One of the unfortunate traits of Vermont’s Political Media is their tendency to kinda-sorta protect officeholders and officials. Keep a discreet distance when it comes to things they have decided It Is Not Our Business To Know. There’s a certain dignity in it, but they take it too far.
Please understand, I’m not asking them to start checking the sleeping arrangements at the Capitol Plaza or devise spreadsheets of politicians’ liquor consumption. But there are times when the private does touch on public interest. You’d think this would be perfectly clear in the Norm McAllister era. But it still happens; I have heard rumors of an affair between a citizen and the state official responsible for overseeing the state-funded activities of said citizen. That would seem to be something we have a right to know, since it directly impacts public responsibilities.
This week, the media silence was broken on one such issue: State Senator Bill Doyle simply isn’t up to the job anymore.
The subject was broached by VTDigger’s Anne Galloway in a story about Doyle seeking reconsideration of the paid sick leave bill. He voted for the bill; now he wants to switch sides. Galloway’s story chronicles the Republican shenanigans that helped instigate Doyle’s maneuver; I’m here to point out the following passage:
A fixture in the Senate for decades, Doyle, 87, is in poor health, and he has had difficulty keeping up with his colleagues this session. He dozed through a debate on the electronic privacy bill and had to be awoken for the vote on the Senate floor. He has also slept through crucial committee votes.
This is not news to anyone who spends time in the Legislature. But until now, no one has ever reported it. They’ve been protecting a senior and respected (if not beloved) figure.
Has their silence been in the public interest? I don’t think so.
The story suggests that Doyle cannot perform his official duties. There is evidence that his vote in favor of the bill may have been in error; he voted against it in committee, voted in favor on the Senate floor, and then sought reconsideration less than 24 hours later. On the other hand, if he did mean to vote “Yes” and decided to take it back, then he seems awfully suggestible.
I’m a Washington County resident. Bill Doyle is one of my three senators. It seems to me that my county is almost as underrepresented as Franklin County without Norm McAllister.
If Doyle is falling asleep on the job and having “difficulty keeping up,” he should consider stepping down. At the very least, he should announce that this is his final year in the Senate and let everyone treat the rest of the 2016 session as his victory lap. He is already at risk of tainting his reputation and his legacy, and things could get a whole lot worse.
Besides, he and his fellow lawmakers are servants of the people; he has no claim on the job or its perks simply because of who he is.
Of course, he can keep on being Our Senator as long as he continues to draw breath. God knows, my fellow Washingtonians are extremely deferential to incumbency. In 2014, Doyle led the pack by a substantial margin even though he did no campaigning and spent virtually no money. And this in a county that’s quite liberal; no other Republican has gotten a sniff at winning one of our Senate seats in recent years.
Indeed, one could make a hardline political argument that a Doyle resignation would be a profound service to his party. By tradition, the Governor would appoint a replacement from Republican ranks; that’s probably the only way a Republican could hope to succeed him and keep the seat in GOP hands.
I would urge Senator Doyle to announce his resignation, perhaps after Town Meeting Day and one last hurrah for the annual Doyle Poll, which seems to have become his one and only contribution to our political discourse. He should do it for himself, his legacy, and for the voters who have faithfully supported him through the years.