ST. ALBANS — Two Franklin County Republican lawmakers have joined state leaders in calling on state Sen. Norm McAllister to resign after sexual assault allegations surfaced last week.
Rep. Brian Savage (R-Swanton) and Sen. Dustin Degree (R-Franklin) agreed it would be in McAllister’s best interest to step down, while behind the scenes, area Republicans are discussing possible replacements, including former state senator and gubernatorial candidate Randy Brock.
McAllister was charged with three counts each of sexual assault and prohibited acts for allegedly coercing two female employees into unwanted sexual acts. The situation came to light when a third victim reported McAllister had raped her in exchange for paying rent for her son, who was McAllister’s tenant, an affidavit of probable cause says.
McAllister pleaded not guilty last Friday.
Savage, the House assistant minority leader, was clear he wasn’t commenting on the allegations’ validity or McAllister’s possible guilt.
“He is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law,” Savage said. “However, these are very serious charges.”
Serious felony charges would interfere with anyone’s ability to serve as a legislator, Savage said: “For the benefit of his constituents, I think it would behoove him to resign,” he added. “If it were me, I would do some soul-searching and probably step down.”
In an email to the Messenger on Tuesday morning, Degree said, “Today I join with colleagues on both sides of the aisle to ask for the resignation of Norm McAllister in light of recent serious allegations.
“His resignation would be in the best interest of the residents of Franklin County and Alburgh,” Degree wrote. “I remain fully committed to the important work of the Senate in our final week as we tackle critical legislation such as education reform and water quality.”
Degree and McAllister campaigned together in both 2012 and 2014.
Rep. Carolyn Branagan (R-Georgia), the county’s longest serving Republican legislator, declined to comment on whether McAllister should resign.
Rep. Kathleen Keenan (D-St. Albans) said, “It’s a very sad issue and a very troubling issue,” adding she feels badly for both the victim’s and McAllister’s families. She said the situation gives Franklin County a black eye.
The question of whether McAllister would resign swirled through the state’s news outlets Monday, after Lt. Gov. Phil Scott, the highest ranking Republican in the state and, under the state constitution, the official head of the Senate, said he expected to receive a letter of resignation from McAllister within 24 hours.
McAllister then told multiple news outlets he had not yet reached a decision about whether to resign.
“I’m going to meet with my attorney [Tuesday], and do what he tells me,” McAllister told VTDigger.org.
Scott then told the press that Sen. Peg Flory (R-Rutland), a longtime friend of McAllister’s, had been serving as a liaison between him and McAllister.
Flory confirmed McAllister had told her he intended to resign and would be meeting with his lawyer, according to VTDigger. The Messenger was unable to reach McAllister before press time.
While McAllister considers whether to resign, area Republicans have informally discussed his possible replacement, chosen from three candidates recommended by a local county committee.
Gov. Peter Shumlin would have final say, but governors traditionally choose a candidate from the outgoing lawmaker’s political party.
Steve Trahan, chairman of the Franklin County Republican Party, told the Messenger by email that no formal discussions would be held unless McAllister officially steps down.
Savage confirmed Brock is interested in returning to the Senate. A former state auditor, Brock represented Franklin County in the Senate for two terms from 2009 to 2013. He unsuccessfully challenged Shumlin in 2012.
Tuesday morning, Brock confirmed he’s interested, saying he doesn’t think McAllister can “effectively represent Franklin County and Alburgh with these serious charges hanging over his head.
“This is a terrible situation for everyone,” Brock added.
Having held the county’s senate seat, Brock said, “I’m anxious to see it done well.”
House Speaker Shap Smith, Senate President Pro-Tem John Campbell and Shumlin have all called for McAllister to resign.
“Sen. McAllister will go through the legal process like any other accused individual, but for the good of Vermont, he should not do so as a sitting senator,” Shumlin said.
Scott added, “People in Franklin County deserve a legislator who can give them his full attention, and I don’t think he is able to do that at this point in time.”