Democratic Windham Legislator Lori Torgersen fired the first shot of the silly season by pulling out of the race for the District 6 seat two weeks before the election and declaring in an op-ed piece that Greene County “has lost its ethical way.”
The Greene County Legislature set the scene for this development last month by approving the $39 million bond issue for a new county jail. “I decided not to run in late September,” Torgersen said Wednesday. “Doing good work from the inside is not possible at this time.”
Now, the question is, why did Torgersen, an outspoken critic of the new jail proposal, wait until October to withdraw from the race? Her departure at this point, credible and heartfelt as it is, throws the legislative election into chaos and yields doubts about winning and losing in the local political arena.
Apparently oblivious to the side effects of her action, Torgersen seems to be playing out a script of the sore loser picking up her ball and going home — in the middle of the game. By all accounts, she has a strong following in her district and her views on a new county jail were widely hailed and endorsed by the public at-large — including the editorial pages of Columbia-Greene Media.
Not only that, Torgersen remains on the November ballot. There is the possibility she will win. If she wins and still wants to quit the Legislature, she can decline the victory. This will mean lawmakers can appoint a successor for a year. The successor must then run for election to fill the unexpired term. That successor could be Torgersen’s erstwhile challenger, Republican James Thorington, although it is too early to make a firm prediction.
And now that Torgersen gives every indication of stepping down from the Legislature, what happens if she wins in November, has another change of heart and decides to return? Doing so would betray the very trust that Torgersen accused the Legislature of lacking.
There is no doubt Torgersen, who worked hard in her position and argued vigorously and convincingly against spending millions on a new jail, has the right to express herself as she sees fit as a county legislator, criticize fellow lawmakers and lay out a plan for her own future aims. That is the democratic process.
But her fellow lawmakers and the voters have a right to believe that Torgersen couldn’t take the heat, that she lacked the nerve to say to the Legislature’s face what she wrote in her letter and that withdrawing three weeks before the election is not some sort of political ploy to win re-election. That, too, is the democratic process.