A phony “crisis of conscience”

So I stopped at my mailbox this morning and picked up my copy of the Times Argus.

And there, splashed across the front page, was a writeup of the latest twists and turns of the trumped-up “controversy” over a potential Legislative vote for Governor. 

The article is entitled “A Crisis of Conscience?”

Well, at least it was framed as a question, not as a statement of fact.

Because the answer to the question is a clear, unambigious “No.” There is no crisis, and this is not a matter of conscience. Or, shall we say, deciding whether to ratify the election of Peter Shumlin is not a matter of conscience.

What is a matter of conscience is whether Republican lawmakers are going to jump on board this Bandwagon of Convenience devised by second-place finisher Scott Milne and abrogate 150+ years of precedent to cast their votes for Milne.

And here I thought the Republicans considered themselves the true guardians of the Vermont Way.

Atop the Times Argus’ front page spread were photos of Milne and Shumlin. The caption next to the Milne shot says “Republican Scott Milne won the most districts in the state with 62.”

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This statement is at the core of Milne’s argument. He won more legislative districts, or more counties if you prefer, than Shumlin, and this shows his broader appeal.

Well, fiddlesticks. As is the case every election, the Democrat rolled up big majorities in the more populated areas of the state, while the Republican won in most rural areas. If you look at the Secretary of State’s election map, you’ll see that there is more red than blue. Of course, some of those districts that went for Milne contain more moose than people, but it looks impressive on the map.

And unfortunately for Milne’s argument, we do have this principle of “one person, one vote.” Vermont’s old system of electing one Representative from each community (one for Burlington, one for Glastenbury) was ruled unconstitutional in 1964. Milne’s argument is cut from the same unconstitutional cloth.

The article itself lists the 43 Democratic lawmakers who face this alleged “crisis of conscience.” Their districts cast more votes for Milne than Shumlin, so (the article asks) should they stick with their man, or support the wishes of their constituents without regard to the wider picture?

Based on Vermont history, this is a phony dilemma. Virtually every time this question has arisen, it’s been answered the same way: the person with the most votes wins. And on those few times when the legislature failed to honor this precedent, there was something shady going on, or there were profound repercussions after the fact. Or both.

The 1976 Lieutenant Governor’s race, Milne’s favorite, had some of both. Plurality winner John Alden was known by many to be under criminal investigation when the legislature voted for the second-place finisher, T. Garry Buckley. Also, there was controversy at the time over the fact that Buckley had actively lobbied for lawmakers’ votes. That controversy was one big reason why his own Republican Party turned against him in 1978 and opted for Peter Smith for Lieutenant Governor.

Scott MIlne can go ahead with his little game, because freedom of speech. And opportunistic Republican leaders can go on supporting his quest even though they know they’re in the wrong, and they know that MIlne will lose in the legislature. They’re just trying to sow a little mayhem and create a fake political argument that Governor Shumlin’s next term is somehow illegitimate.

Just as, I suppose, Jim Douglas’ first term was illegitimate because he failed to win even 45% of the popular vote. And, by extension, his entire eight years in office were illegitimate because if he hadn’t won that first election, it’s doubtful that he would ever have been elected Governor.

The only conscience involved here is the conscience of the Republican Party. They know that precedent is on Governor Shumlin’s side. Many of them voted Shumlin’s way in 2010, when he failed to win 50% of the popular vote. But they are grasping at a straw of opportunity instead of hewing to the Vermont Way.

It’s understandable. But it’s also crass, opportunistic, and unconscionable.

There are only two questions in play, neither of which constitute a “crisis” because they are easily answered.

1. Did Peter Shumlin get the most votes?

We are 99% sure the answer is “Yes.” We’ll be 99.9% sure after the results are certified Wednesday morning. We’d be 100% sure if a recount confirms the official result.

2. Does Vermont have a clear and consistent precedent for dealing with this situation?

That answer is an obvious “Yes,” Republican gamesmanship notwithstanding.

Case closed.

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