Following last week’s profession of innocence by alleged sex criminal Norm McAllister, the head of the Senate’s Republican caucus is taking action. And encountering resistance that reflects the Senate’s insularity and overweening self-regard.
Paul Heintz has the deets, as he often does. Senate Minority Leader Joe Benning wrote a letter to McAllister, upbraiding him for taking back a promise to resign if his case wasn’t wrapped up by November, and warning that if McAllister fails to do so, Benning would file a resolution seeking his ouster.
Benning is no fool. He realizes exactly how bad it would be if McAllister is still a sitting Senator when the Legislature reconvenes. And even worse if he actually shows up for work.
This being the Senate, things aren’t so simple. Benning got some immediate blowback from Sen. Peg Flory, who trotted out the old “innocent until proven guilty” canard (discussed below) in support of Good Ol’ Norm. There was some back-and-forth between the two, thoroughly documented in Heintz’ piece, and then it was brought to a halt by Sen. Dustin Degree’s suggestion that the Republican caucus should discuss this out of the public eye.
Well, I can’t blame Degree. As Franklin County’s other sitting Senator, he’s in a very touchy position. He can’t come out and condemn McAllister or call for his removal because Good Ol’ Norm’s supporters, such as they are, consist largely of the hard-core Franklin County Republican base. But Degree can’t openly defend McAllister because that would be political death among the non-hard core electorate.
Please note the lack of consideration above for ethics or morality. But after all, this is politics.
If I were a fly on the wall when the Republican caucus has its closed-door discussion, I’m sure I would hear plenty of Florian sentiment. After all, the Senate is Vermont’s Most Hidebound Deliberative Body. From my experience under the dome, I can tell you that generally speaking, Senators are far less approachable than Representatives. There is a definite sense that they are Too Important To Be Bothered. The Senate’s dynamic is similar to that of an exclusive members-only club. If you’re a member, you’re One Of Us.
The McAllister case will be a good test of how insular the Senate really is. If they can’t get their minds around expelling the guy, then it might just be time to blow up the institution and start over. Metaphorically speaking, of cousre; no explosives are to be involved.
As Benning correctly points out, this is not a case of “innocent until proven guilty.” This isn’t a court of law. It’s a political body, charged with conducting the people’s business. Can it possibly be argued that a Norm McAllister facing trial for multiple sex crimes can be an effective lawmaker? Can he effectively represent his constituents, interact with them, and be their eyes, ears, and mouthpiece in Montpelier?
This isn’t about legal standards of guilt. The Senate is a workplace, and if you can’t do your job, you don’t get to keep your job.
Unmentioned in all of this is what it must be like to be a resident of Franklin County and to have this mook as your Senator. It’s a deeply troubling prospect. Can you imagine contacting Senator McAllister for constituent service? Or for any other reason? Personally, I can’t imagine shaking his hand, much less interacting with him on any sort of public business.
If the Senate can’t see all of that, then I suggest the Senate is incapable of effectively policing itself.