Daily Archives: October 29, 2014

Meet Dan Feliciano’s uvula

Well, I think we can stop taking submissions for Worst TV Ad of 2014 (Vermont Regional). Ladies and gentlemen, we have a winner!

Screen Shot 2014-10-29 at 11.32.42 AM

That’s a screengrab from the new TV ad for Dan Feliciano, Libertarian candidate for Governor.

At least I think it’s an ad for Feliciano, not a bit of inspired trollery by the Scott Milne campaign. Because the ad does nothing to advance Feliciano’s cause; indeed, it highlights his status as an underfunded, politically inexperienced, minor-party candidate.

How bad is it? Let me count the ways.

The entire 30-second ad consists of one continuous shot of Feliciano reciting his favorite talking points. His voice is too fast, he’s too brightly lit and uncomfortably close*, his face does a bunch of weird things, his closing smile is off-putting. It was clearly done on the cheap.

*It’s never a good thing if a viewer’s first instinct is to recoil from the screen. 

The script is poorly written; his first line is “Like you, I believe our best days are ahead.” And then, without the slightest pause, he ticks off all the ways our state is going to hell:

3,000 fewer jobs. Out of control spending. Increasing poverty, low wages, high taxes, and government-controlled health care are alarming.

Wait, you just said something about “our best days”. WTF?

The parade of imagined horrors out of the way, he instantly pivots to his pitch:

I’m Dan Feliciano. I have the experience to reverse these trends by taking a fresh look at government.

When you vote, think new. Think better. It’s time to vote for experience and not party. Vote Feliciano for Governor. Our best days can be ahead, and I’ll be there with you.

Queasy smile, fade to black.

Wait, “experience”? Not once but twice?

Most viewers have never heard of this guy or seen his face before. How are they supposed to buy him as “experienced”?

I understand that there’s no time for a resume in a 30-second spot, but you can’t just come in and throw “experience” around as a credential for a virtual unknown. Also, how can you pitch “new” and “experience” in the same breath?

It’s a political truism that TV exposure is a necessity. In this case, the more people see this spot, the fewer votes Feliciano will get.

And now, in case you thought I was exaggerating about his face doing weird things, here are a few screengrabs taken more or less randomly in one viewing.

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p.s. That last one is Feliciano’s attempt at a smile. Yikes.

The sad thing is, he really is quite a bit more personable than this. Which makes it even more of an insult to the fine art of advertising.

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Scandal! Panic!! Naked Hippies!!! Taxpayer Dollars!!! AAAAAAHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!

About five weeks ago, the Vermont Historical Society announced a bit of good news: it won a $117,521 grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services to conduct research and create exhibits and programs about Vermont’s countercultural movement of the 1970s. (The total cost of the project is roughly $260,000; VHS is responsible for getting the rest of the money.) VHS curator Jackie Calder explains:

“By collecting objects, papers, and oral histories we will be creating a body of information for this pivotal period in our state history, making it available for generations to come. And our project’s community forums and public programs will engage Vermonters in learning about this important time in our history.”

It’s a worthy project. The countercultural movement had a lasting impact on Vermont — its politics, culture, environmental movement, its very active food scene, even its economy. (Ben and Jerry’s, anyone?)  The idea of collecting oral histories is especially pertinent, since the firebrands of the 70s are now, ahem, getting up there in age and won’t be around forever.

So, all good, yes?

Yes, until the right-wing “news” site Vermont Watchdog got wind of the grant — more than a month after it was announced — and predictably headlined it like this:

Taxpayers stripped of $117,521 for naked hippie commune research

Damn dirty clickbait!

Damn dirty clickbait!

Ahh, nothing like a little moral panic to clear the sinuses, eh?

VW’s one and only staffer, Bruce Parker, hit all the high notes in his predictable screed: a “taxpayer-funded” project to study “the hippie commune movement that invaded Vermont” with its “oft-nude, drug-addled drifter colonies,” “idealistic youth dropping out of society,” “free-love vagabond communards,” and a former member reminiscing about how “We shared food. We shared sex. We shared clothing…”

Damn dirty HIPPIES!

This story combines two favored tropes of the far right: exaggerating government-funded activities to make them look ridiculous, and slamming the excesses of the left. Especially hippies. Damn dirty hippies!

