The Vermont Senate underwent a test of character this week. Most of that body proved equal to the task.
It’s not a perfect resolution as far as this Franklin County constituent is concerned, since it leaves us with only half of our allotted representation while taxpayers remain on the hook for Norm McAllister’s salary; but given the deficiency of guiding precedent, this was the best outcome that one could expect.
Even now, if McAllister is as concerned about his county’s representation as he claims to be, he could simply resign, allowing another Franklin County resident to fill the vacancy.
True to his selfish pattern, he refuses to do so, BECAUSE, he insists, he has done nothing wrong.
As Mr. McAllister draws down his salary and awaits his day in court, two glaring deficits present themselves.
First is the complete absence of legislative guidelines for dealing with an ethical crisis such as that which McAllister’s legal situation thrust upon his constituency.
I hope we can trust that this experience has convinced even the most reluctant senators that there is a real need to develop an ethics policy with specific guidelines, swift remedies and meaningful consequences to deal with those who grossly compromise the public trust.
It must be made very clear that legislative ethics are a matter quite apart from the course of criminal law; and that behaviors that may not rise to the level of criminal liability may still be determined to be in violation of the legislators’ oath of office, and therefore automatically disqualifying.
The second deficit is in public awareness that there may be a rural culture of sexual abuse out there in little old Vermont that isn’t paid nearly enough attention.
We’ve heard a lot about “rape culture” on college campuses and football teams, but the fact that Mr. McAllister regards himself as a social conservative but doesn’t even seem to understand that forced sex is assault, says a lot about the culture that enabled him, then elevated him to high office.
As I have said over and over again, a man doesn’t just wake up one day, at the age of sixty, and begin a life of sexual assault.
I’ve heard the whispers about one farming patriarch or another whose attitudes toward women are eye-raising, or even hair-raising.
This is the first time, in my memory at least, that the consequences have made headline news. One can only hope that the McAllister story will prompt Vermont journalists to investigate what shaped his attitudes toward women and sexual relations, and how widespread those attitudes may be.