Symington wants vote influence investigation

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(Host) House Speaker Gaye Symington wants the House Rules Committee to investigate whether the Douglas Administration tried to improperly influence a vote last week.

Governor Jim Douglas denied that a key member of his cabinet tried to win a vote by offering a House member a road project in his home district.

But the lawmaker and Symington said the deal was offered and that it violates the governor’s own code of ethics.

VPR’s John Dillon has more:

(Dillon) Douglas says his cabinet was in a full court press last week when he successfully blocked the House from overriding his veto of the budget adjustment act.

The governor says he asked his staff members to reach out to lawmakers they knew to get them to vote against the Democratic majority.

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

Douglas said that no deal was offered in exchange for the veto vote. He says Fitzgerald misunderstood the conversations.

(Douglas) “I certainly wanted everyone to encourage legislators to support me on that, and of course, as the transportation budget is considered during the legislative process there are certainly lots of conversations about individual projects all across the state. But there’s certainly no linkage and if there is a misinterpretation on the part of a legislator, I regret that.”

(Dillon) Fitzgerald is a former St. Albans mayor who served in the House three decades ago.

In a written statement to Speaker Symington, Fitzgerald said Lunderville approached him twice on the day of the veto vote. He said Lunderville suggested that if he voted with the governor, that the administration would provide $50,000 for the road project.

Fitzgerald did not vote with the governor on the veto override. He said he wants to reserve further comment until he appears before the House Rules Committee next week.

(Fitzgerald) “I’ll be explaining in the rules committee exactly what took place in my opinion. And I suspect the other side will do the same. Something happened that I didn’t think should have happened. And it will be explained at rules.”

(Dillon) Douglas said it would be inappropriate if Lunderville did try to trade a vote for a road project. He said he wants his cabinet to strictly follow his executive code of ethics.

(Douglas) “The code of ethics is very, very clear. It says that issues are to be presented and discussed on the merits. And that’s something I take very seriously.”

(Dillon) And now House Speaker Gaye Symington wants to know if that code was violated.

(Symington) “The secretary of transportation is in a position to be able to cut a check for taxpayer dollars. And I think that’s very totally inappropriate to do that in connection in a vote in a particular way that has absolutely nothing to do with transportation.”

(Dillon) Symington has asked Lunderville to appear before the House Rules Committee next week. She says Lunderville has called into question Fitzgerald’s honesty and integrity by denying the offer was made.

A spokesman for Lunderville says he hasn’t seen the letter, and will respond to the speaker soon.

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

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