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.