Usually, reductio ad absurdum is something you do to another person’s line of argument. It’s very unusual to reductio one’s own argument ad absurdum, but Campaign for Vermont spokesflack Shaun Shouldice managed the trick in a letter sent this week to House Speaker Shap Smith.
The letter formally accused State Representative Mike McCarthy of violating House rules by casting a vote on H. 702, the bill to expand the state’s net metering program. McCarthy is an employee of SunCommon, the VPIRG spinoff that facilitates the adoption of solar power by homeowners. Shouldice argues that since the net metering bill “will be beneficial to SunCommon,” and that McCarthy “has a direct interest in the passage of H.702.” She then asks Smith to “discuss this violation… with Representative McCarthy and take whatever action is necessary.”
The letter also ties McCarthy’s vote to CFV’s top legislative priority, ethics reform.
Okay, a couple of problems here.
First, H. 702 passed by a margin of 136 to 8. Yeah, if McCarthy had recused himself, that bill would’ve been in deep trouble, f’sho.
Second, aside from retirees, every single person in the Legislature has a day job. And it didn’t take me 30 seconds to come up with other examples of “direct interest” in pieces of legislation. Let’s take former Senator, now Lieutenant Governor Phil Scott, who runs a road-construction company. In his years in the Senate, did he ever vote on transportation bills? How about Bill Doyle, who teaches part-time at Johnson State College? Does he vote on education funding bills?
How about realtor/Rep. Don Turner, or realtor/Sen. Ann Cummings? Do they recuse themselves on land-use and property-tax measures? After all, the professional realtors association is publicly lobbying for lower property taxes; sounds like a real conflict of interest there.
To put it more broadly:
“We’ve got a citizen legislature,” says McCarthy, who went to work for SunCommon in July 2013. “Farmers vote on farm bills. Teachers vote on education bills. We have a doctor who votes on health care bills.”
The latter would be Democrat George Till, who not only votes on health care bills, but also serves on the House Health Care Committee. The unmitigated gall of that man!
And how about Peter “The Slummin’ Solon” Galbraith, who made his fortune in fossil fuels and now sits on the Senate Natural Resources and Energy Committee, where he is furiously active in efforts to slow the growth of renewable energy? Hmmmmm?
I could go on. And on. But you get the point.
Which makes me wonder why Shouldice and CFV chose Mike McCarthy and net metering as the hill they would die on — or, at least, make fools of themselves on. If she was hoping to make a strong case to Democratic leaders and gain momentum on CFV’s ethics crusade, this certainly wasn’t the way to do it.
Worst case, the letter will offend Smith and other lawmakers; best case, they’ll laugh it off. And assign a lot less credibility to CFV’s future endeavors.