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Milne Makes Case for Ending Partisan Gridlock in Washington

  • Scott Milne, of Pomfret, Vt., who is the Republican candidate for Vermont's U.S. Senate seat, answers questions from the Valley News editorial board on Monday, October 17, 2016. Milne is running against incumbent U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy. (Valley News - John Happel) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 10/18/2016 12:07:04 AM
Modified: 10/18/2016 10:34:31 AM

West Lebanon — Pomfret Republican Scott Milne, who is challenging U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., is asking Vermont voters to set aside his affiliation with the Republican Party for a moment, and consider instead his policy positions, many of which are more in line with Vermont’s liberal voter base than the GOP national platform.

Milne, a travel executive who often works out of his company’s West Lebanon branch, favors holding immediate hearings on President Obama’s Supreme Court nomination of Merrick Garland. He supports the Affordable Care Act and abortion rights. And his comments on Obama, which included “I’m generally supportive. Overall I give him good grades,” were kinder than his comments on Donald Trump, of whom he said: “The thing that bothered me the most was when he pretended he didn’t know who David Duke and the KKK were. I’ve been very clear that I’m not supporting Trump all along.”

Milne, who spoke to Valley News editors and reporters on Monday, appealed for votes by loosely quoting Ed Koch, the former New York City mayor.

“If you agree with me 70 percent of the time, please consider voting for me,” he said. “And if you agree with me 100 percent of the time, please consider seeing a psychiatrist.”

Faced with a deeply entrenched and well-funded opponent, Milne is casting himself as a Washington outsider who can provide a voice of moderation in the Senate at a time when extreme partisanship has led to an often-painful gridlock.

“In a closely divided United States Senate, if you have five centrists, whether they’re New England Republicans … or conservative Democrats, we can change the United States Senate. … I’ll be in the middle and relatively alone there,” he said.

Milne attacked Leahy, who has served in the Senate for 42 years, as beholden to special interests, though he didn’t cite any particular act of wrongdoing on Leahy’s part.

“Saying that there’s a direct tie between him and a donation and a special interest vote, I think is an indictable offense, so I’m not saying that. I’m saying the system is completely corrupt. It’s ruining our country. And he’s the poster child for what’s gone wrong. He’s one of the most active participants in it,” he said.

By contrast, Milne pointed to his own shoestring campaign budget, which is at least partly a result of holding himself to a higher standard when it comes to campaign funding.

“I believe we’re the first credible federal campaign in the last 45 years that’s not even soliciting campaign donations, to say nothing of accepting special interest money,” he said. “Patrick Leahy’s got over $6 million, with $3 million from special interests. We’ll have probably less than $100,000 into it by the time we’re done.”

Milne said that allowing a small-budget campaign like his to succeed would send a message to the nation’s capital.

“I believe Vermont is perhaps the only state in the country in which my campaign is possible,” he said.

Milne, who hands out copies of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington at campaign events, speaks often of current and former politicians with whom he identifies — including his late mother, state Rep. Marion Milne, who lost her seat in Orange County after supporting civil unions in Vermont; former U.S. Sen. George Aiken, R-Vt.; Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins; and former Vermont Sen. Jim Jeffords, who was elected as a Republican but changed his affiliation to Independent and began caucusing with Democrats.

“Jeffords was happy to go against the Republican Party when he was there. I’ll be happy to go against the Republican Party,” he said.

Still, Milne said that, were he to be the deciding vote, he would preserve Republican control of the Senate by voting for Mitch McConnell for Majority Leader. Milne said he would serve on any committee, but the first preference he named was the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.

Milne also laid out his approach to a series of policy positions, including the possibility of universal background checks on gun sales. He described himself as a strong supporter of the Second Amendment but also said, “I do think at a federal level, just reading the tea leaves, there’s going to be a change that’s coming. I’d like that change to be thoughtful and not done in a kneejerk reaction to one of these mass tragedies.”

Milne said he would be wary of a universal background law that created a permanent registry of who owns what guns.

“There is this legitimate fear that there’s this whole paper trail of where every gun in the country is that some people are worried about and use examples in history of where that came back to harm society,” he said. “So as we get toward universal background checks we need to get technology involved, so that once a background check is done that it evaporates and disappears and there’s not a centralized list of where all that is.”

After disavowing Trump, Milne said he had not yet decided who to vote for as president, though he said that Republican Vice Presidential nominee Mike Pence was “not on my list” of potential write-ins.

Milne’s own business interest in the proposed Quechee Highlands project near the Interstate 89 interchange in Quechee has been in limbo for many years, due to regulatory and legal battles over whether he can receive an Act 250 permit.

He said his answer to boosting the economy and helping the poor was to work toward “a predictable, functioning government” in the belief that “a rising tide lifts all boats.”

He said he had mixed feelings about a federal minimum wage hike.

“I can see benefits to having a higher minimum wage. … But if the minimum wage goes to $15 an hour and people are making $20 an hour and $26 an hour overnight, there’s a lot of businesses that aren’t going to survive that. … But I think there needs to be some changes,” he said.

He accused Leahy of supporting a $15 minimum wage as “part of a political campaign where it’s designed to get votes.”

Asked why, given his many breaks with Republican doctrine, Milne was running as a Republican and not an independent, he replied, “The best chance of winning.”

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

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