Tag Archives: Senate Rules Committee

Foxes Establish Henhouse Access Rules

Here’s another sign that Vermont’s Founding Fathers may have been drunk when they wrote our Constitution. Which, among other flaws, appears to give the Legislature sole authority over its own ethics.

Today, the Senate Rules Committee showed why that’s such a bad idea. While the Judiciary Committee has been busily slashing a proposed Ethics Commission into a glorified filing cabinet, the Rules Committee has been developing a parallel process for its own members.

Today, the Rules Committee adopted an ethics process for the Senate. And according to Seven Days’ Nancy Remsen, the Senate ethics process is designed, first and foremost, to ensure that its members are protected from public embarrassment. (To clarify: she didn’t say that, I did. But her outline of the procedure allows no other interpretation.)

As I’ve written before, the House Ethics Panel is a sorry-ass excuse for a watchdog. The Senate ethics panel won’t be any better, and may be significantly worse.

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Clueless Norm

If there was any doubt that Senator-In-Waiting Norm McAllister is completely unmoored from reality, well, this should be the last straw.

Two months after his suspension from the Vermont legislature, Sen. Norm McAllister (R-Franklin) petitioned a Senate panel last week to restore his voting privileges.

Yeah. Because, why the hell not.

Clueless Norm’s argument is: now that his trial on gross, disturbing sexual assault charges has been delayed until May, there’s no reason he shouldn’t be able to carry out his obligations as a duly-elected lawmaker.

Yeah, no reason at all. I can’t think of one. Can you?

Just because a return to the Senate would turn that body into a daily circus (I’d be tempted to show up every day and shout “Vaginal fisting!” every time he walked by). Just because, whether he is guilty or not, a massive stench surrounds him due to the notoriety of the charges.

Just because, based on what he has already admitted and his lawyer has already acknowledged, the only remaining question is whether he “merely” made his victims submit to unpleasant sexual encounters, or whether he actually committed assault over and over and over again.

Bear that in mind, Senator Peg Flory and his other defenders.

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Senate May Do Absolute Minimum on Ethics

That wacky Senate Rules Committee, under the steady hand of First Mate Gilligan President Pro Tem John Campbell, is considering a bold move.

Well, “bold” by their frame of reference. The committee met yesterday and discussed setting up an Ethics Panel along the lines of the weaksauce House version. Mind you, they didn’t decide anything; they’re just considering it.

And, well, if they do actually set up an Ethics Panel, I might file the inaugural complaint (just as I did, fruitlessly, with the House Ethics Panel last year). My complaint would be, ahem, against the Senate Rules Committee. The intrepid Paul Heintz:

The Senate Rules Committee, which has a long history of meeting secretly, held Thursday’s discussion behind closed doors in the Senate Cloakroom. Seven Days has repeatedly asked to be informed of such meetings and was told about it in advance by a member. [Senate Secretary John] Bloomer posted public notice of the meeting Thursday morning on the legislature’s website, just hours before it took place. One other reporter, from the Burlington Free Press, attended.

Is it just me, or is there something fundamentally ironic about a “Rules” Committee repeatedly failing to abide by open-meetings requirements? Nothing says “transparency” like having “a history of meeting secretly.” And in a frickin’ closet, no less.

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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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The circus is coming to town, and I don’t have a ticket

This Just In… New caboose on the trainwreck:

 

It should be entertaining in a trainwreck sort of way, when the State Senate Rules Committee gets together Wednesday afternoon to discuss The Curious Case Of The Predator Senator. Regarding Norm McAllister, Our Most Senior Deliberative Body has been acting like anything but. Opinions are scattered in every direction, there’s no hint of a consensus, and in less than one month we could be treated to the spectacle of the accused sexual felon McAllister taking his honored seat in the Senate chambers.

As a blogger with a vested interest in chaos, all I can say is oh please, please, let it be so.

The Rules Committee is a curious construct, presumably born of President Pro Tem John Campbell’s unique leadership style: a mix of moderation, obfuscation, and inertia. I mean, look: the Democrats have 18 seats out of 30; there are three Prog/Dem/Indy hybrids, all representing the left side of the spectrum; and a mere nine Republicans.

