Tag Archives: April Burbank

The Issueless Candidate

@thevpo1, Vermont’s Trusted Source for Unfair Screengrabs

Early contender for Best Inadvertent Laugh Line, 2020 General Election Edition, comes to us from Sen. Corey Parent, who’s got such a tough re-election fight on his hands that he’s devoting his spare time to managing Scott Milne’s bid for Lite-Guv. Fortunately for him, VTDigger has no laugh track, so the line is presented as if it were… serious:

Parent also said Milne “has always run campaigns based strictly on the issues.”

Corey’s a seasoned pro at this point, so it’s not too surprising that he managed to get through that line without breaking character. But still, congrats on a job well done.

Truth is, Milne is about the most issue-free major party candidate in recent memory. His two previous runs for office have featured a lot of snark, plenty of criticism for the incumbent, and virtually no actual positions or proposals on the issues.

In support of his assertion, Parent references Milne’s 2014 gubernatorial campaign: “Scott famously nearly defeated Peter Shumlin on the issue of health care.”

Well, yeah, I suppose. But Milne didn’t actually take a position on health care. He simply tried to make hay out of the disastrous rollout of Vermont Health Connect and Shumlin’s failure to enact a single-payer system. Just as he tried to make hay out of Shumlin’s other failings.

During the 2014 campaign, Milne kept promising to release a platform for his candidacy — and then delaying any announcements.

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Journalism in defiance of press release

Round of applause for the Burlington Free Press’ April Burbank, who filed an appropriately skeptical report on Scott Milne’s umpty-billionth attack on Sen. Pat Leahy’s integrity.

The subject of his latest sally was, once again, EB-5. In a press release and news conference, MIlne played his favorite hits and added a couple new verses while depicting Leahy as The Great And Powerful Wizard of EB-5.

Unfortunately for Milne’s desired narrative, Burbank began her story thusly:

Scott Milne said he’s “not ready” to discuss specific policies he would pursue if elected to the U.S. Senate, other than ethical questions he has raised about his opponent, Sen. Patrick Leahy.

Yeah, boy, is he “not ready.”

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Skeleton hunt

Here’s a tidbit from Friday’s campaign finance filing deadline, first uncovered by April Burbank of the Burlington Free Press.

The Republican Governors Association gave $50,000 to a political action committee called “A Stronger Vermont,” which used the money exclusively for research at Old Dominion Research Group in Alexandria, Virginia.

Old Dominion Research Group promises on its website to provide “hard-hitting, precise intelligence based on the records of Democrat office holders and seekers.”

Technical detail: the RGA gave “A Stronger Vermont” $50,000; ASV spent $44K on Old Dominion Research Group, and still has the remainder.

But there’s a wakeup. 44 G’s on opposition research against Democratic (no, it’s not ’Democrat”) candidates.

Burbank pretty much left it there, but I did some additional Googling and turned up some fascinating information.

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Foxy Grandpa snookers the rubes

The relief on their faces was palpable. “Finally,” they were obviously thinking, “a presidential candidate who’s not a complete bozo!”

The cream of Vermont’s Republican crop was on hand — and visibly on stage — for yeseterday’s Town Hall meeting for Ohio Gov. John Kasich. There’s a wonderful photo by the Burlington Free Press’ April Burbank, showing a handful of top Republicans gazing toward Kasich with the sort of giddiness usually seen on the face of a kid with cancer who’s meeting a star athlete through Make-A-Wish.

Can’t say I blame ‘em. The prospect of running on a ticket with the likes of Donald J. Trump or Ted X. Cruz has to give people like Phil Scott the heebie-jeebies. Kasich, unlike the rest of the Republican Clown Car, offers the image of a reasonable, moderate conservative willing to work with all parties and feeling genuine concern for society’s poor and unfortunate. Couple of problems, though.

First, they’re jumping onto a leaky lifeboat. On the very day of his triumphal visit to Vermont, Kasich was getting his butt handed to him in the South Carolina primary, coming in fifth place behind a guy who “suspended” his campaign as soon as the results were posted, and barely ahead of Dr. Sleepytime, Ben Carson.

How did Kasich characterize his own campaign?

Ohio Gov. John Kasich probably could have used a better phrase for his plan to consolidate establishment voters than “we’re going to keep struggling” in an appearance on Sunday’s “Face the Nation.”

