Republican representatives seek end of investigation into Douglas Administration

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(Host) Republican leaders in the House want to stop an investigation into whether the Douglas Administration improperly influenced a vote last week.

The Republican’s request to cancel a hearing on the issue is the latest move in an escalating political battle at the Statehouse.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) At the heart of the controversy are the two different versions of what happened last week when Transportation Secretary Neale Lunderville spoke twice with St. Albans representative Jim Fitzgerald.

The conversations took place before a vote that was a critical test of political power. The vote was whether the governor could sustain a veto in the Democratically-controlled House.

Fitzgerald says Transportation Secretary Lunderville made it clear that if the Democrat voted with the governor, then the administration would support a road improvement project at an intersection in St. Albans.

Lunderville and Governor Jim Douglas say there was no linkage between the two, and that Fitzgerald simply misinterpreted the conversations.

House Speaker Gaye Symington – who chairs the Rules Committee disagrees, and said the panel should look into the matter.

Now the House Republicans say it’s not something the Rules Committee should investigate.

Steve Adams is the House Republican leader and a member of the Rules Committee. He says the committee does not have jurisdiction over the executive branch of government.

(Adams) House rules make it very clear that the rules committee can question the integrity of a House member. Nowhere in the House rules does it say we can question the integrity of any one in the executive branch.

(Dillon) In a letter to Speaker Symington, Adams and two other Republican members of the Rules Committee asked the speaker to cancel the meeting.

(Adams) This is a case of ‘he said versus he said.’ I think the two should sit down and just agree to agree that there may have been a misunderstanding. That’s that issue. The issue that I’m concerned about is whether the House Rules Committee should convene for political purposes.

(Dillon) Symington wants to go ahead with the committee meeting.

(Symington) This is an incident where we’re talking about, I think, a breach of the way Vermonters expect business to get done in the state. And it appears that the secretary has offered a financial reward for a political vote on a bill that wasn’t under the jurisdiction of the agency of transportation.

(Dillon) Symington says she wants the Rules Committee to look into the matter so that it can write legislation that would spell out a code of conduct for both the executive and legislative branches.

But she says she can’t compel Lunderville to testify.

(Symington) I’ve asked Secretary Lunderville to come and speak with us so that we can hear his version of the story. I understand that if he refuses he has every right to.

(Dillon) A spokesman said Lunderville is considering the request.

Meanwhile, Adams, the Republican leader, seemed to raise the stakes in his response to the speaker.

He said if the committee meeting is held, he wants Democratic whip Floyd Nease to step aside from his role on the Rules Committee. Adams said Nease should recuse himself because Republicans may ask Nease to testify.

Adams would not elaborate on that point in an interview. He said he would explain next week – if the speaker decided to go ahead with the hearing.

For VPR News, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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