So how is it that the Rules Committee includes two Republicans and a conservative “Democrat” who’s actively supporting Phil Scott, Republican candidate for governor? Plus the Pro Tem himself, who has supported Scott in the psat and is known as one of the least liberal members of his caucus. The Furious Five:

Republicans Joe Benning and Peg Flory; Republidem Dick Mazza; Democrats John Campbell and Phil Baruth.

For a strongly liberal body, that’s an awful lot of conservatism and institutionalism. Plus, Campbell installed himself as Rules Committee chair, so he clearly wanted to have his own hand firmly on this particular tiller.

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Another closed door in the People’s House

Constant readers of this blog (Hi, Mom!) will recall that earlier this month, I wrote a letter to the House Ethics Panel asking for a review of Rep. Adam Greshin’s actions regarding H.40, the RESET bill. For less constant readers, my complaint centered on this: Greshin authored an amendment to H.40 stripping away an increase in funding for Efficiency Vermont. (EV had already gotten Public Service Board approval; until this year, legislative review was a mere formality.) He also aggressively lobbied the House and Senate for his amendment.

EV gets its money through a surcharge on utility bills. As co-owner of the Sugarbush Resort, a voracious consumer of electricity ($2 million/year), Greshin stood to gain considerably if his amendment passed.

Well, the Ethics Panel has responded. And as expected, it was a whitewash. Greshin, so they say, did nothing wrong.

I’ll get to the substance of its decision in my next post. First, though, I need to address the process.

Between sending my letter and receiving the Panel’s reply, I didn’t hear anything about it. During the roughly one week between receiving my letter and drafting its ruling, the Panel conducted a review with help from Legislative Counsel. It also met with the House Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and with Greshin himself. (Correction: The panel met with counsel to the House Energy and Natural Resources Committee, but not with the Committee itself.)

None of those meetings were noticed publicly. I was not informed. I was not given the opportunity to be a party to the proceedings.

It seems that the House Ethics Panel has a closed-door policy.

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Once again, it’s time to grab the State Senate by the ankles, flip it upside down, and give it a damn good shake

 

The inevitable has occurred. The final member of the State Senate’s “Two Dicks and a John Club” has publicly endorsed Phil Scott’s bid for re-election as Lieutenant Governor. For those just joining us, that’s three of the most powerful Senate Democrats endorsing a Republican for a statewide office. An office which is largely ceremonial, but it does come with a spot on the three-member Senate Rules Committee and the ability to cast tiebreaking votes in the Senate.

The latest Dick to join the party is Sears of Bennington, following (as usual) in the well-worn footsteps of Dick “The Immovable Object” Mazza and Senate Penitent Pro Tem John Campbell.  The latter declared their true and abiding Phil-o-philia at an event in the garage where Mazza keeps his Corvette collection. Man of the people, is he.

Sears cited sound political principle for abandoning his party: “I’ve known Phil for 14 years, we’ve worked well together in the Senate.”

Well, Kum Ba Ya.

But that’s not all. Sears also rolls out the VTGOP’s endlessly reiterated campaign stand: “Restore Balance to Montpelier.”

“There’s little likelihood that Republicans will take over control of the House or Senate, and little likelihood they’ll be taking over the governor’s office,” Sears said. “I think it’s important for Vermont to have some balance, somebody who stands up and says, ‘I think we ought to look at it a different way.’”

Progressive Dean Corren, who’s seeking the Democratic nomination, would look at things in a different way himself, but I suspect that Sears would rather see that “different way” be Republican rather than Progressive. Or, more to the point, he’d rather see it coming from his bosom buddy Phil Scott. 

Myself, I’m not persuaded that a Lieutenant Governor will make a crucial difference in the balance of power. But he might make a key difference on a crucial vote or two, such as single-payer health care. Aside from breaking ties, Phil Scott has about as much power as top Democrats are willing to let him have. And pretty much the only occasion when the Senate is tied is when the Democrats fail to get their shit together.

And really, if Dick Sears is that interested in a bit of partisan balance, I suggest that he win re-election, immediately resign from the Senate, and urge the Governor to replace him with a Republican. A real, honest Republican, instead of a Democrat who ditches the party that nurtured him and helped elect him when he has to choose between his party and his friends.