Odd Bipartisan Cronyism in the Vermont Senate

Vermont State HouseThe Democrats (and Prog/Dems) have a supermajority in the Vermont Senate. They rule the roost, and they're almost certain to retain a big edge next year; Republicans hope to win no more than two or three seats.

Which makes me wonder why the two Democratic members of a key committee, plus the chair of a very important committee, have endorsed a Republican for one of Vermont's highest offices. They're very likely to get away with this bit of disloyalty, too.

I'm talking about John Campbell and a couple of Dicks – Mazza and Sears. Campbell and Dick Mazza sit on the Senate's Committee on Committees along with their favorite Republican, Lieutenant Governor Phil Scott. Dick Sears chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee. All three have endorsed their buddy Scott, and have turned their backs on the likely Democratic standard-bearer* and only liberal in the race, Progressive Dean Corren, despite the fact that Governor Peter Shumlin has given public support to Dean Corren.

*Corren has to win the Democratic primary as a write-in. He should be able to do that, but it's no sure thing; Mazza openly talks of a write-in campaign for Scott, which would lead to a goddamn embarrassment for Vermont's dominant party: a Republican in the No. 2 spot on its ticket.

If these men keep their privileged positions, it'll be a disgrace. And, based on past history, it'll almost certainly happen.

The Committee on Committees is an obscure bit of Senate hierarchy, with one big exception: Every two years, it selects all the chairs and members of all the Senate committees. That is one big moment of muscle-flexing for an otherwise quiescent body.

The three members of the CoC are the Senate President (Lieutenant Governor), the President Pro Tem and a Senator elected by the entire Senate body. For many years now, Dick Mazza has been rubber-stamped into this position - even though this is far from the first time he's endorsed a top Republican. He supported Brian Dubie for Governor in 2010, and has backed Phil Scott every time he's run for Lieutenant Governor.

The lopsided Democratic majority could eject Mazza in a hot minute and instead reward a more faithful member of their party. They could also choose a President Pro Tem who's more in step with the party's mainstream. And the new CoC could replace Sears on Judiciary. But, given the hidebound nature of the Senate, I fully expect that all three will retain their influential positions this fall.

There's no good reason for this. The explanation, of course, is the mutual respect of Senators and their unwillingness to publicly embarrass a colleague. Which is not a good reason, just a dearly-held rationale in the hearts of our solons.

Campbell, Mazza, and Sears do not deserve to be rewarded for their disloyalty. If there's anything like party discipline within the one-sided majority, the Senate's Committee on Committees will get a makeover. And, ideally, somebody else to wield the gavel come January.

As I said, I don't expect it to happen. The Senate's too damn clubby for that.

(It's not often these days that Vermont Republicans get to enjoy a laugh at the Dems' expense. They must be blowing chortle-bubbles in their Scotch glasses over this.)

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