Scandal in the Vermont legislature, Part 2

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.

Vermont Public Radio reported

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.




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


The Republican obsession with women’s bodies and sex

Haven’t posted for quite a while now.  Maybe it is the end of winter doldrums (I can almost say I survived my first Vermont winter which wasn’t nearly as bad as winter in the Boston I left behind.) or maybe I’m just discouraged by the general  state of politics.   I’m becoming increasingly fearful about what will happen if the Republicans take over the Presidency next year.  But I have been aroused from my lethargy by a story and editorial in today’s Brattleboro Reformer.

I’m not sure how it works in other parts of the country, but New England has a tradition of school children asking a legislator to introduce a bill for them.  I wrote a few weeks ago about the young woman who wanted Vermont to have a Latin motto.  Another group would like the Gilfeather turnip to become the Vermont state vegetable.  The children have to do their research and come and testify before the appropriate committee of the state legislature.  Their bills sometimes pass and sometimes get postponed for a year, but along the way they learn about politics and how bills become laws.  So a group in New Hampshire wants to make the red-tailed hawk the state raptor.  The Reformer editorial compares their reception to that given to the Gilfeather turnip lobbyists.

On March 17, a dozen students from Wardsboro Elementary School traveled to Montpelier to lobby for designating the Gilfeather turnip as the state vegetable. Wardsboro was home to John Gilfeather who is credited with developing the turnip that bears his name.

Rep. Emily Long, a Democrat from Newfane and a co-sponsor of the turnip bill, said she was “absolutely thrilled to see the kids here. I heard they were really good, I saw one of their teachers, and she was glowing!”

The students were told by Rep. Carolyn Partridge, a Democrat from Windham, that the bill would not pass this year, but she said many members of the committee supported it. In fact, Partridge said Gilfeather turnips had a celebrity status at her family’s Thanksgiving and Christmas tables growing up, and she said she would make a soup from them and bring it to the committee so they can taste the gnarly root vegetable for themselves.

Members of the committee were given wool-felted Gilfeather turnip pins, one of many items handcrafted and sold as part of fundraisers for the annual festival, which benefits the town’s library.

But what happened in New Hampshire?

Now let’s compare the reception the Wardsboro students received to the reception a handful of fourth-grade students received when they went to Concord to lobby to name the red-tailed hawk the state bird. What was the reaction they got? Incredibly, one legislator likened the bill to abortion.

State Rep. Warren Groen, from Rochester (need we really name his party?) said the red-tailed hawk “mostly likes field mice and small rodents. It grasps them with its talons and then uses its razor sharp beak to rip its victims to shreds and then basically tear it apart, limb from limb. And I guess the shame about making this the state bird is it would make a much better mascot for Planned Parenthood.”

Yes, Groen took the opportunity to push his anti-choice agenda at the expense of a group of 9 and 10-year-old students from Hampton Falls.

We’ve all seen video and read stories about male Republicans at all levels of government getting tangled up in trying to figure out birth control, rape, and abortion.  Remember back when Newt Gingrich said women can’t be soldiers because they get a “disease” every month?  Or Rush Limbaugh thinking one had to take a birth control pill with every act of intercourse?  Or the guy who said women could hold an aspirin (I think it was an aspirin.) between their knees to prevent rape.  And most recently the state legislator who thought maybe one could swallow a tiny camera so a doctor could see how old the fetus was before an abortion was performed.  The list is endless.  But NH Rep. Groen really shows the totality of their obsession by introducing the anti-choice agenda during a hearing about raptors.  When the inappropriateness of his comments was pointed out and he was asked by leadership to apologize, Groen made the whole thing into a free speech issue.

What was Groen’s reaction to criticism of his comment? “Every time we’re in session the gallery is open, and there are children in the gallery. So, I don’t know, should we limit free speech or should we limit who goes in the gallery?”

Maybe the answer, Rep. Groen, is that on a day when birth control, abortion rights, or Planned Parenthood are being debated it is up to parents to decide if their children should be in the gallery.  But not when we are talking about red-tailed hawks.

Red-Tailed Hawk

Red-Tailed Hawk

And while we are on the topic may I ask why Congressional Republican have to add an amendment about abortion to every single piece of legislation?  Today I’m talking about the bill concerning trafficking of women, the bill that is holding up the confirmation of Loretta Lynch to be Attorney General.  Can we drop that language and pass the bill and confirm Ms. Lynch, please?






Photograph:  Cornell Lab of Ornithology.  Taken by Betty Lemley, New Jersey, February 2008