It had to have been embarrassing for Scott Milne to reveal information about his arrests during college for drunken driving and possession of marijuana and cocaine. And yet he knew from the minute he began to consider whether to run for governor that he would have to speak about these incidents, which he asks us to view as youthful indiscretions. The long delay before he decided to enter the Republican primary for governor may well have been caused in part by the need to consider whether it was worth dragging his personal history into the open.
His revelations appeared to be a candid confession about he called an “irresponsible” 18-month period in his life. It was 35 years ago. He vowed not to touch drugs again and to drink only in moderation, and he said the whole period was a powerful life lesson.
It is probably no accident that his admission came out on July 3, ensuring that news about it would be reported on July 4, when many voters and consumers of news are distracted by their holiday festivities. Every politician likes to diminish the impact of negative news, which is why the White House knows that revealing bad news on Friday afternoon allows it to be buried on Saturday morning.
Milne said he understands candidates need to be transparent about their personal lives. Accordingly, he also revealed that in 2006 he suffered a stroke from which he said he has enjoyed a full recovery. His doctors have cleared him to run for governor and to serve as governor, should he win.
He said he made these admissions in part to take a weapon away from the political opposition: Get it out now, early in the campaign, so it won’t be a distraction later.
Milne, a Pomfret resident, is a political neophyte who runs a travel business that bears his name. The Republican leadership needed a credible establishment figure to run after several other potential candidates passed on the chance of taking on the strongly positioned incumbent, Peter Shumlin. Milne no doubt shared with them the facts about his health history and his arrest record, and yet he made the bold decision to step forward anyway.
It’s not that peccadilloes involving alcohol or drugs are something voters are unfamiliar with. President Barack Obama has acknowledged smoking marijuana in his youth and has never been able to quiet speculation that he sampled cocaine. President George W. Bush has spoken of the alcoholic period of his youth, and suspicions about cocaine linger. We are past the days when President Bill Clinton felt compelled to make the comical admission that he smoked marijuana as a young person but didn’t inhale.
These days to acknowledge youthful excess is a way of underscoring one’s humanity. There are, no doubt, some politicians who didn’t make mistakes at some point in their past with alcohol or drugs, but they are probably a minority. The same is probably true for the population as a whole.
Voters getting acquainted with a potential leader are mainly trying to determine whether they can trust him or her. Candor probably wins trust more effectively than abstention. It is up to voters to decipher the words, behavior and any other indicators to decide whether drugs, alcohol or other personal weaknesses represent a problem that would erode trust.
There have been some great leaders who have been great drinkers — Winston Churchill is a notable example. But drink can also be an indicator of flaws about which voters ought to worry. During Watergate, Richard Nixon was said to have been out of it more than he should have been. Then again, his troubles were far larger than alcohol.
Scott Milne has made a clean breast of it, and voters will now be able to judge him on the basis of a fuller picture. He still has not formally launched his campaign, an indication of the difficulty facing a political newcomer running against a powerful, well-funded incumbent. But he can head into the political season knowing that the voters understand that his youthful indiscretions are part of the past.
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