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Woodstock High-Schoolers Talk Politics With Milne



Thursday, October 02, 2014
Woodstock — Republican gubernatorial nominee Scott Milne campaigned in the Woodstock area Wednesday, spending more than an hour talking with students in the Woodstock Union High School library.

Several of the students said they found the North Pomfret Republican to be more moderate than their preconceived notions of Republican politicians.

Standing before the group of about 40 students and dressed in a blue suit jacket, a yellow shirt and a red-and-blue tie, Milne fielded a series of questions that ranged from the future of the state’s health care to labeling guidelines for food made from genetically modified organisms.

Milne, who speaks quietly and quickly, kept the discussion for the most part serious, answering the questions as he would during any other campaign stop.

Despite the age of his audience, the 55-year-old Milne often delved into technical policy details about Vermont’s health care policy, a topic students asked about early and often.

The state’s health care exchange was dealt a blow two weeks ago when Milne’s Democratic opponent, Gov. Peter Shumlin, took the Vermont Health Connect portal offline, citing a need for better security and other concerns.

Shumlin, long an advocate of single-payer health care, is hoping to use the health care exchange system to help Vermont transition to such a system. But Milne said that, if elected, he would reconsider a proposed single-payer system, and said he was “skeptical” that it would ever be the right state policy.

“Single-payer is dead,” Milne said.

The students, many of them from teacher Brad Archer’s AP Government class, said they were impressed by the big difference they saw between Milne and more conservative figures, such as Fox News political commentator Bill O’Reilly, whom they see in national media.

“I think he is a very moderate person,” David Reed, who will turn 18 in time to vote in November, said of Milne.

Claire Spangler, 17, of Woodstock, was happy with Milne’s response to her question, which was about his ability to reach across the aisle and work with progressive legislators.

“I was surprised by his answer that Republicans from Vermont are cut from a different cloth than other Republicans,” she said. “I thought it was a good point.”

Maya Gonzalez, also 17, of Barnard, said she felt that Milne struck a good balance between values that Vermont currently has, and where she would like the state to be in the future.

As for Milne, he said he’s learned something from talking with teens on Wednesday and during recent months on the campaign trail.

“My perspective is there’s a lot more conservative young people than I thought there would be,” he said.

Milne lauded two progressive actions by the state, the 1970 enactment of environmental law Act 250, and Vermont’s first-in-the-nation introduction of civil unions in 2000, which Milne’s late mother, who was then a Republican House lawmaker from Orange County, had an active hand in.

While Milne cited the passage of Act 250 as a watershed moment in the state’s history, he himself has had business dealings that have been thwarted by the law.

Milne is in the middle of a legal appeal in relation to a proposed mixed-use development of land on Route 4 near the Interstate 89 interchange in Quechee.

The District II Environmental Commission denied an Act 250 permit for Quechee Highlands, the project proposed by B&M Realty, which is owned by Milne and his business partner, David Boies III.

Milne said that he supports Act 250 as a whole, but that its current incarnation weakens, rather than strengthens, local control.

“A lot of the programs over the past 15 years have become Montpelier-centric,” he said.

Despite their appreciation of Milne’s position, some of the students said they are left-leaning on many of the issues that matter most to them.

Aidan Saunders, 18, described himself as an independent thinker who develops opinions about policy on a case-by-case basis.

He said he felt Milne’s response to his question about the labeling of GMO foods was reasonable. Milne said he favored labeling in concept, but that he felt the state’s new law mandating labeling would be more effective if it was part of a broader, multi-state response.

But Saunders said he is proud to live in a state that’s leading the nation on such matters.

“I think a lot of the time, Vermont is in front of a variety of important issues, especially environmental ones,” he said.

Reed said that high obesity rates, especially among young people, are a concern.

“I feel health and diet are going to be far more important in the future for the government to act upon,” he said.

This is Milne’s first bid for statewide office but his family has a history of service in the political arena. His mother, Marion Milne, who died in August, served in the state House of Representatives from 1995 to 2001, while his father, Donald Milne, served in the House in 1967 and is currently the clerk of that body.

Milne runs Milne Travel American Express, a travel agency that was founded by his mother in 1975 and which now has about 50 employees in offices in Maine, Massachusetts, New York, New Hampshire and Vermont.

In addition to Shumlin and Milne, Libertarian Dan Feliciano of Essex and four other candidates are also on the ballot.

Matt Hongoltz-Hetling can be reached at mhonghet@vnews.com or 603-727-3211.