MONTPELIER, Vt. – No one could remember it having happened before in the annals of state politics: a Senate majority leader rising on a point of order to accuse a member of his own party of being tedious in debate.
Sen. Philip Baruth, D-Chittenden, rose to cite Mason’s rules of parliamentary procedure: “No one is to speak impertinently, or beside the question, or superfluously, or tediously,” the rules say.
Sen. Peter Galbraith, also a Democrat, was speaking tediously, the majority leader said.
The point of order came at nearly the end of two hours of tough questioning from Galbraith to a fellow Windham County Democrat, Sen. Jeanette White, who was urging that a House-Senate conference committee be appointed to work out differences between the chambers on a bill governing money in political campaigns.
Galbraith has been an outspoken critic of the bill, his main complaint being that it does not call for an outright ban on campaign contributions by corporations.
Without the ban, Galbraith said, the campaign finance bill was a “sham.”
The Senate previously had gone on record as criticizing the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 decision known as Citizens United, which critics complained had opened the floodgates for corporate money in politics, Galbraith noted.
“This Senate has proposed a constitutional amendment to undo Citizens United with the goal of getting corporate money out of politics,” Galbraith said in a floor speech April 18. “But our real message is: Let’s get corporate money out of politics, but please don’t take away my corporate contribution. There is one word for this: hypocrisy.”
This did not set well with some of Galbraith’s Senate colleagues, and some said Friday they saw that speech and Friday’s interrogation of White as part of a pattern of behavior that has been consistent in his first three years in the Legislature.
“He’s not a team player,” White said. “He clearly knows better than we do.”
Galbraith, in an interview after his grilling of White, said he had good reasons for his behavior.
“There are certain procedures in the Senate that aren’t being followed that I feel should be followed,” he said.
He called the campaign finance measure, which sets new donation limits and reporting requirements for candidates, a bad bill and said he hoped to delay action long enough that it would not pass before lawmakers adjourn for the year this coming week.
During Friday’s interrogation, some senators rose to suggest that Galbraith could get answers to his questions by reading the legislation. During a break, veteran Democratic Sen. Richard Mazza, of Colchester, scolded Galbraith outside the Senate chamber.
“Why are you attacking her (White)?” he asked.
Galbraith, since his arrival in the Senate in 2011, has frequently left his colleagues rolling their eyes and muttering about high-powered tactics some see as better suited to his previous positions as a staffer to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in Washington or as a diplomat than to the homespun ways of the Vermont Senate.
The son of famed economist John Kenneth Galbraith, who was ambassador to India under President John F. Kennedy, Galbraith, 62, has had his own career in foreign service. After working on the staff of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he served in several diplomatic posts, among them as the first U.S. ambassador to Croatia.
“He hasn’t quite come to grips with this arena,” said Bob Stannard, who is retiring from his work as a lobbyist for several clients this year. “This isn’t international diplomacy here. People who serve here are regular people.”
Several senators in interviews used the same word to describe Galbraith: loquacious. In the Statehouse cafeteria at lunch, Sen. Sally Fox, D-Chittenden, asked what was to be on the agenda when the Senate returned to session at 1:30.
“Peter’s got an amendment he wants to talk about,” answered Sen. Robert Starr, D-Essex-Orleans.
“OK, what are we doing at 3?” Fox asked.
Starr said of Galbraith, “He’s not popular, I can tell you that.”