Lead, Follow, or Get Out of the Way

When last I left you, I signed off with

Vermont already has an oversupply of cautious Democrats.

Let’s pick it up from there. Now, I could be talking about legislative leadership, which has developed a habit of scoring own goals in its “battles” with Gov. Phil Scott. But in this case, I’m talking about campaigns for governor, in which the Democrats have not exactly covered themselves in glory.

Over the past 20 years, the Vermont Democratic Party has nominated a top-shelf candidate for governor a mere five times — incumbent Howard Dean in 2000, Doug Racine in 2002 and Peter Shumlin in 2010, ’12 and ’14.

(I’m calling the 2014 Shumlin “top shelf” only because he was the incumbent. Otherwise he was a deeply flawed candidate who came within an eyelash of losing to Scott Milne, objectively the worst major-party gubernatorial candidate in living memory.)

Otherwise it’s been a parade of worthies with good intentions but few resources and no real hope. Whenever a popular Republican occupies the corner office, the Democrats’ A-Team scurries away like cockroaches when the light goes on.

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TJ, We Hardly Knew Ye

Return with me now to the halcyon days of 2012, when Peter Shumlin was still popular and a fresh-faced young prosecutor from up Burlington way took on the seemingly impossible task of challenging Vermont’s Eternal General Bill Sorrell in the Democratic primary. Sorrell had held the office of attorney general since 1997 and had been repeatedly re-elected, as is our general custom with statewide officeholders other than governor. Many believed that by 2012, ol’ Billy was long past his sell-by date. Others thought he wasn’t particularly qualified in the first place, but those people are obvious malcontents. (Like, for instance, the late Peter Freyne.)

Ultimately, thanks to a last-ditch infusion of cash on Sorrell’s behalf from the Democratic Attorneys General Association, TJ Donovan’s bid to unseat the incumbent came up just a little bit short. Sorrell won the primary by a puny 714 votes out of more than 41,000 cast.

But Donovan was widely hailed for his chutzpah and, more to the point, for very nearly pulling it off.

So let me ask you this. Whatever happened to that brave, headstrong young man with a limitless political future?

I mean, there’s A Guy named TJ Donovan around. In fact, he became AG in the 2016 election, after Sorrell retired. He looks a lot like the ambitious young pol of 2012, but as time goes by, he’s acting more and more like his predecessor.

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Plagiarism is the least significant problem with ACCD report

Ouch, this is embarrassing:

In a report submitted last week to the Vermont legislature, the state Agency of Commerce and Community Development appears to have plagiarized three news stories and used photographs without permission.

Since we’re discussing plagiarism here, let me first disclose that the previous paragraph was written by Seven Days’ Paul Heintz.

The ACCD report was a review of the remote worker grant program — known in the vernacular as the $10,000 giveaway. It offers up to $10,000 to people who relocate to Vermont and work remotely for out-of-state employers. The plagiarized material profiled three recipients waxing poetic about their new lives in Vermont. Large swaths of text were lifted from reporting by Seven Days, CNBC and CNN. It also used photos taken by ace freelance photographer Jeb Wallace-Brodeur without attribution or payment. Which is how a freelancer makes a living, don’t ya know. (Note: ACCD has updated the online version of the report, giving proper credit to the media outlets.)

This is a bad look and an embarrassment for ACCD. And Commissioner Joan Goldstein did herself no favor by labeling the plagiarism as an unintentional “oversight.” (I mean, c’mon, whoever put together the report had to know where the material came from. Someone clearly, knowingly, took an ethical shortcut.)

But in the focus on plagiarism we shouldn’t overlook the meat of the report, which does little to demonstrate the value of the program. Instead, it highlights the program’s inherent flaws.

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Ellen and the art of moral compromise

Lesbian superhero Ellen Degeneres has suddenly become a controversial figure for attending a Dallas Cowboys football game in the company of untried war criminal George W. Bush. (She also did so at the invitation of Cowboys owner and human turd Jerry Jones, but she didn’t get her picture taken with him.)

Many on the left were shocked, shocked at this turn of events. How could she sit there and yuk it up with W, the man who not only started two pointless wars but also fought tooth and nail against marriage equality? (Her wife Portia de Rossi is sitting to Ellen’s left.)

I can’t say I was similarly shocked. Not that I buy Ellen’s defense that We All Have To Be Nice To Each Other. She can be “nice” to W without chumming it up with him in the owner’s suite. But Ellen has been doing this delicate moral balancing act since forever. It’s an essential feature of her character. It’s a feature that has driven her political influence — and also made her a morally ambivalent figure.

Recall that before her sitcom made history, it was a goofy, soulless laff-fest right out of the 90s network factory. And before that, she’d been a G-rated, politically chaste standup comic. Her coming out (in character and in life) on national television was arguably even more impactful because she’d established herself as a cheery, benign slice of Wonder Bread.

