(And by “dead” I mean in the purely political sense.)
Yes, one of my political betes noires is leaving us. Senate President Pro Tem John Campbell today told VTDigger’s Mark Johnson that he will not run for re-election. Which almost certainly means he won’t be Pro Tem next year, although with the Committee on Committees being what it is, that’s not a sure thing.
Campbell will become chief of the Vermont Department of State’s Attorneys and Sheriffs “soon after this year’s legislative session concludes,” in Johnson’s words.
He does not specify, but this sounds like he would resign in May. Would that leave a vacancy for the rest of the term? Would Governor Shumlin get to name Campbell’s successor? Inquiring minds want to know. Update: Johnson’s story indicates that Campbell will not resign; so he’ll apparently work both jobs from May till next January.
Regular readers of this blog know how I feel about Campbell. He’s been a lousy leader, often ineffective and kept afloat by an expanded office staff. He almost got turfed in 2012 after his first stint as Senate leader; since then, the unrest has been muted but the results have remained pretty much the same: the Senate is the body most likely to break down into turf battles and legislative scrums. The most recent example was last week’s out-of-control debate over S.230, the energy siting bill.
If you don’t believe me, just check out the Praising With Faint Damns treatment he’s getting from one of his closest colleagues.
Lt. Gov. Phil Scott acknowledged Campbell’s early “mistakes” but asserted that he has “hit his stride more.” Interesting use of the word “more” there. Scott also posited that Campbell “has an incredibly big heart and he wants to please everyone,” which is a noble attempt to make an asset out of a liability.
Beyond Campbell’s questionable worth as Senate leader, he’s also one of the numerous Senators with seemingly permanent tenure, immune from electoral challenge. Windsor County’s delegation is stuffed with three of the hoariest of Senators (Dick McCormack and Alice Nitka are the other two), so it’ll be good to see the county finally getting some fresh blood in the senior chamber.
The vast majority of Senate seats are safe for one party or the other, so retirement is the most reliable way to get new faces into the chamber. The 2014 retirements of Bob Hartwell and Peter Galbraith had a salutary effect on the Senate; this year will see Campbell stepping aside, Diane Snelling just left, Norm McAllister is presumably not coming back, plus there are rumors that this might be Dick Sears’ last go-round as well. And who knows, Bill Doyle might realize he just can’t hack it anymore.
At minimum, that’s six new Senators in the past two cycles. I believe the Senate will be a better place with all the turnover, and without John Campbell as its leader.
Mark Johnson foresees “a frenzy” to fill the Pro Temporancy, with hopefuls including Majority Leader Phil Baruth, Finance Committee chair Tim Ashe, plus “Claire Ayer, D-Addison, is also mentioned.”
Isn’t that always the way? The female hopeful “is also mentioned.” Tokenism, much?
Campbell’s departure also means a shakeup in the Senate’s hidden center of power, the fabled Committee on Committees. With its current membership (Campbell, Phil Scott, Dick Mazza), it’s been a staunch enforcer of the status quo. Next year, at least two of its three members will be new.
Here’s another way in which the race for lieutenant governor will make a difference. In addition to wielding the Senate gavel (and casting tie-breaking votes(, the Lite-Guv is also one-third of the Committee on Committees. Who do you want in that seat, Randy Brock or, say, Dave Zuckerman?
Could be a very different Senate in 2017.