So the VTGOP came out strong for a candidate who’s hanging on by his fingernails, hoping against hope that a first-place finish in Vermont or Massachusetts and maybe second in Michigan will keep his campaign out of the ICU for another week or so.

Second, there’s the Inconvenient Truth about Kasich’s actual record, as previously chronicled in this space. He is not a moderate; he is not, when the rubber hits the road, compassionate. He is one of a number of Republican governors who have advanced the ALEC/Koch Brothers agenda as often and as hard as they can.

And there’s no reason to believe that President John Kasich would be any different. Quite the opposite: his record suggests his current persona is a sham, a Foxy Grandpa act designed to snooker gullible centrists yearning for a candidate who’s not a complete embarrassment.

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This could take a little air out of the Sue Minter balloon

Of all the state’s cabinet positions, the Agency of Transportation is one of the friendlier posts for an ambitious politico. Everybody’s in favor of roads and highways, including conservative Republicans. A lot of your funding comes from the feds. You make friends with the generous donors in the construction business. You get to do a whole lot of high-profile announcements and ribbon-cuttings. You get to look strong and purposeful in times of trouble.

It’s unlikely that, say, Human Services would be a stepping stone to higher office. (Just ask Doug “Sacrificial Lamb” Racine.) But Transportation Secretary Sue Minter? She’s got high hopes for the governorship, or so it is said.

Which is not to say that trouble can’t erupt, seemingly out of nowhere. Dan D’Ambrosio of the Burlington Free Press:

Three former employees of the Vermont Agency of Transportation say they were verbally abused — and in one case physically abused — and passed over for promotions and pay raises because they are gay and lesbian.

Oopsie. The three, who all quit to get away from the abuse, have filed a discrimination lawsuit. The details are not pretty.

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Well, at least the Free Press dumped its political reporters BEFORE the list came out

A big oopsie from the Montana province of the great Gannett Empire.

On Jan. 28, the Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza released a (deeply flawed and incomplete) list of the “best political reporters” in each of the 50 states. One of the four Big Sky nominees was John Adams of Gannett’s Great Falls Tribune.

Unfortunately for the Trib, only two days after the list came out, Adams declined to go through the mandatory re-interviewing process for all Gannett journalists. He balked because his position — capital bureau chief — was being eliminated, and he didn’t want any of the jobs on offer.

After serious thought and consideration I opted not to apply for any of the positions. I have been very happy in my role as the capital bureau chief for the Great Falls Tribune and would have liked to have continued in that role, but I did not feel any of the available openings in the Tribune’s new “newsroom of the future” were a good fit for me.

Bad timing, Tribbies. By contrast, our local Gannett House O’ News ‘N’ Stuff, the Burlington Free Press, had the sense to jettison its two best political reporters (Terri Hallenbeck and Nancy Remsen) a couple months before Cillizza posted his list. The Freeploid still suffered the lesser embarrassment of having Cillizza name Mike Donoghue and April Burbank as two of Vermont’s top four state political reporters, when Donoghue’s beat is only partly political and Burbank had been on the beat for less than two months.

Well, it ought to be an embarrassment, but the Freeploid is actually proud of its reporters’ “achievement.” But then, it long ago established its reputation as Vermont’s Most Shameless Newspaper Media Organization. Indeed, I wouldn’t be surprised if Cillizza’s source wasn’t someone inside the Free Press and/or Gannett; he depended heavily on reader nominations for states he wasn’t familiar with, and he clearly hasn’t a clue about Vermont. It’s hard to imagine an objective reader nominating Burbank (Donoghue maybe, just on seniority) for the honor. Nothing wrong with Burbank, she hasn’t been covering state politics long enough.

 

A little shameless, and ironic, self-promotion by the Freeploid

Okay, so the Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza puts out a list of the best political reporters in each of the 50 states. He describes the list as a combination of reader recommendations and his own knowledge. It’s fair to assume that the farther away he gets from Washington, the more dependent he is on his readers.

Take Vermont, for instance. Cillizza’s list was sadly incomplete and, in two instances, ironically off-target.

He names four reporters. Paul Heintz of Seven Days; no problem there. Kyle Midura of WCAX; he does a fine job by TV standards.

The other two: Mike Donoghue and April Burbank of the Burlington Free Press.

