Analysis: Five big stories most Vermont media and politicians don’t talk about

By Guy Page

June 1, 2020 – After a while, the big stories ignored by Vermont media and elected officials pile up so high that anyone with eyes can see them. Unless, of course, they are studiously looking in the other direction. For example:

Is Vermont’s Planned Parenthood soliciting Paycheck Protection $$? – On May 19 Tucker Carlson of Fox News released the bombshell story that individual Planned Parenthood affiliates have received $80 million in CARES Act Paycheck Protection Funds even though regulations say only parent organizations may apply on behalf of their affiliates, chapters, franchises, etc.

Apart from the affiliate application problem, there’s a real question of need, as well. The #1 service-related funding stream of PP income – abortions – has tragically continued as an “essential service.” They have continued even as virtually all other non-emergency health care were indefinitely delayed, resulting in huge financial losses and uncounted and uncountable human suffering. So compared to other employers whose business activity went into complete lockdown, does PP even need Paycheck Protection? 

After the Carlson story broke, Vermont Daily got Planned Parenthood of Northern New England VP Lucy Leriche on the phone and asked her to respond. She didn’t answer the question then. She still hasn’t. The federal government hasn’t released the list of affiliates it says are in violation of the CARES Act. None of our politicians are curious. Neither is the press. Unless I’ve missed it. And I’ve been watching pretty closely. 

With U.S. cities on fire, Senate candidate Kesha Ram say “there is no such thing as a good officer” – Saturday, as most Vermonters discovered many of the nation’s cities on fire and police everywhere under attack, Vermont Senate candidate Kesha Ram Tweeted about a teenaged encounter with Los Angeles police which she wrapped up by saying, “”that’s when I learned there is no such thing as a ‘good officer’ unless something drastic changes in the culture of impunity for law enforcement.” 

The Tweet was soon taken down, but not before News Done Right Twitter hawk Brad Broyles captured and retweeted it. By Sunday 3 pm it had more than 1100 views, including presumably several Twitter followers from Vermont media outlets like Seven Days, WCAX, and the Valley News. Broyles even hashtagged several reporters. The result? Crickets. Sure, it’s “only” been two days. But that’s an eternity for a hot story like a public figure making a seemingly blanket condemnation of every officer of the Thin Blue Line.

Kesha Ram. Photo credit UVM

Why does this matter? After all, it was on Twitter, for heaven’s sake – who cares what’s said there? (Unless of course you are Maureen Dowd of the New York Times and every other media pundit this weekend who begged, begged Twitter to kick President Trump off its platform.) Here’s why it matters: Ram ran for lieutenant governor in 2016. Had she been elected, and had Phil Scott left office for any reason, our new governor would have been someone who in her heart of hearts believes there is no such thing as a good law enforcement officer. 

At Gov. Scott’s press conference today, VT Daily read Ram’s statement and then asked Gov. Scott, Vermont Director of Racial Equity Xusanna Davis and Public Safety Commissioner Mike Schirling to comment. All criticized any blanket condemnation of police. “I don’t think it’s constructive to label all law enforcement as bad,” Davis said. She added that for people who have suffered police mistreatment, “it can feel to them as if” there are no good police officers.” Scott said, “I have a tremendous amount of respect for the law enforcement community,” and that despite some bad actors “we can’t paint the law enforcement community with a broad brush.”

Said Schirling: Most police officers are in the profession for the right reason, but “unfortunately it’s a profession that exists in a fish blow. Every event that doesn’t go well is magnified in that fish bowl, and rightly so.” The event that does go well “doesn’t make front page news.”

How will the Secretary of State seek to detect voter fraud? – As Vermont Secretary of State Jim Condos pushes his second-in-the-nation (after Nevada) plan to mail every registered voter a ballot for the 2020 general election, 800 lb. progressive advocacy gorilla VPIRG is preparing to exploit it with an unprecedented voter harvesting campaign. And there is apparently no concern about, or plan in place, to detect possible voter fraud. 

