Tag Archives: Vermont PBS

The first debate

Well, if you wanted fireworks, you didn’t get ‘em. Both candidates at last night’s debate, aired live on Vermont PBS, seemed so focused on getting out their talking points that they barely interacted — even though one-third of the debate was dedicated to candidates asking questions of each other.

So, how’d they do, topline?

Grading on something of a curve here. Phil Scott significantly outperformed my expectations, which had been diminished by his subpar outings in pre-primary debates. There was a lot less word salad, a lot more sticking to his core talking points.

Minter did well. She was forthright in her presentation; she stood her ground on potentially controversial subjects like wind power. But she missed some opportunities. She could have confronted Scott on his bland boilerplate and pressed him to offer specifics. She completely whiffed on Scott’s change in position on climate change. I saw a candidate who was more interested in her own talking points, and in not making a mistake, than in directly confronting her opponent.

And, given the fact that Scott is the presumed front-runner and she didn’t lay a glove on him, he gets the decision on points. If he can rope-a-dope the entire campaign like this, his chances of winning increase.

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They labored mightily and brought forth a mouse

Rarely have I felt so ambivalent about being right.

Last Friday, in my inaugural appearance on Vermont PBS’ “Vermont This Week,” host Mark Johnson asked the panel to predict the outcome of the marijuana debate in the House — a big change, a little change, or nothing at all.

The three of us all agreed on “little,” but I put my answer in two-word form: “Study commission.”

Take it away, distinguished lawmakers…

In the end, the chamber barely agreed to create a commission to study legalization. With the legislative session expected to end this week, marijuana legalization supporters conceded they’ve run out of time to try for more.

Hip, hip, hooray. Let’s hear it for representative democracy. The study commission: the Legislature’s favorite decision-avoidance technique.

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Bull Invited to China Shop

Lock up your daughters, good people. Yours truly will be a panelist on tonight’s edition of “Vermont This Week,” Vermont PBS’ often-somnolent weekly news-in-review show. (It tends to proceed at a stately and predictable pace, as if trying to hike through the forest without breaking any twigs.)

I am honored, truly. The show is a little too staid for my taste, but heck, it’s not my show. And I have no plans to wreck the place; the panel’s role is to analyze the news, not burn the house down. Just as, when I sit in for Mike Smith on WDEV Radio’s daily talk show, I treat guests and their views with courtesy and respect.

I will try to enliven the proceedings a bit. But don’t expect any foul language or ad hominem attacks.

Of course, the show is taped a few hours in advance, so if I can’t control myself, the result is unlikely to befoul your living room. If my reputation proceeds me, they might designated a control-room operator to hold a finger above the CUT button whenever I’m talking. Which would be an honor of a different sort.

Vermont This Week, tonight at 8:30 7:30* on your favorite public television station. Also posted online for your convenient viewing pleasure.

*More evidence that I Am A Idiot.

Disconnect

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 long and winding (and circular) road

It’s been a very long week at the House Appropriations Committee, which has been trying to close the remaining $18 million or so in the budget gap for Fiscal Year 2016. In today’s session, members tried everything they could think of, and then some, to balance the budget while avoiding some of the “big uglies” — the proposed cuts that nobody wanted to make.

Shall I cut to the chase? After advancing through the five stages of grief, they ended up accepting pretty much the entire list, including $6 million from LIHEAP, $2 million from a Department of Children and Families weatherization program, a $1.6 million hit to Reach Up, a million-dollar cut for the Vermont Veterans Home, a reduction in state funds for Vermont PBS, and $817,000 from Vermont Interactive Television.

This list was dubbed a “wish list” by the committee — not because they wanted to cut the items, but precisely the opposite: their wish was to avoid having to cut these items that were put on the chopping block in Gov. Shumlin’s budget proposal.

There were a couple of adjustments. As reported in my previous post, the committee adopted Rep. Maty Hooper’s plan to phase out the state prison at Windsor and devote some of the savings to re-entry programs aimed at reducing the inmate population and avoiding the export of more inmates to out-of-state prisons. And a $500,000 cut to the judiciary system was technically made a one-time cut, with the understanding that the system will reform itself in the coming year to generate equivalent savings in future years.

All the “wish list” cuts adopted by Appropriations added up to a little over $14 million in savings, mainly from the Agency of Human Services. Which is almost inevitable; the committee was looking for cuts only in General Fund programs, which leaves out a significant share of state spending. Most General Fund spending is in Human Services, so that’s where the cuts had to come from.

Mind you, nothing was finally decided today. Some committee members still hope to restore some of the cuts, but in order to do so, they’ll have to find equivalent cuts elsewhere. (Appropriations has no authority to increase revenues; it only oversees the spending of state funds.) As they put it, “buy back” some cuts. That seems unlikely, however; at day’s end, the committee was still $1.93 million short of a balanced budget. So in order to restore any of today’s cuts, they’d have to find more than $2 million in savings elsewhere.

Appropriations Chair Mitzi Johnson looking for cuts of any size, large or small.

Appropriations Chair Mitzi Johnson looking for cuts of any size, large or small.

And they tried really hard today. Most of the committee’s Democratic majority did not want to impose Shumlin’s cuts. Committee Chair Mitzi Johnson repeatedly invited members to come up with their own substitutes. And they all looked high and low, with almost no success.

At one point, Johnson asked members to split up into “unlike pairs” to discuss the “wish list” and other possible cuts. That session lasted almost an hour, and ended with several members making cellphone calls in pursuit of information on possible savings. Items of as little as a few thousand dollars were offered.

In the end, they wound up back at the “wish list.” In the absence of any alternatives, and with guidance from House leadership that only a certain amount of new revenue would be available, the Appropriations Committee bit the bullet and tentatively approved all the cuts on the “wish list.” It also approved a couple million in additional savings that weren’t on the “wish list.”

Watching all this made me appreciate how hard it is to find savings in the budget. For all the conservatives’ cries of waste and abuse and lavish spending, Republican members had no more success than Democrats in finding fat to trim. In the end, committee members of all stripes were reluctantly united behind a budget proposal that will bring painful cuts to many areas of government. There were no easy calls.

This is an early step in the process. The budget has to get through the full House, where trouble may loom in the form of a Republican/liberal coalition that opposes the budget for very different reasons. If it gets through the House, it’ll have to make its way through the Senate’s often weird and unpredictable gauntlet. But the Appropriations Committee tried and tried and tried; and in the end, it couldn’t find more palatable alternatives to Gov. Shumlin’s budget proposal.