Tag Archives: Vermont Constitution

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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A Vermont state of mind

Looks like Garrett Graff hasn’t given up his ambition of becoming Vermont’s next Lieutenant Governor. As VPR’s Peter Hirschfeld reports, Graff is seeking an official ruling on his eligibility for the 2-16 ballot.

He seems to have run afoul of an oddly-worded Constitutional provision that appears to require four years of Vermont residency preceding the election. Graff, however, had lived in Washington, D.C. for ten years before returning to Vermont, uhh, two months ago.

By the way, is it just me, or does it seem like our Constitution was written by a bunch of drunks? (I mean, “he shall have resided in this State four years next preceding the day of the election,” WTF?) There’s a lot of stuff in there that I’d change if I had a magic wand. Unfortunately, Our Framers devised a maddeningly difficult process for amending the Constitution, so I think we’re stuck with it.

Anyway. First problem with Graff’s request? There is no process for an official ruling. (That darn Constitution again.) Secretary of State Jim Condos says it’s a matter for the courts to decide. Which would involve (a) Graff formally launching a campaign and (b) someone filing a court challenge against him. And even if that process began tomorrow, would the courts deliver a ruling in time for Graff to pursue a credible candidacy? Seems unlikely.

The impression is that Graff failed to do his homework.

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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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Mahatma makes a boo-boo

I’m in the process of doing a full write-up of Scott Milne’s news conference this morning. But while I was putting it together, I came across something I couldn’t resist sharing right away.

In his prepared remarks, he called on state lawmakers to vote for Governor in accordance with their “constitutional oath,” which he quoted in the following way:

… in giving my “vote or suffrage touching any matter that concerns the State of Vermont, [I] will do it so as in [my] conscience [I] shall judge will most conduce to the best… as established by the Constitution, without fear or favor of any person.”

Small problem, bucko.

That is the Voter’s Oath, which can be found on Vermont’s voter registration form.

There are two Oaths in the state constitution (Section 56) that officeholders must swear: the Oath of Allegiance and the Oath of Office. They read like this:

The Oath or Affirmation of Allegiance

You do solemnly swear (or affirm) that you will be true and faithful to the State of Vermont and that you will not, directly or indirectly, do any act or thing injurious to the Constitution or Government thereof. (If an affirmation) Under the pains and penalties of perjury.

The Oath or Affirmation of Office

You do solemnly swear (or affirm) that you will faithfully execute the office of ____ for the ____ of ____ and will therein do equal right and justice to all persons, to the best of your judgment and ability, according to law. (If an oath) So help you God. (If an affirmation) Under the pains and penalties of perjury.

If he’d found the right Oaths, Milne could perhaps have made a case that lawmakers should vote against Gov. Shumlin to avoid doing “any act or thing injurious to the Constitution or Government,” but that’s not the argument he made.

It was obvious from his news conference that he’d spent a lot of time researching Vermont history and government. But apparently he didn’t quite spend enough time.

As ever, if anyone has contrary information I will happily correct this post.

 

Addendum. Members of the House and Senate actually take a longer oath than that cited in the constitution. However, (1) it does not contain the language cited by Milne, and (2) it’s part of the Legislative Rules, not the Constitution. So Milne remains wrong.