Hahahahaha.

Nothing against either of them; they’re perfectly cromulent reporters. However…

— Neither is primarily a political reporter. Both are on the Freeploid’s vaguely-named Accountability Team. The Free Press draws heavily on the Associated Press for its political coverage.

— It was only a couple months ago that the Free Press jettisoned its political reporters, Terri Hallenbeck and Nancy Remsen. Both would be better choices for Cillizza’s list than Donoghue and Burbank.

The thickly-laden irony isn’t stopping the Free Press from celebrating its dubious honor. Three Freeploid functionaries have Tweeted the big news; here’s one of them.

Nice, Aki. I’m sure your former colleagues are sharing a bitter laugh.

As for Cillizza, he clearly doesn’t know much about Vermont media. He completely ignores VTDigger and VPR, two of the three best outlets for state political news. The Digger diss isn’t surprising, since he named it the Best Political Blog in Vermont two years ago. Small problem there: VTDigger isn’t a blog. It’s a professionally staffed news operation.

Cillizza does acknowledge the possible incompleteness of his list, and he has added people to it since he first posted it. I’ve sent him an email with my suggestions, and perhaps he’ll include them.

My top three noms: Anne Galloway of VTDigger, Peter Hirschfeld of VPR, and Neal Goswami of the Vermont Press Bureau. If I expanded things a bit, I’d include Dave Gram of the AP, Stuart Ledbetter of WPTZ, Bob Kinzel of VPR, and Mark Johnson of WDEV. Mark doesn’t report as such, but his daily radio show is the best single platform for discussion of state politcs and policy.

On the subject of Vermont’s true Best Political Blog, modesty forbids me.

Mikey Pom-Poms is at it again

I can explain everything.

Nobody was Tweeting, officer. We were all in the back seat singing.

Last night saw another outbreak of TwitBoasting from serial offender Michael Townsend, the Burlington Free Press’ Cheerleader-In-Chief.

The first one wasn’t that bad:

Okay, fine, share a little love with one of your hard-working scribes. Nothing wrong there. But then came Step Two in Townsend’s descent.

Mike Donoghue was at the Statehouse yesterday, but I’m told he wasn’t covering Shumlin’s budget address; he was dogging people about this delinquent-taxpayer list. Short version: earlier this week, the state released a list of its top 100 tax scofflaws — 50 business, 50 individual. But just the names; not the amounts owed. Donoghue is seeking the amounts.

That’s the big scoop. On the day of Gov. Shumlin’s budget address, when he’s setting the agenda for this legislative session, the Free Press’ senior reporter is stirring up a tempest in a transparency teapot.

And then came Townsend’s topper:

Oh, Mikey.

Look, it’s perfectly okay to talk up your own reporters. But why do you have to run down everybody else?

As I’ve said before, this is why all the other reporters think Townsend is a jerk and the Free Press is a fount of institutional arrogance.

Also, please lose the fake cowboy stuff. Donoghue and Burbank are good reporters; they’re not The Magnificent Seven.

Mikey Pom-Poms does the Big Balls Dance*

*See demo here. 

Mike Townsend, Burlington Free Press Executive Editor and Gannett Cheerleader-in-Chief, is feeling a little braggy today. He’s repeatedly taken to Twitter to praise the work of his own staffers, throw shade on other media.

A bit of overcompensation, perhaps, for all the criticism that’s come his way since the departures of the Freeploid’s two Statehouse reporters plus at least three other reporters in recent weeks.

Are staffers expected to accept fulsome praise in compensation for persistent job insecurity and ever-tougher productivity demands? Maybe so, because Townsend was also quick to lavish Tweetpraise on reporter April Burbank, who pulled the hard duty of Burlington School Board coverage.

Mikey follows that up with another Tweetbumpf, at which point old buddy Shay Totten chimes in.

Screen Shot 2014-11-11 at 8.00.54 PM

And then, a bit later, a bizarre and condescending slap at competitors unnamed:

Screen Shot 2014-11-11 at 8.02.14 PM

I can’t explain that last one. Maybe Townsend had a mild stroke?

In all my years in media, I can’t say I’ve ever seen a case of Bunched Knickers Syndrome as bad as the one that’s circulating around the Free Press newsroom. This outburst of braggadocio is unbecoming the chief of a reputable news operation. Here’s a hint, Mike: let your work speak for itself.

