Looks like it’s in the bag. When the State Senate meets Wednesday, it will vote to suspend Norm McAllister, self-admitted sex criminal, from his seat. Not expel him, not allow him to serve, but to consign him (they hope) to political limbo until his criminal trial wraps up — almost certainly after the end of this year’s legislative session, and perhaps after the official beginning of campaign season. (Candidate filing deadline is May 28. Criminal proceedings likely to still be pending. Will Norm file for re-election?)
The rationale: Expelling McAllister might compromise his trial, but we can’t simply let him continue to serve. Which would seem to be a contradiction: he should be presumed innocent, but he’s unfit to serve in the Senate.
It also leaves the people of Franklin County as the real victims. They will lose one of their two state Senators for an entire session, but they will also continue to live with the very real stain of officially being represented by Norm McAllister. Suspension is the convenient way out for the Senate, but it ignores the interests of absolutely everyone in Franklin County — Democrat, Republican, Independent; pro-McAllister or anti.Senate President Pro Tem John Campbell addressed the situation in his usual meandering, impenetrably filibustering style in a podcast interview with VTDigger’s Mark Johnson. As a public service, I listened carefully to the uncontrollable torrent of Campbellian verbiage and, painful though it was, transcribed it for your reading pleasure. (His answer to Johnson’s initial question on McAllister took more than six full minutes. I had to stop transcribing after about five — I simply couldn’t take any more.)
And now, the annotated John Campbell.
Norm McAllister should not be sitting in the Senate with these charges pending. And there are two schools of thought. There are people who um believe that, ahh, you know because it is a criminal action he should be presumed innocent until proven guilty. And then there’s others who believe he should just be taken out of his chair now. And what I try to explain is that there’s a, um, a criminal procedure, the procedure is one side, one thing. We don’t have anything to do with that. Uh, we do have, uhh, the potential for administrative actions. Unfortunately, it’s not as clear as what we would like.
In addition to Campbell’s verbal diarrhea, we see here a couple of his favorite ham-fisted rhetorical tricks. He likes to set up a pair of straw men at polar opposites and position himself as the rational, reasonable man in the middle. And he likes to present himself as the only man wise enough to understand the full nuances of a situation — even if he has to manufacture the nuances himself.
And now here comes a third trick: he manfully refuses to take the “easiest” course because A Leader Takes The Road Less Traveled.
Um, I think the easiest thing to do would be for us to go and to try to expel him, immediately have, um (cough) excuse me, a vote go, um, towards in the Senate and to make a determination whether he should be expelled. However, with that comes this problem. Is that if we are to expel him, ah, he is entitled, ah, to a, what’s, um, a due process. And that means he would be able to go ahead and confront witnesses, have witnesses brought before the Senate, because the Senate would hear this as a whole. Um, and the, um, I would insist that that procedure, that hearing, be open to the public. I do not believe that we should have anything behind closed doors when it comes down to voting one way or the other, ah, regarding his, um, ahh, his status. I think this is something the public is entitled to be, uh, aware of. And I don’t want anyone to think that, you know, we as a Senate would be protecting one of our own.
Oh no, sir, I don’t think the Senate is trying to protect one of its own. I think the Senate is desperately trying to cover its own collective ass, and avoid as much embarrassment and confrontation as possible. I think the Senate, as usual, is thinking more about itself than anyone else.
I can tell you, um, so anyway, if we go ahead and we do move to expel him, again, under that procedure, the problem that arises is that we have a very, very good chance of jeopardizing the criminal trial, ah in that you would bring the witnesses, including the victims, ah, to the Senate and ask them to testify where they would be subject to basically interrogation by 30 people. If every, anybody decides they want to ask questions and try to press issues, umm, and what ahh trouble that brings is that, um, oftentimes we actually in criminal cases, uhh, victims of, of cases, especially sexual assault cases, um, are very, um, timid in a way, the fact that they, they’re to expose this publicly, to even talk about it at trial, is, um, it, it takes, it’s a terrible emotional toll on, on these folks.
And um, in speaking with the prosecutor, because I’ve talked to the prosecutor about this, and she, Diane Wheeler, believes that, she has requested that, you know, if you’re going to do something, please wait until we get our, our, um, criminal matter done first. Uhh, because of the fact that if, if, all of a sudden the victim or victims or witnesses say, you know what? I’m done. I don’t want to do this anymore. I’m not going to, I, I, I, I stood through the embarrassment of having to be in front of 30 people and telling them the most intricate, um, intimate issues of what happened to me, um, I just can’t do it again.
Okay, this is a new angle. Until now, the due-process argument has centered on McAllister’s right to a fair trial. Campbell, in a transparent attempt to curry favor with liberals and Democratic women, is re-framing it as a victims’ rights issue: the victims might have to testify not once, but twice, and that’s just too much for them to bear.
