by Emma Lamberton Vermont Watchdog A prominent Republican consultant and local columnist is alleging that Governor Phil Scott’s administration sought to prevent her from writing about GOP dissent over the Republican governor’s immigration policies.
In recent years, Meg Hansen has earned a reputation as a conservative consultant to the Vermont House Republican Caucus. She also writes a conservative column that appears in the Eagle Times, the Rutland Herald and the Times Argus.
Long a target of left-wing opposition, on February 19 Hansen said she began taking flak from an unexpected source: the office of Governor Phil Scott. Hansen claims that’s when she received a text message from House Minority Leader Don Turner, R-Milton, requesting that she not write about GOP dissent over the governor’s policy prohibiting local officials from helping feds enforce US immigration law.
According to Hansen's text, Turner made the request on behalf of the Scott administration:
“Hi Meg, the Governor’s staff is concerned about your plan to write a column expressing frustration felt by long time GOP supporters with the Governor. They asked that I contact you to see if you would consider not doing this column. Please let me know what you decide to do. Thank you!”
Hansen told Watchdog the message amounts to intimidation coming from the highest levels of state government.
“This is a problem in two ways: They are trying to kill the story, and they’ve crossed ethical lines. … I reached out to their office as a private citizen,” Hansen said.
“I never saw this coming. Not like this,” she added.
Hansen, who began writing her column in July 2016, has written two opinion columns criticizing Scott. The first, “Vermont’s absurd crusade against ‘big bad’ Trump,” published on February 18 and challenged Scott’s opposition to President Donald Trump’s immigration executive orders. Turner’s message came as she was preparing to write a second column about the governor causing dissent within the Republican Party.
As Watchdog reported, many Republicans argue that S.79 stands to make Vermont a sanctuary state — a claim the governor repeatedly has denied. As passed by the House last week, S.79 bars Vermont officials from passing along residents’ “personally identifying information” with federal officials. That information includes a person’s immigration status, national origin, religion, race and color — data essential for identifying and potentially detaining illegal immigrants.
Turner told Watchdog his request was not an attempt to silence Hansen.
“Jason Gibbs (the governor’s chief of staff) did contact me … but he was really making sure where I was. We do that all the time,” Turner said.
Unshaken by Turner, Hansen published her second column, “Vermont’s sanctuary status appalls Republicans.” Days later, a caller criticized her column during a VPR special on immigration where Turner was one of the panel experts. At the program’s 19:30 mark, the caller asks Turner a question about Hansen:
“I’m really concerned about the rise of the alt-right, and you have to call it out when you see it, especially in Vermont. My question is for Don Turner. Your caucus has spent a lot of money on employing this woman Meg Hansen who wrote a column that is really critical of this immigration bill and governor Scott. She’s gone on Twitter, and she writes a lot of really false and inflammatory things against LGBT people, refugees, and it’s really concerning. My question is, do you guys still work with Ms. Hansen, and has this hatred and these views she’s espoused made your relationship with Governor Scott difficult?”
Turner’s reply appears to contradict his communications with Hansen of February 19: “She helps with writing, messaging and op-eds, and things like that, but what she does personally is her own business. She is a columnist. I do not get involved in what she writes for herself and for her columns.”
Hansen told Watchdog she thinks the caller’s question was planted. “I wouldn’t expect a person on the street to know my employment connections,” she said.
Hansen says she has repeatedly been targeted by what she describes as ultra-left political blogs since she began her column. She says her social media posts have been vehemently attacked and even censored by Vermont legislators.
“[I’ve been called] the KKK and a white supremacist. I’m Indian. How can I be a white supremacist?” she told Watchdog.
Hansen was born in India but came to the US at a young age. She later graduated from medical school in India before pursuing her dream as a writer. She graduated from Dartmouth College with a Master’s in Liberal Studies, and now works as a writer and communications consultant.
Hansen says name-calling and personal attacks are becoming widespread.
“This is what the left does, and it is part of the bullying pattern I’ve seen from the Scott administration,” she said, adding that she’s surprised by the administration, especially since some prominent Republican lawmakers have spoken out about their opposition to the governor’s immigration agenda.
Speaking about Scott’s immigration stance, state Rep. Thomas Terenzini, R-Rutland, told Watchdog he regrets supporting the governor.
“I worked my butt off for Phil Scott’s campaign when he ran for lieutenant governor and then governor. It’s all been for naught. I backed the wrong horse,” Terenzini said.
“Governor Scott has disappointed me since he took office. He’s acting more like a socialist Democrat than a Republican. … He’s not a Republican. I don’t know of any other Republican governors that go around criticizing our president,” he added.
Rebecca Kelley, Scott’s communications director, told Watchdog that the effort to reach out to Hansen may have involved “misinterpretation.”
“There has been communication to multiple stakeholders within the party to ensure that things are conveyed accurately. I do not believe there was ever a directive for anyone to not write,” she said. “If there was an interpretation of any communication [from the governor’s office] that anyone was asking a reporter to not write a story, that would have been [our] effort to stress the conveyance of accurate information. There would not have been an effort to get an individual to stop writing.”
March 21, 2017. Emma Lamberton is Vermont Watchdog’s health care and Rutland area reporter. Contact her at email@example.com or @EmmaBeth9.
Vermont Watchdog is a project of Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity