Category Archives: Uncategorized

I Drive Around the Streets an Inch Away From Veeping: Yet More Veepie Awards

(Headline is a paraphrase of Charles Bukowski, everybody’s favorite wholesome all-American writer)

Got a full slate once again, including how the feds’ ignorance of Vermont’s governmental structure is screwing up Covid relief, a couple of lazy media tropes on display, an ex-cop dumping on his hometown, and… wait for it… the first-ever Own Veepie. Let’s get to work, or whatever this is.

Let’s start at the U.S. Treasury, which earns the We’re Not Bending Our Rules for You; You’ll Have to Do the Bending Award thanks to its ignorance of Vermont’s structure of governance. Unfortunately, this has thrown a great deal of uncertainty into federal Covid relief for cities and towns. The federal aid is meant for state, county and municipal governments, which is fine in a state with robust county governments. In Vermont, the counties do very little and have minimal budgets.

Even so, the feds have insisted that our share of the loot be distributed on their standard formula. This means that cities and towns will get substantially less than previously thought — like, roughly two-thirds less. This was first reported late last week by the Times Argus, based on communications to the Barre and Montpelier city councils. Several days later, VTDigger posted a much more complete accounting. The Legislature will decide how to redirect the “county Covid funds,” and could do so however they wish. That’s a worrying prospect, but Digger says that state leaders agree that the money should go to cities and towns. That’s good, but why do we need to clean up the Treasury’s mistake?

One more thing: According to Digger, the Treasury granted exceptions for other states with weak county governments (Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts) but not Vermont. Why not? Are we too small to warrant the Treasury’s attention?

Still to come: Inadequate reporting times two, a temper tantrum from a former top cop, and the Veepies come back to bite me.

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Keep the Cameras On

The House and Senate have been discussing how and when to return to normal operations in the Statehouse. Media coverage has focused on ensuring that reporters have access to any meetings under the Golden Dome. And that’s important.

But there’s one thing that’s more important to far more people, and I haven’t heard beans about it lately.

After their return to the Statehouse, the Legislature should continue livestreaming all hearings and floor sessions, and archiving them all on YouTube.

This would be a bit of a logistical challenge; the committee rooms are cramped, and it’s tough to get a good angle that encompasses all parties. Decent audio quality is also an issue. But here’s the thing: There’s talk of setting up auxiliary rooms in the Statehouse where people could watch a hearing without being in the committee room. That would ease the habitual (and unhealthy) overcrowding at hearings, and provide access to those who feel a little iffy about breathing the same air as a couple dozen others in the teeth of cold and flu season.

Well, if they’re going to send video to auxiliary rooms, there is no reason on Earth why they can’t put the same feed on YouTube. No excuses.

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Broadband Is Happening Right Now. But How and By Whom?

Coming soon to an unserved area near you!

Christine Hallquist made a strong but unintentional cargument for universal broadband on Thursday. The former utility executive and gubernatorial candidate is now working to bring broadband to northern Vermont, as administrator for NEK Community Broadband and for Lamoille FiberNet.

Hallquist was a witness at a Thursday hearing on broadband, appearing, as is everyone, via Zoom. And her testimony was delayed by several minutes because of trouble with her Starlink internet connection.

Once she finally managed to be heard, Hallquist made a strong case for achieving universal broadband through the “communication union districts” around the state, including her own.

(She also wins the imaginary “See, I Told You So” award. Several years ago, she was talking up the electric utility infrastructure as the best, easiest and cheapest delivery system for broadband. Lo and behold, that’s the backbone for getting high-speed internet to every corner of the state.)

Broadband is no longer an unrealized dream but a near-future reality, thanks to the Covid pandemic. With many Vermonters working and schooling their children from home, broadband suddenly became a necessity. And the federal government’s Covid relief packages have injected billions into the nationwide broadband project, with hundreds of millions flowing into Vermont’s effort.

But the devil is in the details, and those details are being worked out right now in the Legislature. Anyone interested in broadband should be paying close attention, and giving their lawmakers an earful.

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Looks Like We Got Ourselves a Homegrown Election Truther

Hey, folks, remember this guy? Brian Judd, candidate for Barre City Council, Trump supporter and rabid conspiratorialist?

Well, he got his ass whupped on Town Meeting Day by incumbent councilor Teddy Waszasak, 54% to 46%.

But he ain’t taking it lying down. No, he’s gone and filed suit against the City of Barre alleging some kind of election irregularity and, I presume, asking for the result to be overturned.

And you’ll never guess: He’s representing himself! Classic.

