When this legislative session started in January, we knew the fact that the Senate contained four people running for governor and one for lieutenant governor would make for some interesting political theater. Last Wednesday might just have been the command performance.
The Senate’s vote on the future of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant was oozing with political undertones.
Sen. Phil Scott, R-Washington, (candidate for lieutenant governor), started things off by questioning the Senate Rules Committee vote to allow the Yankee bill to reach the floor without ever meeting in person. Standing almost directly behind Scott in the audience was Mark Snelling (fellow Republican candidate for lieutenant governor).
Senate President Pro Tempore Peter Shumlin, D-Windham,(candidate for governor) polled the committee members and declared the approval unanimous. He claimed it was a common practice.
Under questioning from Scott, Sen. Kevin Mullin, R-Rutland, said he didn’t believe he gave his approval.
A recess was called so the senators could sort this out, at which Republican Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie, (candidate for governor) said, “We’ve got a problem.”
To which Shumlin responded, “You’re creating a problem.”
Back on the floor, Scott called it a “flawed process.”
Shumlin accused Scott waiting to raise the issue in public when news cameras were rolling.
Then Mullin backed down, suggesting he and Shumlin had misunderstood each other and that he would never vote by informal polling again.
“I don’t want anyone to think my colleague from Windham was trying to pull a fast one,” Mullin said, referring to Shumlin. That pretty much left Scott hanging out alone.
Scott would continue challenging the Yankee bill. In the end, he was one of four senators to vote in support of the plant, calling the vote “a blatant political maneuver.”
Afterward, Scott said, referring to his own moves, “It may be political suicide.”
His support of Vermont Yankee might help him in the Republican primary, but then there’s the general election.
Shumlin, meanwhile, had a more subtle clash with Sen. Susan Bartlett, D-Lamoille, (fellow candidate for governor).
A few days before the vote, Bartlett issued a statement saying that though she was against Vermont Yankee operation after 2012, Shumlin’s timing on the vote was “more political theater than making good public policy.”
Shumlin slapped back, telling Vermont Public Radio the next day, “I understand that politicians don't always want to go on record taking courageous positions but it's time to move ahead."
A couple days later on the Senate floor, Bartlett had her response, "This vote is not an act of courage. Education reform was an act of courage. Civil unions was an act of courage. Equal marriage was an act of courage. This is a no-brainer."
Dubie, who presides over the Senate but doesn’t vote except to break a tie and doesn’t engage in the debate, had plenty to say when we asked him afterward, most of it directed at Shumlin:
- The Senate had not considered all the implications of the vote, should not have voted now, and if he had had a vote it would have been in support of the plant, he said.
- He noted that the Senate Finance Committee, which sent the bill to the Senate, is all Democrats, by virtue of appointments Shumlin made. “There’s not a contrarion view on the Finance Committee,” he said.
- Terri Hallenbeck
Labels: politics Vermont Legislature, Vermont Yankee