Back in September, Gov. Shumlin's campaign manager -- Alex MacLean -- announced that the Governor would participate in a limited number of debates during this election cycle. She said that he doesn't have time for debates because he's to busy governing.

We thought that excuse was weak. Two years ago Shumlin participated in 13 general election debates against Brian Dubie (plus a half-dozen during the primary). Dubie wasn't a strong debater and Shumlin took advantage.

But Shumlin knows that Brock would roast his potatoes. Not only was Brock a Fortune 500 chief financial officer for years, his knowledge of economics and social systems dwarfs that of Shumlin's. A free-wheeling debate between the two would leave Shumlin broken and tattered.

The governor has to hide from his FEMA funding disaster, his Vermont Yankee rebuff from the U.S. Supreme Court, his blank stare when people ask how he will fund ShumlinCare, and half a dozen other leadership failures in his first two years as governor. He doesn't want to have to talk about those things except in airtight situations where his interrogators won't ask him embarrassing questions.

So we naturally looked forward to the first debate -- hosted last week by Vermont Public Television. We thought that would be a fair and open forum on the issues and topics that matter to Vermonters.

Boy were we wrong.

VPT sheltered Shumlin by allowing all candidates (balloted or otherwise) on the stage. This included Republican Randy Brock; Dave Eagle from the Liberty Union Party; Cris Ericson representing the United States Marijuana Party; Independent Emily Peyton; and Democrat Peter Shumlin.

It was a total circus, defined by its bizarre, non-stop distractions. It was the only kind of show that could possibly favor Shumlin. VPT served it up for the governor -- allowing him to hide in plain site from his record and Brock.

Eagle spent most of his time confessing little knowledge of the issues but lauding Shumlin for his help while Eagle was out of work (for three years).

Erickson presented her economic plan: state wineries. That's it. By entering the wine business, she says, the state should find solid fiscal footing.

Peyton -- who stole the show -- wants an independent state currency, everyone to eat apple seeds to prevent cancer, and a health care system modelled after Cuba. She added, "we've got an addiction to greed ... The reason why it's really excellent to elect a woman right now ... is because a woman understands that we have got to have a light touch on this planet right now ... it is a light healing touch."

Viewers didn't hear much from the major party candidates.

VPT argued that all candidates should have a voice. We say hogwash. It's up to state media to use professional, good judgement to host a useful, informative debate. They failed miserably, in one of shamefully few tries, and Shumlin likely laughed all the way home.

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