 At a Senate Government Operations Committee hearing last Tuesday on a bill to push Gov. Scott behind the November general election decision-making ropeline, Rutland County Sen. Brian Collamore – with VPIRG president Paul Burns listening – asked Deputy Secretary of State Chris Winters whether focused third-party “harvesting” of absentee ballots could happen here under the new law. Winters conceded tersely that it could. That’s important because ballot harvesting in North Carolina was found to be rife with fraud as “harvesters” improperly pressured voters. 

The blindingly obvious follow-up question was, “so what are your plans to prevent that from happening here, Dep. Secretary Winters?” Alas, no such question was asked. 

Sen. Alison Clarkson (D-Windsor) merely tossed Winters a softball question: she asked if the Secretary of State has found voter fraud in Vermont. Well, no, Senator, Winters responded. And that seemed to settle the issue for everyone. None of the officials present, nor any of the media coverage afterwards (other than Vermont Daily and a post by Rob Roper of the Ethan Allen Institute) saw fit to ask the guardian of the chicken coop how he plans to keep out the foxes. Neither did Winters offer the information, saying rather, “It’s not that we’re not concerned about voter fraud. We have not seen it happening in the state of Vermont. We’re always on the lookout for it.”

When our children tell us they can’t find their shoes, we ask them where they’ve looked, and then insist they look again. No such curiosity or direction seems to be forthcoming on behalf of the chickens/voters from either the Secretary of State’s Office or the Vermont Senate. 

Has SunCommon laid off 27 workers? Word about layoffs gets around. When it reaches the media, depending on the size of the layoffs and the perceived importance of the affected business, it’s usually a pretty big story. 

Last week a reliable source told me a family member was among 27 employees permanently laid off from SunCommon, the Vermont solar installer co-founded by former VPIRG president James Moore shortly after he led his organization as it pushed through legislation offering guaranteed, high-cost subsidies for solar power. On the strength of these subsidies and VPIRG-generated government support for solar power, SunCommon quickly developed a large market share. 

So, last week Vermont Daily left a phone message and emailed SunCommon. Alas, no response. Never shy about seeking positive media coverage, SunCommon apparently believes that bad news is no news. That’s not unexpected for a business, but the media and elected officials (including several legislators with current or past employment ties to SunCommon) might be expected to speak out. 

And finally, Guv candidate rallies statewide candidates (including two people of color) to run for office – Today, in the wake of the Floyd killing, Gov. Phil Scott announced he will convene a task force to (among other things) ensure more minority participation in Vermont elections. This could be very good news for the grassroots political campaign led by John Klar of Brookfield. 

Until Scott threw his hat into the ring last week, Klar was the only announced Republican candidate for governor. Like him or not, Klar managed to attract 19 candidates for statewide and legislative office, most of them first-timers who share his ‘outsider’ view that the State House needs more fiscal frugality and rural representation. 

A gubernatorial candidate with virtually no budget rallying to his banner other first-time candidates from all across the state? How is that not news? 

Yet at last week’s duly announced press conference on the State House steps, only one ‘mainstream’ reporter came with camera and questions – Calvin Cutler of WCAX. The only others in attendance were Vermont Daily and True North Reports

Alice Flanders

Had they attended, they would have met many new faces to the Vermont political scene. They also would have heard a stirring impromptu speech (seen and heard here at 19:24 on video shot by Vermont Senate candidate Erika Redic) by House (Windsor 4-2) candidate Alice Flanders, an African-American and retired Navy engineer and instructor who said the most racial discrimination she has ever felt has been from progressive white people who aren’t happy that her politics don’t match their prejudice about how black people should vote. Also standing with Flanders and Klar was African-American Levar Cole, a Chelsea farmer and also retired military. 

The real power of the press isn’t how it tells the story. It’s how it decides what’s news. And perhaps more importantly, what isn’t.

Categories: Opinion