Welcome aboard, Governor

Seemingly out of nowhere today, Governor Shumlin threw his support behind the idea of an independent state Ethics Commission. The idea’s gotten a lot of push in recent months, thanks to a string of public-sector embarrassments including (but not limited to) Attorney General Bill Sorrell’s squicky relationships with big national law firms, Senate President Pro Tem John Campbell’s landing a state job after he’d lobbied for its creation, the revelation that longtime lawmaker Norm McAllister is (allegedly) a felony-class sleazeball, and most recently, Brent Raymond’s overnight transformation from EB-5 regulator to EB-5 project manager.

So congratulations, Governor, for finally seeing the bright, glaring, blinding light.

His spokesperson Scott Coriell claims, according to VTDigger, that “Wednesday was the first time, to his knowledge, that the governor had been asked whether he supports such a commission.”

That might be true in the narrowest of senses. But until now, Shumlin has been down on the general idea of tougher ethics standards, insisting that we’re all good Vermonters, we all know each other, and we’re above this sort of tawdry behavior. But hey, better late than never.

Last month, Secretary of State Jim Condos publicly called for an ethics commission. At the time, he seemed to be a voice in the wilderness; his idea drew quick and fairly decisive opposition from some key lawmakers. Like, for instance, Jeanette White, chair of the Senate Government Operations Committee, who
reacted to the idea like it was a hornet’s nest: “No, no, no, that’s not going to happen.”

And David Deen, chair of the toothless and secretive House Ethics Panel, who said “we seemingly don’t have a major problem.”

Mind you, he said that after Sorrell had been all but forced to submit to an independent investigation, Campbell’s shenanigans had been revealed, and McAllister had been arrested on the Statehouse grounds.

(I know McAllister’s (alleged) offenses are a criminal matter, not an ethical one. But his case is an object lesson in “Don’t Assume We Really Know Each Other” and “Vermonters are subject to the same temptations and lapses as anyone else.”)

It’ll be interesting to see how much pull Shumlin will have on the issue. I suspect, sadly, that lawmakers will be inclined to continue sitting on their hands, or taking some sort of token action. (Sen. White is kinda-sorta promising a Senate Ethics Panel along the completely inadequate lines of the House’s version. Not enough, Senator.)

Time will tell if Shumlin puts any weight behind this, or if it’s mainly an exercise in lame-duck reputation-burnishing. Do I sound cynical? I earned it the hard way.

6 thoughts on “Welcome aboard, Governor

  1. Cynthia Browning

    I am going to ask for a bill creating an ethics commission to be drafted — someone else may already have done this. I think that the revolving door issue is the most striking: I don’t believe that executive staff should be able to switch immediately from regulator to regulated industry as Mr. Raymond and Ms. Marshall did. I don’t think that members of legislative leadership should be able to go to work for the companies who are affected by the policies of the legislature without a waiting period (Robert Dostis and Lucy Leriche going to work for GMP). In such circumstances it is difficult for Vermonters to believe that THEIR best interests were truly served by the activities of the official while in office, rather than those of the corporation.

    Rep. Cynthia Browning, Arlington

  2. Cynthia Browning

    I am sure there must already be an ethics commission bill out there, but the point of my comment is to be sure that it addresses the revolving door issue. Also, I should have clarified that Robert Dostis was chair of the House Natural Resources and Energy Committee when he left to work for GMP, and Lucy Leriche was House Majority Leader when she went to work for GMP. Legislators are part time, and most of us have to work somewhere else as well to earn a living, I just think that there should have to be some kind of waiting period at least for those in a position of power to influence the direction of policies. Cynthia B.

    1. Heidi Scheuermann

      Cynthia – You are a cosponsor of my bill, and were the last biennum too. Here’s the link to the current one. http://legislature.vermont.gov/bill/status/2016/H.215. I do find it interesting that Mr. Walters didn’t mention in this post the fact that a bill had been introduced. It was like he went out of his way to not mention it. If I were a cynic, I would suspect it was because the lead sponsor is a Republican. But, I’m not a cynic, so I will give him the benefit of the doubt that he just forgot about the legislation.

      1. John S. Walters Post author

        If Cynthia can forget co-sponsoring a bill, perhaps I can be forgiven overlooking it. Rep. Scheuermann deserves credit — as does Campaign for Vermont — for pushing the ethics issue. Perhaps bipartisan support can conquer legislative inertia.

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