Senator Norman McAllister has been suspended from the Vermont Senate. The vote, which was not on party lines, was 20 to 10. My Senators split, one for and one against.
For the first time in its history, the Vermont Senate has suspended one of its own members.
Senate Majority Leader Philip Baruth introduced the resolution.
“The situation we face today is an ugly one. No other word for it,” Baruth said. “It’s hard to imagine a more uncomfortable discussion and yet today’s debate is crucial to our future as a Senate,” adding that the “number and nature of felony charges against [McAllister] require us to suspend him.”
Baruth said that suspension was a step short of outright expulsion, and that it preserves the presumption of innocence McAllister should be afforded.
But Baruth said the Senate can’t allow McAllister to retain legislative powers he’s alleged to have abused so grossly. McAllister’s alleged victims include a 21-year-old Statehouse intern he paid to assist him in Montpelier.
At any place of business in Vermont, Baruth said, “no one would dream of allowing a manager who has been criminally accused of assaulting his assistant to remain in place.”
Those opposed to suspension argued that there were no rules in the Senate to cover the situation and that the Senate should let the criminal justice system work.
Rutland Sen. Peg Flory, however, said the Senate was overstepping its authority by preventing an elected official from carrying out his official duties. So long as McAllister is suspended, Flory said, Franklin County voters will lack representation in the Senate.
“We make the law. We don’t interpret it; we don’t enforce it,” Flory said.
Flory opposed the resolution because she said it violated the legal principle that a person is innocent until proven guilty.
“To step on that and say because somebody has been charged we are going to remove them just goes against every grain in my body,” Flory said.
Flory, a Republican, wasn’t alone in her opposition to the resolution. Windsor County Democrat Richard McCormack said the Senate ought not involve itself in matters of criminal law.
In the end, the arguments for suspension won out.
Back in December, after the rules committee had voted to recommend suspension, one of McAllister’s constituents, Sue Prent, wrote:
Mr. McAllister says he thinks his constituents will sue the Senate on his behalf, for being deprived of representation.
Is he kidding us? Any and all of his constituents with whom I am familiar (of every political stripe) wanted him gone as soon as the content of his confessional conversations with the victims became known.
A more likely scenario is that some of those same constituents, fed up with Mr. McAllister’s refusal to accept responsibility for his appetites and voluntarily step down from the Senate, will be motivated to sue Mr. McAllister for depriving them of legitimate representation in the face of conclusive evidence that he, at the very least, has grossly violated community standards.
After putting his colleagues and voters though the ordeal of deciding to suspend him (even the other Senator from Franklin County voted yes), McAllister has said he is thinking of resigning so a replacement can be appointed.
Unfortunately, the sad story of Vermont State Senator Norman McAllister is far from over.