The Political Reporter is a flocking creature. It tends to congregate in large numbers where there’s a commotion or a generous food supply — or, sometimes, for no apparent reason.
On Friday, the flock gathered at the Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearing on the gun bill — the reduced version of
S. 31, Now Expanded Background-Check Free! (Correction: it’s now S.141 for those keeping score at home.)
It wasn’t the most important thing going on that day. I’d be hard-pressed to put it in the top five, actually; supporters and opponents are all het up about the bill, but I’m not. As a gun control measure it’s a teeny tiny baby step. As a potential threat to Second Amendment rights, it’s… well, it’s not. The Domino Theory was discredited way back in Vietnam.
So I was elsewhere on Friday afternoon. More on that later.
The only thing that was interesting about it, to me, was captured by the Vermont Press Bureau’s Neal Goswami:
Senate President Pro Tem John Campbell, D-Windsor, an original sponsor of S.31, pushed [Committee chair Dick] Sears hard to advance a bill. He spent considerable time in the Judiciary Committee, often seated near Sears, monitoring its progress.
“I think his behavior has been fascinating,” Sears said.
His attention was bothersome to Sears, and prompted the veteran lawmaker, who is known to express his displeasure at times, to offer Campbell total control earlier this week.
“There was one point where I asked him if he really wanted to chair the committee,” Sears said.
John Campbell, recently seen taking a restful nap. (Not exactly as illustrated.)
This is highly unusual, to put it mildly. I haven’t checked the record in detail, but I’d say this is unprecedented in Campbell’s frequently undercooked tenure as Pro Tem.
First, I don’t recall him ever being inspired about a piece of legislation. Serene detachment has been the order of the day. (I recall a time when I was watching Senate debate from the balcony. Campbell sat at his desk leafing through a woodworking catalog, paying no attention to the debate. It was inspiring.) It’s rare, like a snow day in Hell, for Campbell to show real passion for an issue.
Second, this is rather a blatant violation of Senate comity. I daresay it’s not unusual for a Pro Tem to pull the levers behind the scenes (it’s pretty unusual for Campbell, but not for your average Pro Tem), but it’s downright bizarre for a Pro Tem to publicly show up a committee chair. Sears’s reaction was actually rather diplomatic. Well, diplomatic for Sears, who guards his turf like the alpha male he thinks he is. Although there’s no truth, as far as I know, to the rumor that he tinkles a little on the Judiciary Committee doorjambs every morning.
Third, Campbell’s even making noise about openly opposing Gov. Shumlin.
“The governor made it very clear how he feels about this bill. He doesn’t support it,” Campbell said. “The governor is very powerful and the administration is very powerful. As such, I guess I had to step up my involvement.”
Superman: “As such, I guess, I had to stop the runaway train.”
So it’s weird doings on the gun bill. Campbell’s normal posture, when an issue gets divisive, is to stay the hell out of the way. There have been many occasions during his tenure when a bit of leadership — or arm-twisting — would have broken a logjam and avoided unnecessary strife. In moments like these, John Campbell usually stays out of the way.
I don’t get the sudden onslaught of passion for a bill that simply doesn’t do that much. Makes me wonder if that’s the Real John Campbell or an alien-crafted facsimile.