Planned Parenthood’s risky gamble with Scott/Minter race

St. Albans Messenger Editorial:

In the 2010 gubernatorial race between Democrat Peter Shumlin and Republican Brian Dubie, neither candidate won the required 50 percent, forcing the General Assembly to confirm Mr. Shumlin as the victor when it convened in January.

Mr. Dubie’s razor-thin loss was attributed to a variety of causes, but none was more damaging that his pro-life positions and the questions raised among women voters. Although reproductive rights were not among the issues that concerned Vermonters at the time, it was, and is, a core issue for many voters – including this newspaper – and being pro-life in Vermont is a weight most statewide candidates cannot overcome.

That single issue cost Mr. Dubie the two percent he needed to win.

Planned Parenthood of Northern New England was heavily involved in that campaign, and in the last weeks before the general election prochoice rallies were staged to capitalize on the policy difference between Mr. Dubie and Mr. Shumlin.

The strategy worked. Just enough doubt was created to flip the necessary votes Mr. Shumlin’s way.

Six years later, the same issue is front and center in the gubernatorial campaign between Democrat Sue Minter and Republican Phil Scott. And Planned Parenthood is again a sponsoring force.

The difference between Mr. Dubie and Mr. Scott is that Mr. Scott is pro choice. Mr. Dubie wasn’t.

Why is this happening?

It’s simple. The polls show Mr. Scott with a slight lead over Ms. Minter. Ms. Minter is doing what she needs to do; fighting to exploit any difference, even if the message is largely inaccurate. She has a week before the election. The strategy is to devote the last of the resources into a campaign that paints Mr. Scott with the pro-life Republican brush knowing he doesn’t have the time to respond.

All’s fair in the campaign’s last moments. People only remember who won, not how they won. Ms. Minter has obviously decided she’s comfortable with her roll of the ethical dice.

What’s troubling is the baggage Planned Parenthood of Northern New England has chosen to assume. The work the group does is incredibly important, and it’s a vital force in women’s health. But by questioning Mr. Scott’s support of women’s reproductive rights, when it knows better, creates a political divide that needn’t exist, and one that weakens what should be its central mission, which is to have its support be as wide and as deep as is possible.

Mr. Scott has been a defender of Planned Parenthood. He’s opposed Republican efforts to deny the group federal funding. He’s visited a Planned Parenthood clinic and extolled the value of its work.

How many Republicans are so supportive of Planned Parenthood? Why would the group choose to spurn these supporters, the very ones capable of helping the organization develop a stronger bipartisan appeal? Isn’t that how an organization keeps its mission alive, and how it becomes stronger?

Ms. Minter, Planned Parenthood, and the Democratic Party defend their exaggerated claims by pointing to the fact that Mr. Scott did vote for parental notification and that he is opposed to partial-birth abortion.

There are two key problems with this stance: First, is the hypocrisy. Sen. Patrick Leahy is also opposed to partial-birth abortion. Planned Parenthood and the Democratic Party have not made the senator’s opposition into something that questions his pro-choice position. Second, when an organization demands complete fealty with all its positions, it pushes itself to the political extremes, which makes the value of its work more political than real. The NRA is the best example; you are either with them 100 percent or you are against them 100 percent. There is no middle ground.

Is that Planned Parenthood’s position?

This all or nothing support is one of the weaknesses being exposed in today’s democracy. The dialogue is being driven to extremes. Moderation and compromise are being portrayed as weakness and a lack of commitment, and we wonder why little of importance gets accomplished.

We understand the drama and the fear that marks the last stages of a campaign; particularly if the race is a close one. Ms. Minter is doing whatever she needs to do to win, just as Mr. Shumlin did in 2010.

The difference between the two races is one of honesty. Mr. Dubie was pro-life. Mr. Scott is pro-choice. Ms. Minter and Planned Parenthood know this. For reasons that extend beyond this gubernatorial campaign it’s unfortunate that Planned Parenthood of Northern Vermont has chosen to be part of that distortion.

by Emerson Lynn

 Originally published in the St. Albans Messenger, November 1, 2016