Politicians walk on quicksand whenever there is a tragedy. As people charged with public duties by virtue of elected office, they have must respond. But in an election year, how they respond matters to their political future.
Now I'm not saying politics is the motivation for any of the actions I will list below. I'll leave that to all of you. I simply want to point out a lot of political quicksand.
We'll start with Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie
, Republican, who is running for his fourth term. He held a news conference (Monday) to suggest that Gov. Jim Douglas -- a Republican running for re-election -- should call a special legislative session in 30 days. The focus would be reforms to the state's sex offender laws.
and Douglas agree essentially that some tougher measures should be on the books and they haven't been happy that the Legislature disagreed. Those measures include a Jessica's Law that would put convicted sex offenders behind bars for at least 25 years, and a civil confinement statute that would let the state hang on to people considered threats -- even after they have served their sentences.
Here's the political quicksand. Dubie
favors urgent action and has put his political running mate in a bit of an awkward position near some quicksand. Douglas already said he wouldn't
call a special session unless Democratic legislative leaders were ready to consider bills such as civil confinement.
By the way, since Douglas was out of state this weekend, Dubie
was in charge and could have walked into quicksand by called a special session himself.
Democratic Senate President Pro Tempore
has recognized the quicksand of inaction as a response to the death of Brooke Bennett. He has called news conference for Tuesday so he and Sen. Richard Sears, D-Bennington
, can outline a plan of action. They aren't saying a special session is necessary -- yet, but they are promising public hearings and an investigation into how the state could strengthen its laws on sex crimes.
House Speaker Gaye Symington
, who would like to unseat Douglas this fall, has argued that it's premature to focus on new laws until it's clear why existing laws failed in the Brooke Bennett case. She has used strong language to suggest the Douglas administration failed here and now is responding with a weak look-back.Symington
said an independent investigation is needed -- but she recognized the political quicksand of having the House Judiciary Committee look into the matter. She said. "I don't want my status as a candidate for governor to be a distraction in this process." She decided she won't convene the House panel, but leave the investigation to the Senate.
The question going forward is whether this tragedy will become a political
football or whether the politicians can find the high ground.
-- Nancy Remsen