There’s little detail in the court record. He filed the suit on March 17. The defendant (city of Barre) has yet to be served. Nothing’s been scheduled. Here’s the record that’s accessible by the general public.

Get your popcorn ready, folks.

A pile of informed speculation about the Heintz hire

Paul Heintz’ move from Seven Days to VTDigger was somewhere north of surprising and a little south of shocking. Heintz had been at 7D for quite a while. He was one of 13 staffers granted a 1% ownership share last January, presumably a reward for loyalty and an incentive to stay put. And although he’d stepped down from an editorial position last year, he retained a measure of influence beyond his station.

Now, he’s definitely getting a promotion. At Digger, Heintz will be managing editor overseeing a staff of roughly 20. (As 7D’s political editor, he supervised only three.) Nonetheless, it’s a move from an organization he knows backwards and forwards to an unfamiliar place that’s going through a difficult transition.

I can’t speak to his motivation. I worked for the guy for two years and we never really got along, so I don’t know him very well. But here’s what it means from my perspective, which is informed by experience working in both shops. And biased by that experience as well. Take it all with a grain of salt.

Moving from reporter to editor is a customary career path in journalism. Most people get out of the trenches sooner or later, and either move to management or out of the profession. (Montpelier is up to its neck in former journalists turned communications staff, a much more lucrative profession.) He may have hit a glass ceiling at 7D, having once been an editor and then returned to the rank and file.

But he’s stepping into an uncomfortable situation. Digger founder and chief bottle-washer Anne Galloway is a frequent meddler, diving into any story or situation whenever she sees fit. This was appropriate when Digger was a tough little startup with a handful of staff but not now, when it’s a large and established organization that requires a leader focused entirely on the big picture.

Heintz’ predecessor, Colin Meyn, was the buffer between the top and the trenches. It was a real challenge, and he handled it well. He was viewed with affection and respect by the reporting staff. But I have to think it took a toll on him. It’s never a good sign when someone quits a steady job during a pandemic without a pre-arranged professional landing spot.

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Barre’s Flag Fiasco

Oh no, I’m sorry, that’s way too controversial.

The Barre City Council deliberated for months on a proposal to fly the “Black Lives Matter” flag in City Hall Park, a measure first proposed last spring. They finally resolved the matter in a way that only an all-white group of desperate politicians could devise. They decided the BLM flag would fly through the end of December, and that for January it would be replaced by the “Thin Blue Line” banner, a bastardized version of the American flag that’s favored by the pro-police crowd.

Talk about both-sidesing an issue.

The only thing stupider than the final resolution was its original version, which would have seen 22 different flags displayed for one month apiece. That roster included the flags of England, Italy and France, as well as the Star of David, an Autism Acceptance banner and the flag of the Green Mountain Boys.

Talk about 22-sidesing an issue.

That idea was floated by Councilor John Steinman, a very conservative dentist who once ran unsuccessfully for the House. I couldn’t hazard a guess as to why he chose England, Italy and France (white people white people WHITE PEOPLE WHITE PEOPLE!!!!), or why he cast his net so widely, but somehow that proposal was actually adopted by Council at its November 17 meeting — only to be replaced by the two-flag plan the following week, presumably after an outpouring of laughter and derision.

I shouldn’t have to explain why it’s such an affront to tie those two flags together, but let’s give it a shot, shall we?

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Greeting Card Governance

Typical Vermont community (Not Exactly As Illustrated)

I have to admit I felt a little twinge of the warm fuzzies when I heard about Gov. Phil Scott’s “Vermont LIghts the Way” initiative. I mean, who could resist this pitch:

“I think it’s time to lift our spirits. Let’s get creative and show the world that Vermonters are here for each other and that even through these dark and difficult times, Vermont Lights the Way. …I hope this effort will spread joy and hope, especially for our kids.”

Yeah, mmm, hot cocoa, puppy hugs, flannel blankies, freshly fallen snow snow, plush teddy bears, holiday music, Mom’s chicken soup.

But of course, I’m a cynical old blogger, so my thoughts quickly turned. “What does this have to do with governance?” I asked myself.

Nothing. It’s good politics, that’s all. And there’s nothing wrong with good politics in its place. But this message is aimed at the comfortable among us — the ones with homes and well-stocked pantries, a bit of disposable income and paid-up utility bills, the ones who’d like to feel as though they’re making a difference without leaving the comfort of home and hearth.