Which, okay, I can see the argument. But all these difficulties are not necessarily inherent in the situation. I believe that if the Senate wanted to do something, it would find a way. The truth is, Senate leadership has failed to muster majority support for removing a sex criminal from office, and has fallen back on suspension as a convenient way out. (Later in the interview, Campbell said ““Everyone thought that he would go ahead and resign, but he has not.” And therein lies the rub: Senate leadership sat back for months and months, just hoping the situation would resolve itself. And now they’re suffering the consequences.) We have seen comments from numerous Senators that show their primary interest is in preserving the privileges of office, not the interests of justice or the electorate.
Also, bit of a niggle: Campbell refers to them as “victims,” which would seem to presuppose McAllister’s guilt. If there wasn’t a crime, there were no victims, right? Of course, I’m not a lawyer.
Campbell continues with more pro-victim rationalization and another Straw Man TKO.
So, I as a leader have to look at and say, okay, what do we do here? Do we sit there, do we, do we potentially, um, corrupt or interfere with the criminal case, where that would be that if he was convicted, he would end up with a criminal conviction and also have to do, ah, be, um, subject to incarceration and other penalties, or do we just go ahead and and just so we can say he’s out of the Senate and, um, we should be happy with that? And, and I think that the victims in this case deserve a lot more than just having him expelled from the, um, the Senate. I believe that, that they both, he and the victims are entitled to their day in court. And I, for one, do not want, um, the Vermont State Senate to interfere with that process. And, um, I know that there are people who are going to question that, there are going to be people who think I’m absolutely wrong, um, but the, if they want to get a pound of flesh, it’s best, I believe, that it is done in the criminal courts where, ah, there is the proper jurisdiction and not in the State Senate, where, um, the, the most we could do would be to expel him as a member.
False dichotomy: expel from office or criminal conviction, you can’t have both. Which is a mighty logical leap from a prosecutor’s request that the Senate stay out of it.
Speaking of which, since when does a legislative body subsume its own interests to those of the courts? In my lifetime, I have seen case after case (starting with Watergate, by God) in which legislative bodies have put due process at risk in order to pursue its own interests, legitimate or otherwise.
I also take issue with Campbell’s notion that being removed from office is less of a punishment than a criminal conviction. If McAllister is convicted, he would be sentenced as a first-time offender already in his senior years. How much of a sentence is he likely to get? Not much, IMO. Again, I disagree that we have to choose between expulsion and conviction, but even if we did, there’s a good argument for expulsion in disgrace. (That was President Ford’s argument for pardoning Nixon.) Especially when you add in the interests of the public in maintaining the putative purity of its government.
Um, we are now moving towards trying to seek a suspension, and there’ll be a challenge, I believe, to that. The problem we have is that our Constitution does not call for, um, a way to, um, not just remove but also to replace a Senator unless, unless certain things happen. Unless they die in office, or unless they’re, they’re gone for, for, uh, a significant point of, point of time. And this goes to the, uhhh, ehh, the legal issue of, of representation.
So our Constitution sucks. That would seem to bring us around to an idea promoted by me and former Green Mountain Daily colleague Sue Prent: We need to amend the Constitution to create a means for removing elected officials. We need the right to recall. Especially since Our Leaders believe their hands are tied in the matter.
And now, the rhetorical apotheosis of John Campbell. Bear in mind, he’s been answering one question for a solid five minutes already. And then he coughed up this frightening hairball:
Um, so if someone from Franklin County says, ‘You know what? You took my Senator out of there. I don’t have any representation. I lost a vote.’ And personally, I believe that that’s a, a miscon — it’s misconstruing our Constitution because I believe that, ah, we have people have, are definitely entitled to one vote, ah their vote, one person one vote, their, their elected officials should be able to be, ah, to serve if they voted, but tha, the, the, um, Constitutional right is to be able to go to the polls and vote for that person. I don’t believe, personally, that the Constitution says, well, if, umm, heh, this guy does something that is ah counter, uh, or, make crim — creates a criminal or a, convic — commits a criminal act that, ahh, he or she cannot be taken out. It just makes sense.
Okay. I’ve read this a few times, and I think what he’s saying is that the people have no right to representation. That’s a, shall we say, fascinating point of view.
After that, Campbell cites my own hypothetical — that a Senator actually murders a colleague on the floor of the Senate — as justification for suspension. But not, somehow, for expulsion. A murdering Senator, per John Campbell, would be allowed to continue on the books as a Senator until being convicted, but would not be allowed to sit. Because that would be inconvenient for the surviving 28 Senators.
Meanwhile, the murdering Senator’s constituents would have no recourse because they had the temerity to elect a future murderer and thus bring disrepute upon the honor of Vermont’s Most Self-Involved Deliberative Body.