By Shay Totten & Christian Avard | Vermont Guardian
Posted April 25, 2007
MONTPELIER — Despite the watchful eyes and conviction-filled voices of more than 300 Vermonters from around the state, House members defeated a measure Wednesday calling on Congress to launch impeachment proceedings against the president and vice president.
The House voted 87-60 against a resolution calling on Congress to initiate impeachment proceedings against Pres. George W. Bush and Vice Pres. Dick Cheney.
On April 20, the Vermont Senate became the first legislative body in the country to call for such proceedings to be initiated. The 16-9 vote occurred early in the morning, without debate, and when the Republican Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie, the normal presiding officer of the Senate, was out of town.
In contrast, the House debated the measure for about an hour after a lunchtime break where members of the public tried to lobby their representatives to vote in favor of the resolution.
“I am proud that we’re having a debate on the issue, as members of the other chamber passed it with literally no debate,” said Rep. Kurt Wright, R-Burlington, who opposed the resolution.
Wright’s district seatmate, Rep. Bill Aswad, D-Burlington, said people from all walks of life and influence needed to raise a voice of dissent against the Bush administration.
“Silence implies consent,” Aswad said.
Despite the loss, Impeachment backers seemed pleased with the turnout, and the debate.
"I think the biggest story of today is that more Vermonters came out today calling for our state Legislature to ask Congress to impeach; it has never come to the State House as an issue," said Dan DeWalt, the Newfane selectman who first initiated a Town Meeting Day resolution calling for impeachment more than a year ago. "I think that's remarkable and it's only going to grow. It already is growing by leaps and bounds and it's only just begun."
One of the key sponsors of today's resolution, Rep. David Zuckerman, P-Burlington, said his vote in favor of the measure "was not about [Bush's] policy. It was about the constitution."
In all about 26 lawmakers co-sponsored the resolution.
Before lunch, House Speaker Gaye Symington presided over a roughly hour-long session in the well of the House where she allowed members of the public to voice their opinions. Overwhelmingly, those in the chamber voiced their support for the resolution.
They also thanked Symington for allowing a debate and a vote to occur.
A resolution introduced earlier this year, sponsored by 20 House members, has been languishing in committee. Symington had indicated all session long that while she did not agree with the actions of the Bush administration, she did not believe calling for impeachment was the way to call them to task.
“I would like this resolution to pass, but I want to thank you Madame Speaker to allow this debate to happen, particularly since you don’t support it,” said Tammy O’Connor, of Ryegate. “That is true political and moral courage and I admire you greatly for it. I would hope that during the course of the debate that you would change your mind and stand by your courage and not your political instinct.”
Symington told the group that she was not putting pressure on members to vote a certain way, but rather encouraging them to vote their conscience.
“I really appreciate your perspective,” Symington told one speaker. “And you are really correct that this about our voices and sharing our voices and about being heard and about really listening. That’s what I’m concerned about. I’m concerned about our whole country really listening and really learning from these mistakes.”
She said impeachment hearings might turn some people deaf to what she believes has been destructive policies enacted by the Bush administration.
That wasn’t the opinion shared by Pres. Pro Tem Sen. Peter Shumlin, D-Windham. Shulin, and Sen. Jeanette White, D-Windham, were the two senators who sponsored the Senate resolution. He spoke briefly to impeachment supporters before the lunch break.
Shumlin said Vermont has a history of firsts — abolishing slavery and enacting civil unions — and calling for impeachment hearings to be held would be of similar historic importance.
“The advice this resolution provides is long overdue and it will be heard around the world,” Shumlin said. “If it fails, continue to talk to Congress, to the new Democratic leadership, and plead with them.”
Vermont’s congressional delegation is opposed to initiating impeachment proceedings, but asks that the various, ongoing investigations be allowed to follow their course.
Speaking to impeachment backers, South Burlington attorney James Leas, one of the organizers of the recent State House actions, said impeachment provides accountability.
“There is no accountability if there is no consequence,” he said. “Bare hearing are not enough; impeachment is the only consequence.”