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Mr. Milne’s Blunderbuss

It’s getting to be a pattern with Scott Milne, Republican candidate for lieutenant governor. Launch an attack on his Democratic opponent Molly Gray; it misses the mark; he drops the line and tries something else. Which immediately backfires.

His first attack was the most impactful. Immediately after the primary, his campaign started pointing to Gray’s admittedly poor voting record. (He launched this attack even as his campaign manager was promising a positive, issue-oriented campaign, but whatevs.) She is vulnerable on this point, but you can only repeat one single attack so often.

Since then, Team Milne floated a supposedly stunning revelation that Gray had an active voter registration on file in the District of Columbia. That one was quickly abandoned, perhaps because people who move frequently, as she did for professional reasons, probably don’t keep up with old registrations. (For all I know, I may be on file in multiple locations. Can’t say I officially canceled any of my old voter registrations. ) It wouldn’t be a scandal unless she tried to vote in more than one jurisdiction. There’s no evidence of that.

On Monday, the Milne campaign issued its alleged masterstroke: a list of 101 tweets sent during business hours from Gray’s campaign Twitter account. The campaign or someone affiliated with it had filed a wide-ranging public records request in search of evidence that she engaged in campaigning when she should have been performing her duties as an assistant attorney general.

Gray immediately explained it away, noting that it’s common practice for campaign staffers to have access to a candidate’s Twitter feed. Milne’s team proved her point when “MilneforVT” repeatedly tweeted during Thursday night’s MIlne/Gray debate on WPTZ-TV.

Yeah, disproving your own argument isn’t best practice. The List of 101 hasn’t been mentioned since.

Now we have another misdirected attack.

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The VPR/VPBS LG Debate: Backwards in High Heels

Molly Gray was under some pressure today, to come back from last week’s meh debate performance and stand up against the attacks of Scott Milne. And she had to do so within the strictures placed on women and people of color who run for office: They have far less latitude than white men in displaying emotion of any kind or going on the attack. Obama consciously kept himself in check to forestall any “Angry Black Man” reactions. Hillary Clinton had to walk a tightrope — backwards, in high heels — while Donald Trump threw rotten tomatoes at her.

Gray did a fine job. She stood her ground. She attacked Milne’s record without sounding, in that wonderful world of female stereotyping, bitchy. It helped that Milne had shot his wad last Thursday; he had no fresh attack lines to spring on his opponent. All he could do was lob the old stuff at her, and this time she was fully prepared to answer.

Meanwhile, Milne often seemed churlish. He pushed lines of attack past the point of diminishing returns. He was patronizing. He complained about her answers. He was less skilled than she at deflecting to desired talking points. His performance did nothing to advance his campaign’s positioning of MIlne as Phil Scott 2.0, a nice-guy authentically Vermonty moderate Republican.

His handlers had better get him back into the bubble wrap. It’s time for Operation Deep Freeze to go into effect. Keep him out of the public eye as much as possible, to limit the chances that he’ll go off script and default to his snarky, self-pitying ways.

Now… let’s count punches.

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The Poll: A Wake-Up Call for Vermont Dems

Obligatory Vermont Exceptionalism jerkoff question.

The big news in the just-released VPR/VTPBS Poll was below the topline. I mean, the size of Gov. Phil Scott’s margin over Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman was a shock but not a surprise, if that makes sense. Unless something truly dramatic occurs in the next six weeks, Scott’s gonna win, but not by as much as the poll suggests.

For Dems, the alarm bells ought to be ringing loudly over the result of the race for lieutenant governor, which shows Dem Molly Gray with a slight lead, and the hypothetical Scott/Pat Leahy matchup in 2022, which puts Scott in the pole position.

Neither are a cause for panic, but both should inspire the Democrats to stop screwing around and get serious about this politics thing.

As for the LG race, I actually see it as bad news for Republican Scott Milne. He’s been on the statewide ballot twice before and almost became governor in 2014, plus he headed a high-profile business and comes from a storied family of moderate Republicanism. In name recognition alone, he should have an edge on Gray, who didn’t enter the political realm until about eight months ago.

Milne’s 31% shows that he’s enjoyed little carry-forward from his previous sallies. Plug any generic Republican into the LG slot, and they’d get 31%.

Which points to the even bigger problem for Milne: The Republican base is far too small to elect anyone, and he has yet to crack into the centrist/Democratic ranks — his two Dem endorsements notwithstanding. I suspect that all it will take to render a knockout blow to Milne is the likely outcome of the debates. Milne is an awful debater, and whatever you think of Gray, she’s got game.

Still, the Dems can’t be complacent about the race.

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