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Let Us Now Praise Doomed Policy Proposals

The fine folks at the Vermont ACLU got together Tuesday to unveil a plan that would cut the state’s inmate population by hundreds — which would, among other things, allow Vermont to bring its out-of-state inmates back home. (It’d also save money in a bloated corrections budget.)

Great idea. And in the words of Rice University Prof. Quincy Maddox, “Ain’t nothin’ gon’ happen.”

Seriously, I have to admire the dedication of these public interest advocates who do all kinds of research and put together plausible policy proposals in professional-quality brochures and pdfs that you just know are destined to get the bone-saw treatment in the legislative abbatoir. (Not on the official public tour.)

The plan calls for an end to cash bail (at any moment, hundreds of Vermonters are behind bars for failure to post bail), expanding alternatives to incarceration, better treatment for mental illness and substance use disorders, sentencing and prosecutorial reform, decriminalization of certain offenses including sex work, and better options for released inmates.

For years now, our political leaders have paid lip service to the notion of bringing all our inmates back home. But even as we’ve seen scandals and problems and questionable policies at out-of-state prisons, our leaders have failed to follow through.

This time, as usual, there’s plenty of lip service to be had.

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Caution in the face of crisis

Gov. Phil Scott has taken something of a ribbing on The Twitter Machine for saying that when it comes to climate change, “I’m not looking to reinvent the wheel, I’m not looking to come out with something dramatic,”

Because heaven forfend we should respond to a crisis with “something dramatic.” I mean, if your house is on fire, do you really want the fire department waking up the neighborhood with their sirens and flashers? Do you want firefighters trampling all over your lawn?

Scott’s comment was in a truly dispiriting article by VTDigger’s Elizabeth Gribkoff about how state leaders have given up on meeting Vermont’s near-term climate goals, including a 2007 law which mandates a 50% reduction (from 1992 levels) in greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2028 and a goal of weatherizing 80,000 Vermont homes by, ahem, next year. (Of course, the legislature had the foresight to impose no penalties for breaking the GHG law, so no harm, no foul, right?)

More on Our Cautious Governor in a moment. But first I’d like to point out that legislative leadership doesn’t look any better. Senate President Pro Tem Tim Ashe, The State’s Most Conservative Progressive, talked of “a pretty serious conceptual shift” that kinda-sorta makes those goals… irrelevant?

As Ashe put it, “And so we might think about things differently today than we did when those particular goals were made in terms of timing and strategies.”

Umm, okay. For her part, House Speaker Mitzi Johnson meets the challenge with a profusion of past participles: “In order to have met that goal, we needed to have been keeping closer track of it all along the way,” said Johnson.

I get it. We’re gonna bullshit our way out of the crisis.

In the meantime, I look forward to the passage of legislation officially removing our climate goals from the law. It’d be honest, if nothing else.

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Daily Newspapers Need to Die

R.I.P. Sports Illustrated, one of this lifelong reader/sports fan’s favorite media properties. I say “media property” rather than “magazine” because it long ago became a trading chip in the progressive monetization of everything. Yesterday, its new owners basically stripped SI down to the studs, and will soon begin tearing out the fixtures and wiring to sell for scrap. As the great Ray Ratto, himself a past victim of media downsizing, put it:

Sports Illustrated being turned into a title with nothing to support it has been seen as inevitable since Time, Inc. got out of the business, and this is simply the lousy next step. There will be others, and then it will disappear the way Inside Sports did, and before that Sport Magazine, and before that the International Herald Tribune. There will always be soulless brutes who buy, gut and sell things, and die as they lived, without value or memories. May their demises be slow, painful and filled with screams only they can hear.

What will be left behind, the “soulless brutes” hope, is a “brand” that can be squeezed for every last drop of profit before finally being shuttered for good. The media entity’s staff, traditionally a home for the best sports writers in America, will be filled out by contract workers. And we all know how well the “gig economy” treats writers and journalists.

Which brings me to the dying business of daily newspapers. Us olds, who still value curated journalism that tries to reflect the life of its community and provide a window on the world, stubbornly maintain our subscriptions to formerly worthy entities like the Burlington Free Press and Barre Montpelier Times Argus out of the forlorn hope that, thanks to our fingers in the dike, we can help our dailies maintain a shred of their former relevance.

Well, sorry, but that ship has sailed. Daily newspapers are never going to be anything more than a gaunt outline of their former selves. They are never going to fulfill their traditional role in civic discourse. They need to die so that something new might grow.

This would be a bad thing for all the hard-working, talented people who spend their days performing CPR on their own employers. I do not wish unemployment on the Emilie Stiglianis, April McCullums, Steve Pappases and David Delcores of the world. But their fates are not in my hands. Their paychecks arrive at the sufferance of far-away corporate owners who don’t have the slightest interest in the well-being of their minions, let alone the Constitutional duty of journalism. They see media properties as things to strip-mine with no concern for tomorrow.

And they are occupying valuable space in our media landscape for no purpose other than short-term profit.

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