By Shay Totten | Vermont Guardian
Posted April 23, 2007
NEWFANE — It’s been a long journey for Dan DeWalt, the Newfane selectman, musician, and carpenter, who crafted a town meeting missive in 2006 that his town, and six others, passed, calling for the impeachment of Pres. George W. Bush.
It was the shot heard ’round the world, and launched a movement that ended up a year later with roughly 40 towns voting in favor of impeachment.
“I did that as a single gesture. And, at the time I didn’t know it was going to be a year-long obsession,” said DeWalt with a chuckle. He plans to be at the Vermont State House on Wednesday where activists will again convene in hopes of convincing House members to vote out a resolution calling on Congress to hold impeachment hearings on Bush and Vice Pres. Dick Cheney.
On April 20, when DeWalt was out of state, the Vermont Senate became the first state legislative body in the country to call on Congress to begin impeachment proceedings against Bush and Cheney.
The vote came just days after nearly 150 people from around Vermont converged on Montpelier to urge lawmakers to pass such a resolution out of the House and Senate. An emotionally-charged, and impromptu, 40-minute meeting with Senate Pres. Pro Tem Peter Shumlin, D-Windham, and House Speaker Gaye Symington, D-Jericho, left backers hopeful that something could happen this session, but weren’t sure what, or when.
DeWalt said that April 17 meeting is representative of the impeachment movement in Vermont — it’s comprised of people from different communities around the state and not dependent upon one person.
“’What can I do;’ those are the four words I keep seeing and that’s what Shumlin saw last week. This isn’t just wild-eyed activists behind this, but regular people, and it’s pretty unusual for regular people to take off time form work and put themselves in unfamiliar surroundings like this,” said DeWalt.
The April 20 resolution was introduced by Shumlin and Sen. Jeannette White, D-Windham. The vote took place early in the morning and was over in less than 15 minutes.
Three Democrats — Sen. Dick Sears, D-Bennington, Sen. Dick Mazza, D-Chittenden/Grand Isle, and Sen. Bill Carris, D-Rutland — joined six Republicans in voting against the resolution. One Republican — Sen. George Coppenrath, R-Caledonia, was absent at the time of the vote.
Shumlin said the meeting with impeachment supporters left an impression upon him, and motivated him to respond.
“I was deeply moved by the meeting on Tuesday and I’ve been a supporter of this consistently from the beginning,” said Shumlin. “There hasn’t been a president of the United States of America who has worked harder for impeachment hearings than Pres. Bush, and Vice Pres. Cheney.”
Supporters of impeachment are hopeful that a strong showing Wednesday will have a similar effect on House members. They will also take time to thank senators who voted in favor of the April 20 measure.
“They decided it was more important to listen to their conscience and their constituents than to the top-down message from Washington,” said Liza Earle, of Richmond, who is one of several people helping to organize Wednesday’s event, and who helped organize the April 17 meeting.
At that meeting, people from about 60 of Vermont’s 251 communities were on-hand, and the hope is to have even more towns represented on Wednesday.
At the April 17 meeting with impeachment backers, Symington reiterated her steadfast belief that a resolution supporting impeachment was not the solution when asked what could change her mind. “I don’t disagree with your goals, but I don’t believe that this is the way to achieve them,” she said.
That opposition is not deterring impeachment backers.
“Many of their towns, including Gaye Symington's, passed this resolution at their town meeting and we'd like them to take initiative in allowing it to at least come up for debate,” said Earle. “At this point, we'd just like to have a debate on it, even if they think the votes are not there. At town meeting, many people said they would not have voted for it if it hadn't been for the points brought up during the debate.”
Just two months ago Earle held the same position against impeachment as Symington. “Listening to five minutes of debate on impeachment opened my mind. That is the beauty of town meeting and of democracy,” she said.
In fact, it was sitting on the pre-Town Meeting Day bus tour of the state — with DeWalt and peace activist Cindy Sheehan — that convinced her.
By allowing an impeachment resolution to die in committee would “silence the voices of the people,” Earle said.
And, Earle added, it could hurt Democrats down the road.
“Many of the most active people in this movement are the people who do grassroots work for their campaigns, who truly care about their communities and about Vermont. Their own state committee voted overwhelmingly for impeachment and yet they are being ignored,” said Earle. “We, as Vermonters, are mystified by this fierce protection of the most corrupt administration ever. In regards to torture, spying without warrant, and misleading the American people into war, everyone should voice dissent in whatever capacity they can.”
Supporters of impeachment believe the debate about whether to bring up the measure on the House floor has taken up more time than a debate would likely take on the House floor itself.
If Symington sends the bill to committee, it is possible the bill could be called out of committee as early as Thursday. It only takes one member to make the request, but a majority vote to actually pull it out.
Symington was traveling today and unavailable for comment.
Currently, a resolution with 20 co-sponsors remains in the House Judiciary Committee, chaired by Rep. William Lippert, D-Hinesburg, and has yet to receive a hearing despite more than 100 calls in favor.
But, a new resolution is in the works that mirrors the Senate version.
Rep. David Zuckerman, P-Burlington, and others have been working to get signatures on the resolution over the weekend, and will continue to do so through tomorrow night.
Zuckerman has not yet counted heads, and spent most of Friday getting the paperwork in order to make the resolution official on the House side. He has been receiving a flurry of e-mail from Vermonters letting him know which reps will be receptive, but until he asks them, he won’t know for sure.
He expects to have a chat with the House leadership on whether this resolution will go to committee or be voted on the floor on Wednesday.
Backers hope that grassroots support will propel at least one member in both chambers of the state Legislature to introduce a resolution of charges against Bush. Section 603 of the Manual for House Rules provides that state legislatures can file charges with the U.S. House. If just one congressman or woman agrees to use that as a basis for a privileged motion for impeachment, it would go to directly the U.S. House Judiciary Committee, where impeachment proceedings are initiated.
In the past two years, 40 towns, the state Democratic Committee, and several county Democratic committees have approved some form of resolution calling upon Congress to launch impeachment hearings.
DeWalt is hopeful that the same pressure Vermonters put on state lawmaker will come to bear on members of Congress.
And, by sending such off a resolution to Congress, according to the Jefferson Manual, any member of Congress could then ask the House Judiciary Committee to take it up.
“If someone takes it, all it means is that it becomes privileged and goes to the front of the line,” said DeWalt. “They can still ignore it.”
So far, Vermont’s congressional delegation remains cool to the concept and is likely to ignore any Vermont-led measure.
In a joint statement issued late Friday, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-VT, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-VT, and Rep. Peter Welch, D-VT, said, "Currently, for the first time since Pres. Bush has been in office, there are a number of investigations taking place regarding the actions of the Bush administration, including how and why we invaded Iraq, no-bid contracts, the firing of U.S. attorneys by the attorney general, the assault on constitutional rights and the use of Republican Party e-mails in the White House. Before we talk about impeachment, it is imperative that these investigations be allowed to run their course and we should then follow wherever the facts lead.”