Also, despite this outbreak of Big Balls Dance, the diminution of the Free Press is already obvious. Since Terri Hallenbeck and Nancy Remsen left, the Free Press’ coverage of the ongoing state election mess has largely depended on the Associated Press. Hardly any original coverage at all.

And really, it’s perfectly understandable: your resources are dwindling, so why not deploy them in your core market — Chittenden County? Just don’t expect us to notice that Statehouse coverage has already fallen largely off the map as a day-to-day matter.

Big Balls Tweets may impress the suits at Gannett. It doesn’t impress those of us who see the product every day.

Ride with Uber. Chances are, you’ll get there in one piece

Ah, Uber… the latest high-tech industry disruptor. The “ride-sharing” service that’s just like a cab company without all that pesky regulation. The service that actively, and aggressively, resists any attempt to regulate its business. Now operating in the Burlington market, as the Freeploid reported last week:

Uber will provide rides through the low-cost service called uberX, which uses local drivers in their own cars. Burlington is now the 216th city on the Uber map, and the company will build up to 24/7 on-demand service.

The ‘Loid’s April Burbank went on to detail the city’s response to Uber, which arrived at a time when Burlington was already pondering how to update its taxi regulations, and to dutifully reproduce the complaints of local cab operators and Uber’s reassurances that its services are reliable and safe.

Safe. Hmm. That’s an issue that Burbank failed to explore further. And neither did Seven Days’ Alicia Freese, in a pair of stories that focused on Uber’s successes in other markets and the uncertain reaction from local regulators. All this, even though a quick Google search will reveal a host of problematic experiences and near-brushes with abduction and assault, to which Uber’s standard reaction is “Oops, sorry, here’s your money back, now go away.”

Let’s review some recent trouble spots on Uber’s record, shall we?

A woman in Los Angeles boarded an Uber vehicle for a ride home from a party. Instead, the driver took her 20 miles out of the way

…arriving in a dark, empty parking lot in the middle of the night despite her repeated protests. When she tried to exit the car, her driver locked the doors—only when she caused a commotion and screamed did he finally return her home. What should have been a quick ride took over two hours.

Uber’s initial response: a  partial refund for an “inefficient route.” It later made a full refund. Meanwhile, the woman is staying in a hotel because the driver is still out there somewhere and knows her home address.

A couple weeks ago, an Uber driver in San Francisco got into an argument with his passengers, stopped the car, attacked one of the riders with a hammer blow to the head, and drove away.

Oh, and here’s a thing: a Chicago TV station sent out a bunch of passengers to take rides in Uber cars, “and found not a single driver knew his way around the city.” And worse:

NBC5 then ran background checks on each of the drivers and discovered ticket after ticket — for speeding, illegal stops and running lights. One driver had 26 traffic tickets, yet still passed Uber’s background check.

The station then tested Uber’s driver-screening program by submitting an application from a reformed criminal with “a three-page rap sheet.” She was hired four weeks later, to which she said:

“I was kind of baffled, still am baffled how they let me in,” Locke said. “If I had been offered a job like this, knowing that my life of crime was in burglaries and robberies, …I would pick somebody up, take them to their airport, and my second thought would be: Go back to that house.”

The NBC5 report contains a whole lot of other nasty stuff, including an Uber driver who hit and killed a six-year-old — and who turned out to have a prior conviction for reckless driving; a driver accused of sexual assault by a passenger; and a driver whose car was totaled, and who found that neither Uber’s insurance nor his own would pay for the damages.

Thousands of people have had good experiences with Uber, and any industry has its problems. But Uber’s whole business model is built on avoiding responsibility for those problems. It fights regulation; it doesn’t buy commercial auto insurance for drivers; it classifies its drivers as independent contractors to shift liability away from the company.

It’s the ultimate in caveat emptor: let the buyer beware, let the contractor beware, let bystanders beware. In fact, let everybody beware except Uber itself. And Uber skims the profits.

City officials should think long and hard about the totality of Uber’s track record before allowing it to operate. That consideration should include the above incidents, and Uber’s clearly inadequate driver-screening process, which Seven Days and the Burlington Free Press either overlooked or didn’t think worthy of its readers’ attention.