Symington says Douglas ad off base

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Normal 0 MicrosoftInternetExplorer4 (Host) In the campaign season, advertisements are often the source of controversy. Campaigns debate who said what, when and what the statements actually mean.

One example of that has come up in the Vermont gubernatorial campaign.

The ad in question has to do with Vermont’s workforce.

VPR’s John Dillon reports.

(Dillon) House Speaker Gaye Symington was doing a radio interview recently when she was asked about a recent factory shutdown in the Northeast Kingdom.

She said that she often hears from companies about why they chose to do business here. They mention the state’s schools, good health care, and Vermont’s quality of life.

But she then went on to say that the biggest challenge faced by employees has to do with finding a quality workforce with -quote – "the attitude and aptitude to work." A six-second snippet of that comment – with a few words edited out – was used by the Douglas campaign.

(Ad) "Her attitude is to blame the workers of the companies that are relocating and not the high cost of doing business in Vermont. So, the next time Symington says Vermont workers don’t have the attitude and aptitude to work, ask who’s got the attitude problem, Vermont workers or Gaye Symington?”

(Dillon) Douglas has a history of running tough campaigns using hard-edged advertising. But UVM political scientist Garrison Nelson says this ad seems to stretch the truth.

(Nelson) "It is beyond bogus. It is a blatant misrepresentation of what she had to say.”

(Dillon) Nelson says Symington was simply stating the obvious in her comments.

(Nelson) "I don’t think it’s a critique of the workforce. There’s not an employer in America who doesn’t want workers who have the attitude and aptitude to do quality work. Period.”

(Dillon) Lisa Ventriss is president of the Vermont Business Roundtable, a non profit organization dedicated to improving the state’s business climate.

Ventriss says she hasn’t seen the Douglas commercials. But she says the issue that Symington raised is valid. Ventriss says when she talks to business leaders, she often hears this concern:

(Ventriss) "The work ethic that Vermont traditionally has prided itself on really wasn’t as crisp as it once might have been. And that is the reason why a number of companies have tried to put in place internships, career awareness sessions, job shadowing – so that there is an understanding of what’s required in a work place.”

(Dillon) Douglas campaign manager Dennise Casey said the ad is a fair critique of Symington’s statements.

(Casey) "She is suggesting that Vermonters’ attitude is an economic challenge of ours. And that is absolutely wrong to insult Vermonters’ workers in that way.”

(Dillon) But Symington’s campaign says she’s not blaming workers for hard times. Campaign officials cite several reports and studies that say Vermont companies are concerned about finding a well-trained and qualified workforce.

Her spokesman, Michael Carrese, said the ad uses a sound bite that takes Symington’s comments out of context. He says the campaign decided to respond even though it may draw more attention to the ad itself.

(Carrese) "You know, if someone in your life is lying about you, you want people to know, and you want them to stop lying. And it’s the same situation that candidates find themselves in.”

(Dillon) Garrison Nelson says Douglas turned up the heat with a negative ad because he’s worried about a Democratic surge in November.

Douglas campaign manager Casey says the ad has been on the air for weeks, and Symington only fired back because the accusation was starting to sting.

For VPR News, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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