March 8, 2007

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Manchester Publisher's Note: NH Spectacle
By Jody Reese

In January Manchester state Rep. Vaillancourt sent a letter to Governor John Lynch accusing former Manchester Democratic party chair Ray Buckley of possessing child pornography. Buckley was in the process of running for state Democratic chair.

Vaillancourt provided no evidence to support his claims and yet the governor asked Buckley to step aside in his race for party chair and asked the state's attorney general to investigate the charges. In the end, the attorney general held a press conference to formally clear Buckley's name and added that if Vaillancourt had submitted the letter to police and not through the Governor's office he would have likely been changed with filing a false report.

It's a given that Vaillancourt's letter was irresponsible. He offered no evidence. But did the governor act in an ethical way? That's a much tougher questions to answer.

First, was the governor compelled to forward the letter to the attorney general for a formal criminal investigation? And second was the governor required to asked Buckley to take his name out of the running for state chair?

On the first question, the governor should have asked why Vaillancourt sent the letter to him and not to the police. By forwarding the letter to the police, the governor essentially let Vaillancourt off the hook for filing false allegations. Lynch could have told Vaillancourt that if he really believed these changes then he must (since only he had knowledge of this) take his charges directly to police. Simply making accusations, even from a state representative, can not be enough to compel a governor to forward the charges to police. If we have a system where people feel they can accuse people of crimes without any criminal consequences by going directly to the governor, then the system breaks down, making it all to easy to accuse someone of a crime they did not commit.

On the second question, asking Buckley to step aside while Vaillancourt's allegation were being investigated, the governor needed to weight the likelihood that Vaillancourt's accusations were true. It should also be asked if Buckley's status as an openly gay politician was taken into consideration. In other words, did the Lynch camp make the political calculation that because Buckley is gay the public was more likely to believe the charges were true? Since Vaillancourt didn't present any evidence and didn't submit the charges directly to police himself, the governor should have wondered if the charges were accurate. If he wondered that then it should follow that he should not have asked Buckley to step aside.

If the governor had both refused to forward the charges to police, telling Vaillancourt he had to do that himself and refused to asked Buckley to step down until any evidence was presented, then this would not have been the large story it became. Sometimes standing up for what's right takes courage. I didn't see that here. .