Tag Archives: John Campbell

A complete failure of justice

Gotta hand it to USA TODAY (all caps, as God intended) for uncovering the distressing case of Leonard Forte, a retired cop from New York state who was accused and convicted in 1988 of sexually assaulting a 12-year-old Vermont girl. His conviction was overturned on appeal, and that’s when things got weird. In 1995, facing a second trial, Forte claimed he was on death’s door and that the stress of a trial would surely kill him.

And then… nothing.

For almost 25 years.

Well, not entirely “nothing”. The case would occasionally get another look, Forte would claim ill health, and back into the deep freeze it went.

If USA TODAY is to be believed, the prosecutor overseeing the case — longtime assistant attorney general David Tartter — wasn’t exactly devoting a lot of energy to it. “Neglect” seems the best descriptor for his approach.

Meanwhile, the accuser is now 45 years old and living with the consequences of the assault. Forte is 78 and still claims to be dying, but has been enjoying a pretty decent retirement in Florida. And the chances of bringing him to justice appeared faint, thanks to this:

The USA TODAY Network found that Vermont officials have destroyed materials key to the prosecution of Forte, including most of the original trial record. The mistaken destruction of transcripts and court audio recordings appears to be due to the unprecedented age of the case, by far the oldest open prosecution in Vermont and certainly one of the oldest in the country where the defendant is not a fugitive.

… Michele Dinko, the alleged victim, said in a recent interview that Tartter has expressed to her that he has little hope left of prosecuting Forte. Dinko said Tartter also told her privately that having the case loom over Forte for so many decades is its own kind of punishment.

That’d be a hard “no,” Mr. Tartter.

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The deal went down

Aww, crap on a cracker.

Precisely as it was foreseen in the sacred portents, Tim Ashe will succeed John Campbell as Senate President Pro Tem.

That’s not the bad part. The bad part is the other half of the presumed backroom deal, which allows Democrat In Name Only Dick Mazza to keep his plum post as the third member of the Senate’s Committee on Committees.

One can only hope that his ability to wreak mischief with committee appointments will be reined in by Ashe and the CoC’s third member, Lt. Gov-elect David Zuckerman.

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No Gurlz Alowd

Early next week, the State Senate Democratic caucus will hold its organizational meeting for the new biennium. They will elect a new President Pro Tem to replace John Campbell; a new Majority Leader to replace Phil Baruth; and they will name the three members of the organizationally crucial Committee on Committees, which will later dole out committee memberships and appoint chairs and vice chairs.

Scuttlebutt has it that Sen. Tim Ashe has the Pro Tem job wrapped up, and that Windham County’s Becca Balint will succeed Baruth.

And it seems inevitable that Dick Mazza will retain his spot on the CoC, in spite of his long and loud advocacy for Republican Phil Scott’s gubernatorial bid. (And before that, Brian Dubie’s.) Honestly, Mazza might as well have spent 2016 just flipping the bird to the Democratic Party.

But all indications are that he’ll be reappointed. Which is weird in a lot of ways. First, the aforementioned display of apostasy.

Second, the other two members of the CoC are the President Pro Tem and the Lieutenant Governor. When that was John Campbell and Phil Scott respectively, they were like peas in a pod with Mazza.

But two guys who came out of the Progressive Party making common cause with Mazza? What that says to me is that Ashe and Zuckerman are more invested in the institution of the Senate than in advancing progressive policies.

Third, they’d all be from Chittenden County. Shouldn’t we be interested in a little geographic balance?

Fourth, and most striking to me, is that they’re all men.

Seriously? This doesn’t trouble Ashe or Zuckerman in the least?

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So, Shap.

The all-but-certain became reality yesterday. Outgoing House Speaker Shap Smith announced he will run for lieutenant governor. Thus making him a political rarity: a person who launches a campaign for one office, abandons it, and resets a candidacy for a different office. (He had killed his bid for governor last fall due to his wife’s illness.)

