Walters: Students Channel Shumlin With Pete’s Tweets | Off Message

Walters: Students Channel Shumlin With Pete’s Tweets


Former Gov. Peter Shumlin - JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR
  • Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
  • Former Gov. Peter Shumlin
Peter Shumlin’s final tweet as Vermont governor was sent on January 5. It was an expression of gratitude “for the opportunity to serve as Governor these past 6 yrs.”

After that, radio silence from @GovPeterShumlin.

Until March 2.

With that, Shumlin announced his return to the fray in increments of 140 characters or less. Which is kind of an unusual opening gambit for a post-gubernatorial career.

But there’s more to the story behind the revived @GovPeterShumlin.

The tweet links to a letter from Shumlin which expressed his dismay over our “lying, hateful, bigoted, misogynist president,” and signaled his continuing commitment to “the public policy agenda we launched during my three terms as Governor.”

Ah, memories.

He then announced a new initiative of sorts.

Working with a team of student researchers at UVM and policy leaders on key issues, I’ll continue to speak out using the twitter handle @govpetershumlin. My team will share news, analysis, and ask tough questions. Tweets signed with a P at the end will be directly from me.

So, the @GovPeterShumlin Twitter feed is in the hands of college students?

Well, yes.

“Thankfully, he has enough confidence in us to give us a lot of freedom with how and what we use Twitter for,” says Anthony DiMario, a UVM senior majoring in sociology. His student research has focused on the opioid epidemic in New England, which was a major policy focus in Shumlin’s third term.

DiMario is teaming with Sumner LeBaron-Brien, a public communications major, in curating Shumlin’s Twitter feed — combining DiMario’s public policy chops with LeBaron-Brien’s field of study. It’s a matchless internship opportunity: engaging their academic background in crafting a public voice for a former governor.

And a big responsibility.

“If we fumble something, there’s a lot of repercussions,” DiMario says. “Before we send out a tweet, we always communicate with each other, figure out the wording, how to make it as ‘Shumlin’ as it possibly can be. And if we’re really unsure about something, we communicate with professor Watts… So there is a line of command, but really, the discretion is up to us.”

“Professor Watts” is Richard Watts, director of the UVM’s Center for Research on Vermont, an interdisciplinary platform for “research in the Vermont laboratory,” as Watts puts it.

Watts and Shumlin go way back; they’re both natives of Putney who went to the same school.

“Last semester, three students and I went down and met with the governor and brainstormed some ideas about internship opportunities,” Watts recalls. “This emerged as a way to keep moving forward the conversation on things that he cares about, and give students this really powerful and meaningful experience.”

The Twitter feed focuses primarily on four policy areas: the opioid epidemic, immigration, the environment and health care.

“As these come up in the day-to-day political discourse,” explains DiMario, “we kind of interject with what we know is Shumlin’s opinion on these issues.”

So far, DiMario and LeBaron-Brien have tweeted seven times as @GovPeterShumlin, including one tweet that might spark an ironic chuckle or two. In response to Congressional Republicans’ rollout of a health care reform bill, they tweeted this:

Vermont Health Connect, anyone?

Which raises the question, how has the response been so far?

“We’ve been getting positive feedback, but of course it’s the internet, so you have a lot of trolls, a lot of people who don’t like Shumlin who will send crap our way,” says DeMario. “But you’ve got to let that slide off. The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive and it seems like people are noticing.”

So far, there hasn’t been a single tweet signed “P.” That’s because Shumlin is on an extended trip out of the country. Seven Days tried to reach him for comment without success.

For the time being, we’ll have to be satisfied with the wisdom of the former governor as channeled through a pair of very bright UVM students.