Free Press My Turn: ‘Sometimes, you have to break the rules’

Rep. Hinda MillerFrom the Burlington Free Press
4/13/12 Rep. Hinda Miller
Imagine my sadness when I read how the Free Press reported what happened on the floor of the Senate on Thursday when the death with dignity bill was brought forward by me and others. I hardly ever read the press but when I came home Friday, I wanted to see how my hometown newspaper reported our important conversation (“Senate votes to remove assisted-death measure,” April 13).

Imagine my surprise when I read that I did not know the answer to a question, which was interpreted by the reporter that I did not know what I was doing! I knew very well what I was doing. We wanted to have the conversation on DWD in the beautiful Senate chambers, which is the proper place to talk about deep and meaningful issues like life and death.

I had a conversation with my friends, the pro-tempore president of the Senate, senior senator from Grand Isle and Lt. Gov. Phil Scott. I told them what I wanted to do. I asked for guidance around the various strategies and protocol available to me. I knew that I had circumvented regular process, but I thought that was warranted and I would take responsibility for that. Sometimes you have to break the rules to do what you think is right.

I was the conduit for that conversation to happen. Sen. Dick Sears, D-Bennington, was bullying me on the floor to imply that I did not know about some rule that he was talking about. No one knows everything and often you say “I will get back to you before third reading.” But Sen. Sears wanted to bully and humiliate me, but those things do not affect me. I knew what I was doing. I knew we could allow supporters and foes alike to talk about this important issue.

My strategic move allowed my fellow Sens. Claire Ayer, D-Addison, Diane Snelling, R-Chittenden, Jeanette White, D-Windham, Richard McCormack, D-Windsor, Mark MacDonald, D-Orange, Philip Baruth, D-Chittenden, and others to talk about what this issue meant to them and their constituents. This bill is about compassion and not allowing other people’s moral judgment dictate the choice of the individual. This debate was about heart. The strategy to trip someone up because they do not know a fact is an old-school strategy of humiliation, but it cannot erase the substance of the discussion.

The lesson here, which was completely missed by the reporter, is that sometimes you have to break the rules, to bear the brunt of bullying and take a risk for a very important issue. I want my friends, colleagues and constituents to know that I knew exactly what I was doing and it was the reporter that just did not get it. Too bad. It was a great day.

Hinda Miller of Burlington is a Democratic state senator.