Gov. Peter Shumlin told reporters at his press conference last week that he was too busy governing to participate in debates with his opponent, Republican Randy Brock, that are sponsored by interest groups and community organizations, such as the Vermont chapter of the AARP and the Williston Central School.
Nearly half of the 13 debate invitations this campaign season were from such groups.
The governor, a Democrat, said he would only accept debates sponsored by media outlets.
Shumlin has confirmed he will participate in seven media debates with Brock.
Shumlin told reporters last week that he looks forward to "a really issue oriented debate that talks about Vermont's future," and he has encouraged his campaign to accept as many debates as possible within the eight week window before the election.
"I believe I have a worthy opponent and I look forward to debating him often and frequently," Shumlin said. "I have to balance doing my job as governor with my job as a candidate. We’re going to have a lot of debates -- at least five or six. I want them to be as inclusive and broadly broadcast as possibly so all Vermonters can participate in the decision."
Meanwhile, Shumlin has agreed to give speeches to several groups, including the Vermont Natural Resources Council and Renewable Energy Vermont conference on Oct. 2 and the Vermont Association for Mental Health, according to Alex MacLean, the governor’s campaign manager.
Brock blasted Shumlin for agreeing to give “one-sided speeches that are not subject to questions or criticism.”
“That’s the epitome of hypocrisy,” Brock said. “If he doesn’t have time for debate for questions or dialog, how does he have time to give speeches to the very same groups. At the same time, he’s saying he’s too busy being governor. That’s utterly hypocritical and Vermonters are going to see through that.”
Why does Shumlin have time for speeches but not debates? The reply from MacLean: “We’ve accepted an invitation to deliver a speech, not an invitation to debate.”
She expects to receive more speaking invitations for the governor.
Week before last, MacLean said the governor's decision to participate in media sponsored debates only was “based solely on scheduling reasons and the fact that governor still needs to do the job he was elected to do, which is continuing to create jobs and make health care more affordable for Vermonters. If we were to accept every debate invitation, he would be spending all of his time debating.”
At the time, Brock said he suspected the governor wanted to avoid a debate before a potentially hostile audience, such as the Vermont chapter of AARP whose members opposed the Green Mountain Power merger with CVPS, which the governor publicly supported.
MacLean says potential guff from AARP members was “absolutely not” a factor in the governor’s decision.
Nor is the specter of debating with Annette Smith, an opponent of industrial wind who is a write-in candidate in the Progressive Party primary and may win enough votes in a recount to run in the General Election.
When reporters asked Shumlin if he was afraid to accept an invitation to the AARP debate, the governor said: "I won't dignify that comment with a response. I’m not afraid to go anywhere."
The difference, now, the governor says, is he has to balance his job as governor with campaigning.
"You have to draw the line somewhere. I think the campaign decided let’s encourage the networks -- WCAX, Channel 5, VPT, VPR -- let’s encourage those debates because I believe they include more people than a half hour with a small group of people."
When asked why he can't find time for debates when his daily schedule regularly features public appearances all over the state, Shumlin said: "I’m not on the road campaigning I’m on the road doing my job as governor and I am a governor who believes that those governors who lock themselves in Montpelier aren’t very effective governors. My job is to meet people around the state. If you look at my travel schedule I'm not campaigning, I’m doing the job I should be doing."
So far, Shumlin has confirmed he will debate Brock on broadcast media: Vermont Public Radio (this Wednesday at 7 p.m.), WCAX, WPTZ, WDEV, Vermont Public Television and two debates livecast on the Burlington Free Press website.
Editor's note: This story was updated with quotes from Gov. Peter Shumlin at 6:09 a.m. Sept. 10.
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