campaign distributed a series of news stories it said was proof that Dunne’s position was not new, attempting to dispel the idea that he had flip-flopped on the issue. But the campaign continued to take fire.
Charyk lashed out Wednesday at what he said was an “establishment” effort to undermine Dunne, who looked on with a stoic expression, for his progressive ideals.
“His siting stance is not anti-renewable energy as has been asserted by some in Montpelier and in the Montpelier establishment,” he said, noting that Dunne “believes wind should be in the mix.”
“I’m speaking today because the attacks on this issue are unfounded, unfair and flat out false. Why is this happening? It’s happening because Matt is speaking truth to power and he has been doing that from the start,” Charyk added. “Matt is running for governor on a platform of bold, progressive change and that is a threat to the establishment and the establishment is attacking Matt. That is what this debate over the last few days has been about — plain and simple.”
Charyk, in defending Dunne, lashed out at the Shumlin administration. He said the administration “has done a lot of good for a lot of Vermonters” but it has also “dropped the ball in some very big and very damaging ways.”
“The failure of the Vermont Health Connect website has been not acceptable, costly and has set us back on the path to universal health care. And the EB-5 fiasco is a failure of historic proportions. I’m not here to call anyone’s integrity into question, but Vermonters have lost trust in their government, and that’s a fact,” he said.
He linked Minter to Shumlin, noting she has been a part of the administration as secretary of the Agency of Transportation “and she has had the backing of the establishment that isn’t ready for the fresh, progressive change Matt is talking about from the state.”
“This is the change Vermonters are hungry for and I’m here today to call out these attacks for what they are. It is a political attack. It is not based on facts or reality,” he said.
Dunne did not address the wind siting kerfuffle directly during his five-minute remarks. But when speaking to reporters later he agreed with Charyk that Minter was part of the establishment, despite is own 11 years in the Legislature.
“She’s been in the current administration for the last six years. I have not,” he said.
Dunne reiterated remarks he has made in recent days arguing that his position was not new, saying he made similar comments to WCAX in June.
“I have been clear on my commitment to climate change, clear on my commitment to community involvement beyond where it is today,” he said.
He admitted his policy statement last week did not have the impact he intended, which was to clarify a position he believed he had already made clear. He said he does not favor new legislation to require towns to vote but would oppose wind projects in towns that choose to have a referendum.
“What I regret is not having been clear that I am absolutely in favor … of renewable energy, getting to 90 percent renewables by 2050 and that it has to include wind and that I am actually committed to getting there as quickly as possible,” he said. “We make decisions along the campaign trail to try to communicate to people and I would say I did not deliver that message in a way that I would have liked to in retrospect.”
Dunne also criticized Shumlin, who he said made clear in a Vermont PBS interview that he, too, did not support wind projects where voters were not in favor.
“I didn’t come to the opinion that was Shumlin’s position on my own. I didn’t make that up out of the blue,” Dunne said. “He made a fairly clear and unequivocal statement. And in fact, when I first saw the [Shumlin] release I was a little concerned. I was like, ‘Maybe I heard this wrong. Maybe I got this wrong.’ But almost immediately … were the very, very clear words. Frankly, I think that’s part of the challenge of trust today.”
Dunne said Shumlin’s comment was “incredibly unfortunate because I felt that it was saying that I was being untruthful when in fact there was a broad sense, at least according to the people that I talked to, that that was his position based on comments that he had made that were pretty damn clear over the last few years.”
“What he put out was questioning my integrity,” Dunne said. “Maybe he has flip-flopped or gone some place else on that particular position. But I’ll tell you, the common understanding of the people that I talked to in various corners of the state was, ‘Well, what the governor had said is that you would need to have an affirmative vote in the town where the turbines were going to be sited to be able to move forward.’”
Shumlin spokeswoman Susan Allen said Dunne’s assertion that his position is in line with the governor’s “is inaccurate.”
“The Dunne campaign said publicly on wind, ‘We hope voters will look at Matt’s record and his position on this issue, which is in line with the Shumlin administration’s current practice,’” Allen said. “The governor understands the pressure of the final days and the final debates of a tough primary. But what’s not up for debate is that the candidates need to stick to the facts and not misrepresent this administration’s policies and practices.”
Rep. Tony Klein, D-East Montpelier, the chairman of the House Energy and Natural Resources Committee, speculated earlier this week that Dunne was seeking to gain supporters of Peter Galbraith, the former diplomat and Windham County state senator who is also running for governor in the Democratic primary. Galbraith wants a ban on wind future wind turbines in Vermont.
Dunne confirmed that he spoke with Galbraith, but would not say if he asked for Galbraith to drop out of the race during their discussion.
“We had conversations on a variety of levels,” Dunne said. “Of course it came up. We talked about lots of different things but I’m not going to comment further than that because that was a conversation between two candidates.”
Galbraith said Wednesday evening that Dunne did not directly ask him to depart the race. He did indicate, however, that Dunne made some effort through intermediaries to see if Dunne would drop his bid.
“Did he make an effort to not have me in the race? I think the answer would be yes. It was a non-starter,” Galbraith said.
Dunne said he also regretted that some voters have already cast early ballots in the primary and may not support his wind siting position.
“I feel badly about that and I think that it is unfortunate that my position was not made clear. Even after I tried to make it clear it wasn’t completely clear. I’m just glad I got it out before we got through the primary,” he said.
Editor’s note: This story was updated at 6:40 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 3, to include comments from Shumlin spokeswoman Susan Allen and Peter Galbraith.