It would be unfair to straight-up call John Rodgers an asshole.
However… if you took an anonymous poll of Statehouse regulars, asking them “Which lawmaker most deserves to be called an asshole?”, Rodgers would finish very near the top.
The Kingdom Democrat is obstinate, obstreperous, obstructionist, obnoxious, obsessive, obdurate, and by his obnoxiousness is often worthy of objurgation. He has one of the Senate’s highest ratios of self-regard to actual accomplishment — and that’s some stiff competition. He’s right up there with Rep. Cynthia Browning as someone willing to derail a floor debate over a point of principle discernible by no one else.
Rodgers’ latest offense against the polity came last week, when he reacted to criticism of his committee attendance record with an untargeted slam against a “snippy little bitch” daring to criticize him. The phrase could be interpreted as a direct attack on two fellow members of the Senate Natural Resources Committee, Sens. Chris Bray and Brian Campion. The latter is openly gay, and the former carries an air of professorial tweeness about him.
Rodgers later apologized — but he in turn demanded an apology from Campion and from Senate President Pro Tem Tim Ashe, who had upbraided The Last Remaining Proponent of the Salad Bowl Haircut for name-calling and “impugn[ing] the motives and integrity” of fellow senators.
Which makes Rodgers seem like the snippy little bitch, but I digress.
Rodgers is a not terribly effective lawmaker. He’s a showboat who often seems more intent on sowing division than on getting stuff done. He has no interest in being anyone’s friend, or engaging in the kind of relationship-building that helps lawmakers work together. He’s a thorn in the majority’s side. The Senate would operate better without him.
(The conspiratorial part of my mind has hatched a scenario. The Legislature will undergo the redistricting process next year, with the new boundaries taking effect for the 2022 election. The new population numbers are likely to reflect further growth in Chittenden County and decline in the Northeast Kingdom. That region already has more Senate representation than its numbers support. Assuming Rodgers wins another term this year, wouldn’t it be tempting to redraw the NEK boundaries in a way that could kneecap his chances in 2022 and beyond?
In reality, it’s doubtful the Senate would stoop to weaponizing its redistricting power. It’s common practice in other states, but our lawmakers like to rise above such things. But it’d be the kind of intrigue political reporters live for.)
Rodgers has had attendance trouble during this coronavirus-extended session because much of his income-producing work is seasonal — and because he and his wife went into debt by buying his family’s farm and inn. Due to the pandemic, they haven’t been able to operate it as a bed-and-breakfast. He also has to deal with erratic internet service, as the Legislature’s business is conducted entirely online these days. Given the circumstances, it’s hard to ding Rodgers too much for poor attendance.
Doesn’t excuse the “snippy little bitch” comment, but the guy is under a lot of pressure.
He also, it must be noted, is one of the few get-your-hands-dirty working folks in the Legislature. There’s a reason that most lawmakers are either comfortably retired, self-employed, or have enough workplace clout to be given time off for legislative business and campaigning and such.
The makeup of the institution, in turn, affects the mores and unwritten rules of conduct, which place a high value on decorum and politeness and “regular order.” Which then tends to discourage other kinds of people — the rough-edged, the shitkickers, those with no patience for snippy little bitches — from serving. Rep. Randall Szott, who values principle over compromise, is leaving the House after one term. Rep. Zach Ralph, a progressive loose cannon, is retiring because he’s moving out of his district, but he never really fit in either.
Rodgers made a telling comment to Seven Days: “I’m one of the few people in the building who still fishes and hunts and looks out for traditional values. We’ve lost that voice in the Statehouse.”
He’s got a point.
Now, on balance, I think the Senate would be better off without Rodgers. But his absence would exacerbate the Legislature’s classist problem. And if there were more working people in the Statehouse (figuratively speaking for now), the process of lawmaking might be more congruent with the realities of daily life.