I’m not surprised. In fact, I’ve been promoting the idea since I first reported it way back on February 8.

At this point, it would be awfully difficult to re-enter the gubernatorial race. …But lieutenant governor? That wouldn’t be so hard.

… Also — and this is crucial for Smith’s personal situation — the job isn’t all that tough. He bangs the gavel in the Senate, he does some soft appearances around the state. He can pretty much set his own schedule.

He’d have a high-profile role at the center of state government. And it’s a great way to build name recognition for a future run at the top job — something Smith would still like to do.

Hey, I was right! You know what they say about blind squirrels and acorns.

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Toward a more Progressive Senate

I welcome Chris Pearson’s entry into the race for State Senate from Chittenden County. The Progressive state rep is the Progs’ sharpest policy voice in the House, and he should be a formidable candidate for Senate.

For those just joining us, the Chittenden County district elects six Senators, and it’s usually a free ride for incumbents. This time, two of the six seats will be voluntarily vacated; David Zuckerman is running for Lite-Gov, and Helen Riehle (appointed to fill out Diane Snelling’s term) is not running for a full term.

The openings are sure to attract a strong Democratic field, while Republicans are desperately searching for someone who might retain Snelling’s position. Searching in vain, methinks.

But the race on the left will be lively. It’ll be interesting to see how Pearson will fare in fundraising — I suspect he’ll do quite well. He’ll certainly have better name recognition than the Democratic non-incumbents.

And should he win, there is the potential for a real shift in Senatorial power.

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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.

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Two steps back for legalized pot

Well, a pair of House committees got out their carving knives and turned S.241, the marijuana-legalization bill, into an unrecognizable mess.

This is a significant setback for legalization. The best hope is that the House passes the bill and then a House/Senate conference committee comes down firmly on the Senate’s side. After that, perhaps the bill could pass muster in the full House. But the outlook is definitely worse than it was a couple days ago.

Earlier this week, House Judiciary Chair Maxine Grad proposed, well, a Bizarro World version of S.241. She slashed out the legalization stuff, opting instead for a mild extension of decriminalization that would allow for personal cultivation of up to two marijuana plants. That idea was specifically rejected by Senate Judiciary Committee chair Dick Sears, the primary gatekeeper on the Senate side.

Oh, and she also attached the House’s favorite Action Evasion Tactic — a study commission! Yay!

That was bad enough. But even that bill couldn’t pass the full committee. After Grad’s version failed on a 5-6 vote, the grow-your-own provision got the ax. The study commission, naturally, was spared. The bill also creates a penalty for driving under the influence if a driver has a BAC of 0.05 or higher PLUS any trace of psychoactive chemicals in their system, plus a new crime of making hash oil from marijuana.

VTDigger’s headline calls it a “hollowed-out pot bill,” and that’s pretty much dead on.

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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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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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Legalization reconsidered

Constant VPO readers (Hi, Mom!) know that I’ve thought marijuana legalization would fall short of passage. Not that I’m opposed to legalization; I just didn’t think it would happen this year.

Startin’ to change my mind.

There are two factors at play, and neither directly involve the State Senate passing the bill last week.

First, I’ve written that there’s one person who could turn the tide — Governor Shumlin. He supports legalization, but I wondered how actively he would engage on the issue. Well, in the Senate, he was heavily engaged, and probably made the crucial difference. Especially with two of his longtime Senate running buddies, John Campbell and Dick Mazza. Both were opposed to legalization, both are powerful enough to derail any bill they don’t like — and both stepped aside and allowed the process to go forward.

Second, House Speaker Shap Smith has consistently thrown cold water on expectations for the bill. Now, he seems to be opening the door a bit. In an interview with the Vermont Press Bureau, he called the bill “a squeaker,” which is different than calling it a loser. He said “the split that exists in the Senate reflects how people in the House feel.” Well, the Senate just passed the bill.

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