A southern Vermont lawmaker, who made a controversial call for a physical quorum of House members in the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, accused a Lamoille County colleague of intimidation after he allegedly yelled at her for the parliamentary procedure that forced lawmakers to convene in person.
Former Rep. Cynthia Browning, D-Arlington, accused Wolcott Rep. Dan Noyes, also a Democrat, of accosting her and physically intimidating her and another female lawmaker in a Statehouse hallway in March. Noyes denied the allegations, which Browning made in an Oct. 22 Facebook post, less than two weeks before the election.
The News & Citizen interviewed Browning, Noyes and House Speaker Mitzi Johnson, D-South Hero, but did not run the story a week before election because it was impossible to confirm Browning’s story. In mid-June, the newspaper received a letter to the editor alleging the incident, but the letter writer did not offer proof and asked to remain anonymous.
Browning alleges that the incident occurred on March 25, following action on her quorum call.
She said Noyes followed her out of the House chamber and began berating her for her actions and told her she should leave the building “and other similar invective.” She said his face “was bright red, cords were standing out on his neck, and he raised both fists in the air while walking towards me and standing next to me.”
She said it was a “disconcerting experience.”
“It’s not true,” Noyes said in a phone call Oct. 27. When pressed further, he said, “How do you defend yourself against something that didn’t happen?”
Speaker Johnson, who lost her re-election bid by 18 votes and is asking for a recount, has butted heads with Browning in the past; she removed Browning from the House Ways and Means Committee after Browning’s quorum call. She said her recollection, from Noyes, was Noyes told Browning “it was a ridiculous stunt that put people in danger.”
Browning also lost her seat in the House during the recent General Election.
Noyes was re-elected.
“Cynthia is using bizarre language,” Johnson said. “From my perch, it looks very much like Cynthia is being coached in using the language of a victim.”
Johnson said Noyes “is gentle, he’s go-along to get along.” Some of Noyes’s Lamoille County colleagues said similar things.
“Any legislator who has worked with Dan can speak to his even temperament and consistently kind character,” Rep. Lucy Rogers, D-Waterville, wrote in response to an Oct. 27 request for comment.
Rep. Dave Yacovone, D-Morristown, said he wouldn’t comment on the alleged incident because he didn’t see it, but called Noyes “one of the hardest working legislators I know.”
“His character, integrity and civility toward all is beyond reproach,” Yacovone said.
The News & Citizen on Oct. 23 filed a public records request with the Office of Legislative Counsel, seeking any information on the alleged March 25 incident. On Monday, Nov. 9, the office produced the only record, a letter from Allen J. Sullivan, the husband — and lawyer — of Rep. Linda Sullivan, the other woman Noyes allegedly accosted. His letter was addressed to Noyes, but later rescinded, saying Rep. Sullivan “decided escalation is the better course.”
Linda Sullivan, in an Oct. 27 voicemail, said she would not talk on the record.
Allen Sullivan, in his unsent letter to Noyes, said Noyes used expletives and threw his arms around “violently and within striking distance of my wife.” He also said his wife reported the incident to Capitol Police but asked them only to note the incident, and not take action.
Deb Billado, head of the Vermont Republican party, also filed a Freedom of Information Act request with legislative counsel’s office, and wrote an Oct. 23 press release about that request. But, according to the office, she rescinded that request.
Johnson and Rogers both believe the GOP saw Browning’s post, made so close to Election Day, as a last-ditch political opportunity.
“The recent press release and FOIA request from Deb Billado is simply a duplicative and politically-motivated request days before an election,” Rogers said.
Browning said during an Oct. 27 phone call that she posted about the alleged incident so close to the election because “I felt I needed to put the account out there” for Lamoille County voters. She said she had not reached out to Noyes, and didn’t want to wait until the next legislative session to bring the alleged incident up with him and House leadership.
“I was thinking about saying something in January, but I started thinking about things,” she said. “I think it’s important for other members of the House and his constituents to know.”
Despite her allegations against Noyes, Browning reserved most of her criticisms for Johnson. She said in her Oct. 22 Facebook post she reported Noyes’s “behavior” to Johnson, who Browning said “has taken no action to reprimand him to my knowledge.”
“What does it mean that she has not reprimanded him, especially since she’s all about protecting women?” Browning said over the phone.
Noyes’s Republican opponent, Shayne Spence, from Johnson — unsuccessful in his election bid — said “it was saddening to hear” that Browning’s allegations were “swept under the rug for so long.”
“For the leadership of a party that constantly claims to stand for women’s rights to ignore an incident of this manner shows a deep hypocrisy,” Spence said.