Private lives and public figures


I got a girlfriend that’s better than that
She has the smoke in her eyes
She’s moving up, going right through my house
She’s gonna give me surprise

— Talking Heads, “Girlfriend is Better”

So. In his latest “Fair Game” column, Seven Days’ Paul Heintz let slip a little secret that pretty much everyone under the Golden Dome knew about but didn’t mention in polite company. Right there in Paragraph 29:

[John] Campbell’s girlfriend, Rep. Patti Komline (R-Dorset), also opposes the bill.

Gasp! Horrors! The Ladies’ Auxiliary clutches their pearls as one!

(Is Paul OK? Was he struck down by lightning?)

(Guess not.)

Used to be, in the broader world of politics, personal relationships were off limts. Even when, say, the Kennedy Boys were sharing the charms of Marilyn Monroe. Allegedly.

That wall has been largely breached in national politics, at least when there’s a substantive reason to report the private peccadillos of pols. But it remains intact here in Vermont. And maybe it shouldn’t.

There was tremendous reluctance to acknowledge Gov. Shumlin’s relationship with Katie Hunt, even when the two were making no attempt to conceal it. And when VTDigger first revealed it, there was much gnashing of teeth and clutching of pearls.

I don’t see much policy impact in the Shumlin/Hunt relationship, although some might contend that a May/September romance (ehh, maybe April/July is closer to the mark) could have impacted Shumlin’s standing with voters.

But I do believe that the Campbell/Komline relationship is a legitimate matter of public concern, and that the media went too far in concealing it. After all, this was a pairing of the Democratic leader of the Senate and one of the top Republicans in the House. I say the public has a right to know when the personal intersects the political in such an obvious way. I’m not talking paparazzi lurking in the shrubbery; I’m just talking disclosure. Transparency. Sunlight, the natural disinfectant.

Heintz’ collumn is about the failed Ethics Commission proposal. One provision of the bill would have barred state officials from transitioning directly into lobbying activity. Both Campbell and Komline are, it no longer appears coincidentally, leaving the Legislature at the end of this year. Campbell already has a job lined up that will involve lobbying the Legislature; Komline is said to be trolling for opportunities to work in Montpelier, and you’ve got to know lobbying is tops on that list.

And Komline opposed the ethics bill. And she denied that there’s a conflict between her career change and her opposition. Yeah, okay.

Did Campbell play a part in the Senate’s months-long delay on the ethics bill? Did Komline have any back-room influence? We don’t know. But I think we’re better off knowing the full story and forming our own conclusions.

There are no hard-and-fast rules for this kind of thing, but I believe the line is currently drawn too much in the interest of public figures and not enough in the public interest.

Vermont’s a small state, and Montpelier’s a very small town. Are there other relationships that might influence the actions of public officials?

Here’s an example. The names, genders, and identifying characteristics of the players may have been changed to protect the implicated.

Let’s say Mr. X is a public official, and Mr. Y is in the private sector but angling for some state money. Behind the scenes, the two have — or have had, it’s not clear which — a personal relationship. And yes, that’s what I mean.

The money is awarded to Mr. Y, and none other than Mr. X is charged with overseeing the use of that money.

Should we know about their relationship? I think so. Should Mr. X continue to oversee Mr. Y’s use of public funds? That’s highly questionable at best.

We’ve had plenty of reasons, more than our share, to question the comfortable established order in Vermont, culminating in the EB-5 scandal. WDEV’s Mike Smith, in his weekly column for the Herald and Times Argus, called it “an end to innocence in Vermont.”

Sounds about right. At the very least, we have to re-examine some of our assumptions. Including an overly protective attitude toward our public officials.

2 thoughts on “Private lives and public figures

  1. Kelly Cummings

    I absolutely disagree with you on Hillary.

    But on this, you’re right on target.

    Now turn those ethical thoughts to Hillary and let us know what side you come down on would you?

    I mean ethics “is” ethics.


    Anyhoo, thanks for shining the light on the senators in the statehouse who want to keep the rest of us Vermonter’s in the dark.

  2. Dave G.

    Our legislators are always crowing about transparency, yet they let this pretty open and disturbing relationship go on for years. I agree with you that there should have been red flags waving all over the statehouse, but it’s what happens when the few rule the roost. Kiss the Mazza and Sears rings, and you shall go far.


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