Editorial: A hullabaloo over not much

Talk about much ado about nothing. Gov. Peter Shumlin — after a year-and-a-half marathon that saw him prevail in the Democratic Party primaries, win the general election, put together a transition team and set out an aggressive agenda as governor for the past 60-plus days in office — decides to take six days off to a Caribbean island he is familiar with and save the taxpayers a few bucks by not taking his security detail. To do that, he keeps his destination secret to all but a few, though obviously telling Republican Lt. Gov. Phil Scott he would be away and that he (Scott) was temporarily in charge.
While the governor is gone, Vermont gets a major snowstorm. Scott makes the decision to close down state government last Monday at the height of the storm, and everything works fine. No crises, no big deal. Gov. Shumlin even sends a message from the island of Dominica praising the work of state and town road crews, demonstrating that select members of his staff were in constant contact.
Why the hullabaloo in the media? Call it poor journalism.
Of all the things the media should be focusing on this session — job creation, raising educational outcomes, health care reform, balancing the budget through more spending cuts or tax increases, increased development of alternative energy, the fate of Vermont Yankee, expanding the western rail corridor, and a host of other issues — some in the media pounced on the governor’s decision for one reason: it’s a simple story to cover. Broadcast stations (especially television) can create an aura of drama and sensationalism around what they can allege is a “breach of the public trust” or some other concocted allegation of poor judgment and, presumably, raise ratings, all with no more depth of reporting than to wonder aloud why he didn’t tell us where he was. But covering the difficulty in improving school outcomes, or the abundance of power available in New England to replace that lost by Vermont Yankee, or any of the other major issues is a tough task. It takes time, graphics, multiple interviews — none of which work well in the 90-second to two-minute segments television news allows.
But also ask yourself this: Is the fact the governor took a break relevant to any of the major issues facing Vermonters? Did vital work not get done (note that he timed his vacation to partially coincide with the Legislature’s break during the week of Town Meeting, leaving on March 3 and returning March 9)?
No, on both counts. The story was a media creation fueled by partisan speculation. It’s never difficult to get the opposing state party chairman to cast doubt on the candidate in power, if asked.
For rank and file Vermonters, however, our bet is that most residents fully support the governor slipping off for a quick break without costing state taxpayers an extra nickel. He might want to inform his security team next time just to put them at ease, but otherwise if the governor is comfortable being away on his own for the few days — at no cost to taxpayers — we applaud the change in tone and self-confidence. And we agree, with his own assessment, that the time off will make him “a better governor” for the rest of this session.

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