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News | Impeachment meeting turns stormy, Shumlin walks out

By Mary Elizabeth Fratini | Special to the Vermont Guardian

Posted April 17, 2007

MONTPELIER — An impromptu, and at times contentious, 40-minute meeting between Speaker of the House Gaye Symington, D-Jericho, Senate Pres. Pro-Tem Peter Shumlin, D-Windham, and more than 100 people in support of an impeachment resolution this afternoon ended abruptly when Shumlin walked out of the room.

“The reason we are here is because we don’t want to be good Germans, and we don’t want you to be good Germans either,” said Fletcher Dean of Calais, to wild applause from the packed room. The exchange drew enough bystanders, including legislators and media, to render the scheduled press conference unnecessary.

On Town Meeting Day, 38 towns passed resolutions calling for Congress to introduce articles of impeachment against Pres. George W. Bush and Vice Pres. Dick Cheney. Since then, supporters have been urging state lawmakers to pass a similar measure.

“Vermont has so often been the moral compass of the nation. Huge swaths of Americans have hope in this resolution, and huge swaths of Vermonters support this critical issue, and you know that you are standing in the way of that,” said Barry Aleshnick of Guilford.

Last week, the popular comic strip Doonesbury profiled Vermont’s impeachment efforts during a six-day run.

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.

One of the meeting’s organizers Liza Earle of Richmond noted that they were asking for a vote, not a victory, to which Symington replied, “In the House it is a simple action: Any legislator can ask the Judiciary Committee to lead the resolution and we will vote on that.” Likewise, Shumlin said, “I would welcome anyone to introduce the resolution and I will vote for it.”

That is a different position than Shumlin took earlier this year in public statements, including in statements at a monthly meeting of the state committee of the Vermont Democratic Party. He said earlier that if the resolution made it to the Senate it would receive immediate hearings; however, all of those statements were made before Legislative Counsel said that the resolution did not have to start in the House.

In recent weeks, Shumlin has said that there is not enough time remaining in the legislative session to take up the resolution.

“Each of them, on their first day, took a solemn oath to support the Constitution of the United States,” Earle said after the meeting. “The oath is to protect the Constitution, period, not if it is not divisive, or if there is time, or after discussing broadband.”

“We are asking you, while the legislature is in session, to take this up,” said James Marc Leas, a South Burlington attorney who helped draft the impeachment resolution that passed in 38 Vermont towns at Town Meeting. “We don’t need anything extra, just what you did this morning with the basketball teams,” he added, referring to the roughly 30 minutes devoted to the state’s high school and collegiate basketball teams on the House floor earlier this morning.

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, according to Earle.

Tulianna Garces, originally from Colombia, became a U.S. citizen in 2000 and sponsored the impeachment resolution in Sunderland. “I not only believe in this country, but in Vermont,” she said. “I stood up in town meeting because where I come from we don’t have that right. You are our voices, we cannot do this without you.”

Shumlin called that sentiment a “good note on which to end this,” but when he was interrupted by additional testimony from the crowd, he turned around and left the room without further comment. Symington remained for several minutes in quiet discussion with individuals.

“Shumlin has said numerous times that no president or vice president has ever worked harder to deserve impeachment. Well, we say that never has the most vocal supporter of impeachment investigations in a position of power worked so hard to discourage the issue from being brought up,” Earle said after deciding to cancel the scheduled remarks. “We win either way, because our responsibility is to speak out and have our voices heard. Now, it is up to the legislators.”