Category Archives: Vermont State Senate

Good Ol’ Norm: The gift that keeps on giving

The news arrived on Friday and got buried under the end-of-session avalanche: State Senator-In-Waiting Norm McAllister will face two separate trials on multiple sex-crime charges. Trial was slated to begin today, but the first of the two proceedings has been postponed until June 15. That’s the one regarding McAllister’s former “assistant,” which will feature testimony from McAllister’s legislative colleagues. That’ll be a real get-your-popcorn moment. (The second trial has yet to be scheduled.)

But that wasn’t the most interesting point.

No, the most interesting point is that McAllister is actively mulling a run for re-election. He told Seven Days’ Terri Hallenbeck, “I probably will file anyway. I can always change my mind and decide not to run later.”

No surprise to me. I’ve been saying all along that there’s nothing to stop McAllister from seeking re-election. Indeed, there’s nothing in state law to bar him from returning to the Senate if he wins in November — even if he’s convicted and facing prison time. The Senate does have authority to determine if someone is fit to join their august body, and it wouldn’t be hard to exclude him — if, indeed, he is convicted. If he’s acquitted, on the other hand, the Senate would be hard-pressed to banish him. He’d make everyone horribly uncomfortable, but that doesn’t constitute grounds for exclusion.

In Other News, the Republican Slimy Lies Committee — er, sorry, Republican State Leadership Committee — is back with a despicable ad targeting legislative Democrats.

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As if we needed more evidence that Jeanette White doesn’t get it…

State Sen. Jeanette White (D-Stockholm Syndrome) penned an opinion column in the Brattleboro Observer last week concerning the Senate’s timid, occasional, mincing steps toward some kind of ethics commission. We’ll get to the self-serving (and self-pitying) rhetoric in a moment; but first, she shared a detail about the proposed State Ethics Commission that I hadn’t seen before.

The duties of the commission/director will be to give advisory opinions on question of potential ethical issues to anyone who requests. These will be kept confidential.

(Ahem.)

NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO

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Ding Dong, the Pro Tem is Dead

(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.

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State Senate trying to Norquist ethics reform

Vermont’s Most Sclerotic Deliberative Body has been taking its time with a proposal to set up a state Ethics Commission. Much more time than they took with legalizing marijuana, and probably longer than they’ll take with the frickin’ budget.

Why the slow play? Well, the Senate’s point person on ethics reform makes it abundantly clear.

Sen. Jeanette White, D-Windham and chairwoman of the Government Operations Committee, said, “Because the press keeps saying that we’re the only state without an ethics commission and clearly we have something to hide … I don’t really believe that.”

Credit to the Associated Press’ Dave Gram for capturing that entry into the Quote of the Year competition.

Jeezum Crow. The Senator in charge of ethics reform doesn’t believe ethics reform is necessary. She blames the media for fomenting “a lack of faith in government officials.”

Methinks the good Senator has been in Montpelier too long. She’s been so deep in the system for so long, she’s lost all perspective.

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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.

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The Mormons are coming! The Mormons are coming!

To all those up in arms over Scott Milne’s planned development near Exit 1, or Jesse Sammis’ soon-to-be-downsized proposal at Exit 4, how about this one?

A wealthy Mormon developer is buying land in four towns near the Joseph Smith Memorial in hopes of building a planned community there inspired in part by the founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

This doesn't look at all cultish to you, does it?

This doesn’t look at all… cultish, does it?

That’s from the Valley News, which would be Vermont’s best daily newspaper if only it was headquartered in Vermont. After it published a story a few days ago, it was picked up by ol’ buddy BP at Green Mountain Daily. Since then, it’s begun to ripple outwards — as it should. This is a Big Biden Deal.

David Hall has already bought some 900 acores in Royalton, Sharon, Strafford and Tunbridge. His goal is to build a massive development housing “as many as 20,000 people within a few square miles.”

Geesh, talk about changing the Vermont landscape. If fully populated, his hypothetical Mormontown would be the third-largest community in Vermont. Not that we have to panic just yet; he’s looking 30-50 years down the road.

But still. His NewVista Foundation has already invested more than three and a half million dollars in land purchases, and “has about $100 million at its disposal.” That’s enough to carry out the plan, for sure.

If this were to come to pass, it would completely change the character of what is now a largely rural area nestled in the crook of I-89. It would probably lead to continuous development from this area to the Upper Valley. Scott Milne’s plan is dwarfed by comparison.

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Toward a more (capital “D”) Democratic Senate

Suddenly there’s one less Republican in the State Senate.

Sen. Diane Snelling announced Tuesday her resignation from the Senate to take a key state environmental job.

… Snelling… will be taking the job as chair of the Natural Resources Board, which oversees the regional commissions that rule on Act 250 development applications.

Gov. Shumlin chose former State Senator Helen Riehle to serve the rest of Snelling’s term. Riehle will not seek a full term in November.

Snelling has been in the Senate for 14 years. She’d been noncommittal on the subject of running for re-election, so maybe this move shouldn’t be a surprise. And chairing the Natural Resources Board is a prestigious job in line with her interests, but her departure is bad news for her party.

Snelling has been the only Republican in the six-member Chittenden County delegation; she has consistently won re-election in that liberal hotbed, while every other Republican has badly trailed the field. Republicans’ chances of retaining her seat? We’re talking snowballs in Hell.

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