Our Lieutenant Governor and putative gubernatorial front-runner, Phil Scott, released his financials on Monday. He’s worth three million dollars and some change.
Which sounds like a lot, but then you get to the details. The vast majority of his wealth — more than 80 percent of it — consists of his half-share in DuBois Construction, the family contracting firm that does a lot of business with the state of Vermont.
Now I understand why he’s been so reluctant to part ways with DuBois, even at risk of ethical entanglements: that firm IS his financial lifeline. Which, if he were less than a thoroughly honest man, would provide ample temptation to stack the deck in favor of DuBois when state contracts go out for bid.
Might be nice to have an Ethics Commission to handle such things, but c’est la vie.
I’m not usually too big on candidates’ financials; releasing them is a formality, and it’s extremely rare that they contain any surprises. But there was one number that stuck out like a sore thumb: his retirement and savings accounts add up to $192,290.
A hundred and ninety thousand dollars, any financial advisor will tell you, is barely a start toward a comfortable retirement. In fact, it’s grossly inadequate for a man in his late 50s.
The Putney Democrat and chair of the Senate Government Operations Committee made that clear, over and over again. And she blamed a tried-and-true scapegoat for bringing it up:
The issue of ethics and the lack of an ethics commission has been of great interest over the last year or so to the media. How many Vermonters are passionate about the issue is not clear…
Which was obvious bulldookie at the time. But now I’ve got evidence from an unexpected source.
Researchers at Illinois State University have been involved in a lengthy study of corruption in state politics. They took an unusual approach: seeking the perceptions of reporters covering state politics and corruption issues. They reasoned that corruption cases are handled differently in different states, so rates of indictment and conviction might be grossly misleading. Just because, for instance, New York has pursued several high-profile cases doesn’t mean its politics are more corrupt than, say, New Jersey’s. Perception-based studies have their own limitations, but it’s a different way to evaluate what’s going on.
Turns out that in Vermont, reporters see the state as fundamentally clean, untainted by political sleaze. Vermont ranked near the top in most categories, and overall was one of the “cleanest” states in the country in the eyes of our own allegedly cynical media corps.
Vermont will remain one of a handful of states whose politicians are unburdened by an ethics watchdog. The final benediction was pronounced Tuesday by House leaders, but the fatal blow had been struck in the Senate.
Well, not a blow, actually. The cause of death was slow and methodical.
A bill to establish a state Ethics Commission was shackled to the stone walls of a windowless chamber somewhere beneath the Senate. The cryptkeeper was Jeanette White, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, who openly questioned the need for any ethical oversight at all.
Senate Bill 184 was permitted barely enough gruel and water to survive. Over time, its muscles atrophied and it became a mere shadow of itself. Its teeth and claws were extracted, just to make sure it could never do any damage.
And finally, at the end of last week, after months of captivity, it was paraded across the hallway, shambling, emaciated, wincing at its first glimpse of sunlight since January. By then, it was too far gone to revive. Not that the House put much effort into it.
Despite the widespread pleas of responsible politicians (almost) everywhere, Norm McAllister continues to represent the good people of Franklin County in the State Senate. And I have to confess that I hadn’t considered how it would feel to be represented by that fetid pile of [ALLEGED] human excrement, until I read about a petition drive calling for his resignation.
Which made me realize that if I lived in his district, I’d want him the hell out of office ASAP. Even when the legislature is out of session, there is still business being done. McAllister is a pariah. He’s avoiding public events, he’s been stripped of his committee assignments, and as for “constituent service,” well, who in state government is returning his calls? Who, in their right mind, is depending on Norm McAllister for “constituent service”?
The people of Franklin County are (a) underrepresented, and (b) forced to bear the stigma of having McAllister as their Senator. If I lived there, you bet I’d sign that petition.
McAllister, for those just joining us, was arrested on the Statehouse grounds and charged with a whole bunch of skeevy sex crimes. As soon as the details broke, McAllister immediately lost every friend he might have had in Montpelier; but he refused to resign, and the legislature adjourned eight days laer without taking any action.
And now, Profiles In Courage, they are hiding behind process.
Well, the reaction has been fast, furious, and predictable. Legislative leaders are, for the most part, decidedly cool to the idea of an independent Ethics Commission. This, in spite of a legislative session that saw, in the words of VTDigger’s Anne Galloway, “one outrage followed another in the waning days.”
Still, State Rep. David Deen, chair of the secretive House Ethics Panel, managed to pull a Sergeant Schultz:
“I think putting something like this in place when we seemingly don’t have a major problem I’m aware of makes me wonder, are you stimulating complaints? Are you creating a problem where one doesn’t exist?”
“Seemingly don’t have a major problem”? I think I owe an apology to Sergeant Schultz.
And then there was the chair of the Senate Government Operations Committee, the gatekeeper for potential ethics reform:
When Sen. Jeannette White, D-Windham, heard about the plan, her first response was “No, no, no, that’s not going to happen.”
It’s things like this that make me believe we’d be better off if we fired all 30 state senators and replaced them with Vermonters chosen by lottery.