But seriously, that 70s stuff — which itself had its roots in earlier back-to-the-land movements, as embodied in the works of Helen and Scott Nearing and pioneering New Hampshire-based food writer Beatrice Trum Hunter — did play a significant role in creating the Vermont of today.

The old Vermont, remember, was an extremely red state, ruled for over a century by the Republican Party. Montpelier was a famously stiff community where the sidewalks got rolled up at 5 p.m.

The transition is striking. And the role of the counterculture movement is definitely worth studying and discussing. Libraries and museums are the places that collect and preserve our past. That’s kind of important, no? We need to understand our past in order to understand how we got where we are.

I think Santayana put that a little better. But you get the point. Museums and libraries are the repositories of our history, our culture. They are the institutions that preserve what is important. And it’s inarguable that the 70s counterculture played an important role in Vermont’s history.

Even if you can’t stand damn dirty hippies.

Neale Lunderville, the shiniest bauble on the public policy tree

Oh, those darn Democrats. They just can’t seem to resist the dubious charms of former Douglas Administration functionary (and campaign hatchet-man, lest we forget, and I bet Doug Racine hasn’t) Neale Lunderville.

Mmmm, what should I take over next?

Mmmm, what should I take over next?

Back in 2011-12, Lunderville started his run as the Dems’ unlikely go-to guy when he served as Governor Shumlin’s Irene Recovery Czar. This summer, he added another layer of plausible nonpartisanship as Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger’s choice to be interim head of the Burlington Electric Department, tasked with undertaking a “strategic review” of the organization.

Well, unbeknownst to almost everyone outside of the State House inner circle, Lunderville had already scored a public-policy bingo with his appointment to a not-quite-secret committee tasked with nothing less than crafting an overhaul of Vermont’s public education system. VPR’s Peter Hirschfeld got the goods:

The group isn’t a legislative committee per se – not too many people even know it exists. But members of Smith’s education reform group have been getting together since after the close of the 2014 legislative session. And by year’s end, Smith says he hopes they’ll deliver the policy recommendations that will serve as the basis for an overhaul of the state’s education system.

… He says the advance work being done by the group will give lawmakers the early start they need to get a meaningful bill across the finish line.

The committee is dominated by current and former state lawmakers, most of them Democrats, but also including a couple of Republicans, one former Republican turned independent (Oliver Olsen), one Progressive, and Our Man Neale.

Which makes me again raise the question, Can’t the Democrats find anybody else to take on tough policy challenges? Why do they have to depend on a guy who cut his teeth running the dark side of Jim Douglas’ political operation?

And, especially, why in the Blue Hell do they insist on burnishing the credentials of a guy who might very well be the Republican candidate for Governor in 2016 or 2018?

Ulp. Pardon me for a moment…

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Whew. That’s better. Now, where was i?

Oh yes. Aside from Lunderville’s presence, the committee’s almost total secrecy has to be a concern.

The group’s meetings aren’t warned or open to the public, and minutes aren’t recorded. Smith says the off-the-books arrangement is needed to help members of the group feel more “free” to brainstorm different approaches.

So I guess the fact that this isn’t an official committee exempts it from open-meetings and public-records laws — kinda like Dick Cheney’s infamous energy policy committee. But if the group manages to complete its task, it might well be the most powerful committee in the legislature (even if it no longer exists when the legislature comes back to work). It’ll effectively set the school-reform agenda for the lawmakers who actually have to do their business, inconveniently enough, under the public eye.

Three other things you should know:

— According to one member, the committee is focusing on student-to-teacher ratio. Which might mean mandatory minimum class sizes, or even forced school consolidation.

— Lunderville seems to favor centralizing budgetary authority, which he advocates under the guise of allowing local officials to “devote attention where it belongs: student learning.” Their ability to do anything about student learning without the power of the purse would be sharply constrained, of course. Lunderville would like to “go to more of a model like the state has, where there’s one agency, one department on a regional or state level handling those.” Which would be kind of a radical move.

— Finally, as Hirschfeld reports at the top of his story, “public education – not single-payer health care – will be top of mind for House lawmakers.” Not good news for Governor Shumlin, who continues to insist that single-payer is Job One in the new biennium.