Our favorite country lawyer spins a yarn

Joe Benning, top Republican in the State Senate, has made a decision. And he wants us all to know about it.

In a short essay posted by VTDigger, the good Senator reveals that when the legislature reconvenes in January, he will vote for Scott Milne for Governor.

Gee, “Scott Milne.” There’s a name I haven’t heard in a while.

Benning’s vote, to hear him tell, has nothing to do with partisanship. The fact that he’s backing the #2 vote-getter, who happens to be a fellow Republican, over the top finisher, a Democrat? Nothing about that in his essay.

Well, not by name. He does, however, depict his vote as an attempt to block the imminent ruin of Vermont at the hands of a certain incumbent governor.

But he begins with a veiled shot at any lawmaker who fails to follow his example in publicly revealing his vote:

 Other legislators may feel differently, but this legislator feels a responsibility to explain his intended vote to his constituents.

Well, yeah, but the choice will be made on a secret ballot. A phrase which conspicuously includes the word “secret.” Feel free to tear back the curtain from your own voting booth, Senator, but don’t imply that those who fail to do so are acting improperly. And yes, that’s what you did.

The next paragraph points to the closeness of the election and Milne’s lopsided majority in Benning’s district, and then creates a false equivalency between the tradition of electing the top vote-getter and the freshly minted “tradition” of voting with one’s district. Uh-huh. One tradition has been unbroken for over 150 years, while the other has never been heard of in Vermont until this month.

Myself, I prefer the weightier term “precedent” in referring to this consistent principle in electing a governor. I can see why Benning does not. But there is wisdom in this precedent; to elect someone other than the top finisher creates the appearance that the legislature is thwarting the will of the people, and sows the seeds of partisan rancor.

Which is exactly what happened the last two times that precedent was flouted, in the 1976 lieutenant governor’s race and in the 1853 contest for governor.

The final cowpat in Benning’s castle is his citation of John F. Kennedy and his self-branding as an embodiment of political courage — a Gandalf staring into the gaping maw of chaos and bravely crying, “You shall not pass!”

Sorry, senator. You’re no hero; you’re just another opportunist.

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