Well, the reaction has been fast, furious, and predictable. Legislative leaders are, for the most part, decidedly cool to the idea of an independent Ethics Commission. This, in spite of a legislative session that saw, in the words of VTDigger’s Anne Galloway, “one outrage followed another in the waning days.”
Still, State Rep. David Deen, chair of the secretive House Ethics Panel, managed to pull a Sergeant Schultz:
“I think putting something like this in place when we seemingly don’t have a major problem I’m aware of makes me wonder, are you stimulating complaints? Are you creating a problem where one doesn’t exist?”
“Seemingly don’t have a major problem”? I think I owe an apology to Sergeant Schultz.
And then there was the chair of the Senate Government Operations Committee, the gatekeeper for potential ethics reform:
When Sen. Jeannette White, D-Windham, heard about the plan, her first response was “No, no, no, that’s not going to happen.”
It’s things like this that make me believe we’d be better off if we fired all 30 state senators and replaced them with Vermonters chosen by lottery.
There’s an almost impenetrable air of clubbiness about the Senate, born of its members’ collective seniority and the fact that pretty much all of them are electorally bulletproof.
And I can back up that last contention. A quick overview of our 30 senators shows at least 26 who are virtual locks for re-election as long as they want to run. And one of the other four is Norm McAllister, who would have been number 27 if only he could have kept it in his pants.
(The House is not nearly as bad, although the vast majority of lawmakers enjoy the same political immunity. But state representatives are closer to their constituents, and have fewer of the trappings of power and tradition that beguile state senators into believing in their own inherent virtue.)
That is not a healthy state of affairs. It turns people like White and Deen into creatures of the institution. Otherwise they are solid lawmakers and decent human beings, but they have blind spots the size of Jupiter when it comes to the legislature itself.
I understand how this happens. They spend almost one-half the year working in close proximity with the same small group of people. Many of them stay in Montpelier during the session. Their professional colleagues are also their constant companions. That results in a lot of institutional expertise, but it can also create a disturbing lack of perspective.
The kind of lack than can make an otherwise smart, experienced man like David Deen to not see the crucial ethics problem right before his eyes.
And he’s the House’s ethical policeman.