Tag Archives: recall

Our sclerotic Constitution

In the past, I’ve tossed around the notion that Vermont’s Founding Fathers were drunk when they wrote our Constitution. Partly, that’s a matter of historic record. In those days, everyone drank to what we’d consider wretched excess; and it was common practice for men to gather in taverns to talk politics. As a simple matter of probability, those guys were hammered when they drafted our founding document.

But there’s also the matter of content. This has come up in the context of our current ethics debate, in which many lawmakers have asserted that the Constitution gives the Legislature sole authority over the ethics of its members. That seems like a terrible idea on its face.

And kind of undemocratic as well. And it’s far from the only undemocratic thread in our Constitution. At the risk of being overly cynical, you might even conclude that the Constitution was written by political elites to provide themselves a measure of protection from those pesky voters.

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Ladies and gentlemen, the comedy stylings of John Campbell!

Looks like it’s in the bag. When the State Senate meets Wednesday, it will vote to suspend Norm McAllister, self-admitted sex criminal, from his seat. Not expel him, not allow him to serve, but to consign him (they hope) to political limbo until his criminal trial wraps up — almost certainly after the end of this year’s legislative session, and perhaps after the official beginning of campaign season. (Candidate filing deadline is May 28. Criminal proceedings likely to still be pending. Will Norm file for re-election?)

The rationale: Expelling McAllister might compromise his trial, but we can’t simply let him continue to serve. Which would seem to be a contradiction: he should be presumed innocent, but he’s unfit to serve in the Senate.

Whaa?

It also leaves the people of Franklin County as the real victims. They will lose one of their two state Senators for an entire session, but they will also continue to live with the very real stain of officially being represented by Norm McAllister. Suspension is the convenient way out for the Senate, but it ignores the interests of absolutely everyone in Franklin County — Democrat, Republican, Independent; pro-McAllister or anti.

Our Pro Tem, thinking deep thoughts.

Our Pro Tem, thinking deep thoughts.

Senate President Pro Tem John Campbell addressed the situation in his usual meandering, impenetrably filibustering style in a podcast interview with VTDigger’s Mark Johnson. As a public service, I listened carefully to the uncontrollable torrent of Campbellian verbiage and, painful though it was, transcribed it for your reading pleasure. (His answer to Johnson’s initial question on McAllister took more than six full minutes. I had to stop transcribing after about five — I simply couldn’t take any more.)

And now, the annotated John Campbell.

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The right to recall

At yesterday’s Senate Rules Committee hearing, one of the main arguments against suspending the Predator Senator, Norm McAllister, was that suspension would unfairly deprive his constituents of full representation.

Which is a good argument if you ignore, oh, y’know, morality and stuff. It’s an argument that may very well result in a court ruling in McAllister’s favor. A constituent who doesn’t mind being represented by a self-admitted sexual predator can say, “Look, by population Franklin County deserves two Senators, and until McAllister’s suspension is lifted we only have one.”

There are, on the other hand, the interests of constituents who don’t want to be represented by a felon-in-waiting. They have no recourse whatsoever until the next election, because Vermont is one of 14 states with no provision for recalling elected officials.

No matter what those officials might do.

Let’s say, purely hypothetically, choosing a name out of thin air, Dick Mazza runs into the Senate chamber wielding a pickaxe and starts hackin’ and slashin’. After he’s been subdued and taken away in handcuffs and the blood is washed off the walls, furnishings, and light fixtures, the Senate meets to consider what to do.

And decides it can’t do anything until the criminal case is resolved. Congratulations, good people of the Grand Isle district! Like it or not, you shall be represented by an *alleged* axe murderer until the next election! Provisions shall be made for Senator Mazza to participate in committee meetings, floor debates and Senate votes by video feed from his jail cell.

Yes, outlandish, I know. But what are the alternatives under the present system?

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