WHITE RIVER JUNCTION – Democratic gubernatorial candidate Matt Dunne sought to quash the furor over his wind-siting policy 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 the news conference at his White River Junction campaign headquarters Wednesday morning. Dunne has come under fire since Friday, when he released his policy position calling for communities to approve wind projects by popular vote before they could proceed.
The policy position led to 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 his position was in line with Shumlin’s, the governor issued a statement essentially accusing Dunne of lying. On Wednesday, Dunne and 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,” Charyk said. “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.”
The Dunne campaign distributed a series of news stories it said proved Dunne’s position was not new, trying 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.
He added 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,” Charyk said. “Why is this happening? It’s happening because Matt is speaking truth to power and he has been doing that from the start.”
The campaign manager went on to lash out at the Shumlin administration for problems including Vermont Health Connect and the EB-5 scandal. He also linked Minter to the governor as a former member of his administration who has the backing of an establishment that is not ready for progressive change.
“This is the change Vermonters are hungry for and I’m here today to call out these attacks for what they are,” Charyk said. “It is a political attack. It is not based on facts or reality.”
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 his 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 wind position was not new, saying he made similar comments to WCAX-TV 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.
Dunne 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,” Dunne said, “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.”
Dunne said Shumlin’s most recent comment “was questioning my integrity.”
“Maybe he has flip-flopped or gone some place else on that particular position,” he said. “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.’”
Rep. Tony Klein, D-East Montpelier, 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 future wind turbines in Vermont.
Dunne confirmed that he spoke with Galbraith, but would not say if he asked him to drop out of the race.
“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 did not return a call seeking comment.
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,” he said. “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.”
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