Tag Archives: Kristin Carlson

The Big Power in Vermont Politics

Not Exactly As Illustrated.

As someone who’s covered #vtpoli for more than a decade, I am well aware that the usual stomping grounds of the political reporter (the Statehouse and the campaign trail) are the tip of the iceberg: The vast majority of the political world is underwater. If you interpret our politics in terms of that surface 10 percent, you’ll probably know what’s going on — but you won’t know how or why.

This isn’t a matter of shadowy figures in vape-filled rooms, or envelopes of cash handed out in the middle of the night. It’s simply a matter of who’s got the pull, how they get it, and which way they’re pulling.

There’s one looming figure on our political landscape with the clout and connections to pretty much always get what it wants. It’s got a wider and deeper web of influence than any other individual, party, or entity.

Maybe you’ve already guessed that I’m talking about Green Mountain Power. Now, Vermont’s biggest utility would be a force in state politics no matter what, but GMP has raised its political work to the level of fine art. It carefully curates a plausibly benevolent public image, which allows politicians of all stripes to take its side. It maintains a small army of influencers, including lobbyists, media figures, and former politicians and government officials. It’s no stretch to say that GMP is a force to be reckoned with on any issue that touches its interests; but when you lay it all out at once, it’s damn impressive.

One dimension of the GMP operation is a truly impressive list of lobbyists, as reported to the Secretary of State’s office. There are 13 names on that list, including former lawmakers and officeholders, TV anchors, and veteran presences of the Statehouse hallways and hearing rooms. That’s a lot of muscle.

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Well, that was quick. Vermont PBS has reversed course in a New York minute, jettisoning Kristin Carlson as host of its new talk show, now retitled “Connect.” The pressure must have been intense, and not just from this corner, because the decision leaves VPBS in a tight spot. They’ve got a weekly interview program. They’ve aired one episode, and they’ve got one more in the can. And now they’ve dumped the host, and they don’t have a replacement lined up.

According to [VPBS CEO Holly] Groschner, the station is still trying to determine whether to replace Carlson with a single host or a rotating cast of hosts.

Hoo boy. They’ve got about a week to make up their minds. And no, they haven’t called me, ha ha.

The sad part about this is, Groschner still seems blind to the problems with the Carlson hire. VTDigger’s Jon Margolis:

Interviewed Thursday, she wouldn’t agree that it would have been a conflict of interest for Carlson to host the show, saying that, “the perception of conflict is often in the eye of the beholder.”

Oh, so it’s OUR fault for perceiving a conflict.

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A cup of weak tea… with Kristin Carlson

Last week, I reacted to the news of Vermont PBS’ new program, “Connect… with Kristin Carlson” with a measure of skepticism over the host’s dual role — as host of the show, and as lead spokesperson for Green Mountain Power, the state’s largest utility.

Since then, the show has had its premiere. And sorry, I didn’t watch. I did, however, listen to Carlson’s July 9 interview with WDEV’s Mark Johnson about the new show. During the interview, Johnson quizzed her about the conflict of interest questions. And her answers were surprisingly weak and one-dimensional. Uncharacteristically so, for a person with double digits’ experience in TV news who’s now one of the most prominent corporate spokesflacks in Vermont. I presume she does a better job when she’s representing GMP.

Anyhoo, kind of an underwhelming performance. Her fallback position, expressed several times, was that this is not an “issue” show, but a show about “sharing the stories of Vermonters.” She’ll avoid talking with people who would create an obvious conflict — which could include quite a swath of Vermonters, depending on how you interpret “conflict.” She wouldn’t interview GMP President Mary Powell — or anti-renewable activist Annette Smith, for that matter. But how far does she take it?

Is anyone involved in energy issues, or environmental issues, or business, on the no-show list? To be on the safe side, they probably should be; but the bigger that list becomes, the more incomplete the show becomes.

Johnson asked about potential guests who don’t have an obvious conflict, but “you never know where a conversation is going to go.” Her response?

… I do a lot of the pre-interviews with people, talk to them about what we’re going to talk about, and if I get into an area where I might think ‘Okay, this might be a little, mmmm,’ then we just won’t do it.

My prediction? If she plans to err on the side of caution, this will by necessity be a pretty toothless show. Or at best a deficient reflection of Vermont’s character.

But that’s not the real problem.

