Like the frog in the hot water, I guess you can get used to anything if it happens slowly enough.
This week’s “Fair Game” column from Seven Days’ Paul Heintz is a substantial piece of work. He managed to contact almost every state senator and get them on the record regarding their disgraced/disgraceful colleague, Norm McAllister. Highly recommended reading, although it might make you shoot coffee out your nose.
And surprise, surprise: over the last several months, the air has gone out of the “Get Rid of Norm” balloon. Indeed, the person who seems to have suffered the most from this affair is Senate Minority Leader Joe Benning, who’s been leading the charge to expel McAllister. Many of his fellows blame him for being too aggressive, and Heintz reports that the issue has fractured the Republican Senate caucus.
Which just reinforces my view of the State Senate: it’s a clubby, tradition-bound institution whose members have an excessively high regard for themselves and not nearly enough concern for, oh, serving the people and stuff like that.
According to Heintz, the conversation has moved away from expulsion and toward the possibility of suspending McAllister pending the outcome of his criminal trial. Which, c’mon, is a weaksauce idea intended to diffuse the pressure and provide a pretext for barring McAllister from the Statehouse. Because when push comes to shove, the thing they’re most worried about is the media circus of McAllister showing up for work, and reporters badgering Senators with uncomfortable questions. Here’s a good one:
“Senator Mullin, you shared a house with Senator McAllister. You saw him take his teenaged “assistant” to bed every night. She has said that McAllister raped her ‘every time I went down there… just about.’ You’re an intelligent man; how could you possibly be unaware of what was happening under your own roof?”
(Mullin, by the way, was one of the few Senators who failed to response to Seven Days’ inquiry. Brave man.)
But even the inadequate idea of suspension is too much for many Senators. They argue that suspending McAllister would leave the good people of Franklin County under-represented in the Senate.
Their concern is touching. Too bad they’re not equally concerned about the damage to Franklin County voters from being represented by a self-confessed sex criminal. No, the vast majority of Senators seem far more concerned with the rights of a disgraced (and disgraceful) colleague than with the people they are supposed to be serving.
Think I’m being unfair by characterizing Good Ol’ Norm as “a self-confessed sex criminal? Well, I’ll remind you of something I wrote on October 23:
McAllister has acknowledged having sexual relationships with multiple women who were financially dependent on him. He had a relationship with a teenager who he says is a troubled young woman, and even brought her to Montpelier to be his “assistant” and overnight companion.
In conversations recorded by police, he acknowledged trading free rent for sex with a tenant, and admitted that repeated sexual acts were not consensual. He apologized to one woman for a sex act that caused her physical and emotional pain.
Senator Peg Flory holds out hope that her buddy, Good Ol’ Norm, will be exonerated of all charges — that he might be the victim of vengeful women.
Sorry, Senator, that horse is already out of the barn. We already know that Norm McAllister is a sleazebag, a bully, and a rapist. The only thing left to be determined is the magnitude of his crimes.
In fairness, I understand that an institution has to follow proper procedure and be wary of unfortunate precedents. But here’s the thing: if an institution really wants to do something, it will find a way.
Truth be told, the vast majority of Senators don’t want to do anything. They’re desperately hoping that McAllister will “solve” the problem himself by resigning. Which would set exactly the same kind of precedent they’re worried about: that a Senator might be prematurely forced from office due to public pressure. But if he resigned, the blood would be on his own hands, not on theirs.
By the way, extra bonus points to the Democratic caucus, which will discuss the McAllister case at its annual organizing meeting this weekend. Which is, coincidentally I am sure, not being held in the usual Montpelier location, but in President Pro Tem John Campbell’s home*. Trying desperately to avoid the spotlight, guys?
I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again. The handling of Norm McAllister by the State Senate is a frickin’ disgrace, a Profile in Cowardice. And the more time passes, the longer and wider the yellow streak becomes.
*Where, I am sure, they will once again reward apostate Democrat Dick Mazza with the third seat on the powerful Committee on Committees. Which will create an effective Republican majority on that panel, even though there are only nine Republicans in the 30-member Senate. But who needs to win elections when you have friends in high places?