Scandal in the Vermont legislature

The Vermont legislature opened yesterday.  There are many pressing issues:  school reform, how to pay for expanded Medicaid, the drug epidemic, and legalizing marijuana.  But overriding everything is what to do about Senator Norman McAllister.

McAllister is accused of raping an intern last session and of a long duration “rent for sex” scheme.  It is alleged that he let women maintain housing and jobs on his farm in Franklin County in exchange for sex.  All of this came to light as the session was ending last year.  The Burlington Free Press reported the story last May.

Prosecutors allege Sen. Norman H. McAllister, R-Franklin, over a period of several years sexually assaulted two women who were his tenants and employees, and that he attempted to solicit a third woman. That woman called police this week, launching a fast-moving investigation that by Friday was reverberating throughout the state capital of Montpelier.

The allegations, explained in sometimes graphic detail in court papers, shocked the governor and McAllister’s Statehouse colleagues, several of whom witnessed his arrest outside the Capitol on Thursday evening.

At that point, I think everyone was prepared for him to resign.  The Governor, a Democrat, would appoint his replacement.  I should say here that relations between the Democrats, Republicans, and Progressives here are not as divided and acrimonious as they are nationally probably because we are a small state and civility is important if any governing is to happen.  The Governor might even have appointed a Republican.

Sen. Norman McAllister, R-Franklin, returns to his seat in the Senate on the opening day of the Legislature.

Sen. Norman McAllister, R-Franklin, returns to his seat in the Senate on the opening day of the Legislature.

But Senator McAllister has not resigned.  The Legislative rules have nothing to cover this kind of situation.  Over the summer, there was some talk of expulsion, but the rules committee recommended suspension instead.  McAllister, denying the allegations, is fighting the suspension.  He says he is innocent and the criminal trial will prove it.  The trial is scheduled to begin in February.  That means he is going to miss part of the session in any case.

This is where I am of two minds.  He has been duly elected and I’ve read and heard nothing about any move from his constituents to recall him.  A suspension would leave them short one Senator to represent Franklin County.  (There are only 30 senators, statewide.)  On the other hand, if any other public employee were accused of these crimes, they would have been suspended back last May.  No police officer, firefighter, social worker, or RMV worker would be on the job today.  I think a lot of his fellow legislators are facing the same quandary.  The eight of the nine Senate Republicans caucused yesterday.  McAllister defended himself and they came to no conclusion except to urge him to resign.

Is an elected legislator a public employee?  In some sense, yes.  They are paid with taxpayer money.  On the other hand, they are “hired” by election.  Neither of my state senators have commented on the situation nor has my representative.  If I had to vote this afternoon, I’m not sure what I would do so I haven’t talked to any of them.  All three are women and I wonder if they, like me, have difficulty separating the alleged crime from what action to take.  Would it be easier if McAllister had embezzled money or falsified his tax returns?

Part 2 of this story, after the vote.

Photograph:  Roger Crowley/VTDigger

 

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