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A couple of questions about Vermont PBS’ new program

Our public television service, Vermont PBS, is kind of a skin-of-its-teeth operation. (Especially compared to VPR, the Alpha Male of Vermont media.) It can’t really afford much in the way of local programming. (Compared to VPR, which could be doing a lot more than it does.)

So the teevee folks are to be congratulated for launching a new weekly show, “Connect… WIth Kristin Carlson.” It debuts this Friday evening at 8:30, and is described thusly:

Our region is loaded with some of the most interesting, inspiring and creative people found anywhere, both locally based and folks visiting from afar. We’ll catch up with them, whether in the studio or on the road, and get a glimpse at what drives them. Writers, musicians, community and business leaders, filmmakers, social visionaries… if they’ve got a story, Kristin will be talking to them.

This is nice. This is great. More locally-produced programming, I’m all for it.

But I do have a couple of questions.

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The strange case of the missing memoir

May 29, 2012: a night that will live in blandness.

Then-WCAX anchor Kristin Carlson sits down with former Governor Jim Douglas for a friendly  interview about the ex-Guv’s autobiography, which was said to be on its way to the printer. Release date: fall 2012. And, as Carlson said in her intro,

During his four terms as Governor, Jim Douglas was seen as a leader who carefully guarded what he said publicly. But now, he’s opening up about his time as Governor and his nearly four decades in elective office.

“Opening up,” heh? This oughta be good.

What follows, of course, is anything BUT good. In fact, it was a textbook display of that signature Jim Douglas combination of blandness and insufferability.

The classic dead-eyed Jim Douglas "smile"

The classic dead-eyed Jim Douglas “smile”

The ex-Guv hints that “there will definitely be some surprises.” And then absolutely refuses to even hint at a single solitary surprise. Sample colloquy:

Douglas: “… the stories I haven’t had a chance to tell.”

Carlson: “Such as?”

Douglas: “Well, you’ll have to wait, Kristin. but I’ll, I’ll have some stories.”

When pressed, Douglas offered a vague list of subjects, “even the press.” He hinted that his book would chronicle the failings of the Vermont media.

What failings?

“Well, I think you’ll have to wait and see what I write.”

Carlson made one more try, asking about one of the book’s alleged themes: “How a Republican can win in Vermont.” Any hints?

“Well, I’ll get into more detail, obviously, in my memoirs…”

Well, thank you, Governor Douglas, for saying absolutely nothing about the topic of this interview. And thank you for wasting our viewers’ time.

Carlson was too much of a pro to vent her annoyance. But Christ on a cracker, that was a thoroughly painful six minutes. The word that came to mind unbidden was “jackhole.” Jim Douglas deigned to grace Channel 3’s airwaves with his presence, and damn it, his presence is all they’re gonna get.

This trip down Memory Lane was prompted by an inquiry from fellow Green Mountain Daily stalwart “BP,” who emailed the group asking whatever became of the Douglas memoir.

The answer? Nothing, apparently. There’s no hint of any publicity after that brief May 2012 outburst. There’s no hint of a Douglas autobiography appearing anytime since, nor any inklings of a pending publication.

There was a book published in 2011, before the WCAX interview, entitled “The Douglas Years: Dedicated to the People of Vermont.” It’s currently ranked #2,523,904 on Amazon.com’s sales chart. But I seriously doubt this is the purported memoir. For one thing, there’s the date discrepancy.

But mainly, “The Douglas Years” is mighty thin gruel, even by Douglas’ standards. It’s a little over 200 pages long. More than half of that is taken up with photographs and transcriptions of Douglas speeches. As for the content, it’s a painfully dry (even by Douglas’ standards) recitation of issues that faced Vermont during his Administration and how they were dealt with. It reads as though it was written by committee.

(No, I haven’t bought the book; I’ve just thumbed through it using Amazon’s “Look Inside” feature. The Table of Contents alone nearly put me into a coma.)

So I have to conclude that the Great Jim Douglas Autobiography is, after more than two years, missing in action. Did Douglas balk, like a spooked showhorse, when he came face-to-face with putting those closely-guarded stories in print? Did his publisher take one look at the manuscript and judge it unreadably stiff and boring?

I’ve put out a few inquiries via email and to my tens of Twitter followers; so far, no responses. I’ll update if I hear anything.