The State Senate, where leadership goes to die

Yesterday, the State Senate took up S.230, the energy siting bill.

And promptly dropped it on the floor, kicked it around, and stomped it into mush, in a particularly unedifying display of sausage-making. A four-and-a-half hour debate included a blizzard of amendments — some adopted and some never even considered — and produced a result that satisfied no one on either side of the debate. Including many of the Senators who actually voted to pass the much-amended bill, Seven Days’ Paul Heintz Terri Hallenbeck:

By 7 p.m., when the final vote came, the majority of the senators appeared to be voting for the bill just to put an end to the day’s events.

Democracy in action, folks.

I wasn’t there, but from media accounts, this has the greasy fingerprints of Senate President Pro Tem John Campbell all over it. His tenure has been marked by frequent breakdowns in process, and headstrong senators taking advantage of the situation. This was classic Campbell: helpless to steer a complicated course through the reefs of strongly-held viewpoints and the shallows of senatorial ego.

This debate would have been tough to handle in any event. The bill addressed a contentious issue with both sides prepared to be offended by the outcome, no matter what it was. But hey, that’s what leadership is supposed to do: step up to the plate when things get tough.

Instead, the inmates got control of the asylum. S.230 was dissected and then reassembled, Frankenstein-like, into a patchwork mess that left Sen. Peg Flory admitting “I don’t have a clue what anyone’s talking about.”

And that, Heintz Hallenbeck reports, came relatively early in the marathon tussle.

The final result left no one happy and a lot of people confused. Doing such a complete rewrite on the fly is, shall we say, not the best way to create sound legislation.

The Senate voted to wash its hands of the mess, thus kicking it over to the House. Advocates on both sides are hoping that the House’s stronger leadership can produce a more coherent bill — and then we’ll need a House-Senate conference committee. I look forward to the mayhem Campbell will try to wreak when he appoints his half of that panel. Paging John Rodgers…

As an outside observer, I am not well versed in the alleged charms of John Campbell. Apparently he’s a great guy, and he has lots of friends despite his (to put it charitably) checkered resume as Senate leader. He’s burned through a number of staffers, and he’s had to roughly double the cost of his staff in order to keep the Pro Tem’s office on track and minimally productive. Training wheels, is what he’s got.

It seems to me that his biggest asset as Pro Tem, aside from sheer incumbency (which counts for a lot in Vermont), is his very lack of effective leadership. I suspect that many Senators prefer an enfeebled Pro Tem because it allows them a lot more room to maneuver.

Doesn’t produce the best legislation, but priorities, people.


2 thoughts on “The State Senate, where leadership goes to die

  1. walter h moses

    Nothing here we don’t already know. Campbell is an expensive disaster. Got my dental exam set up though. Handy dandy John Walters column, can’t believe they pay you.


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