Thursday, February 16, 2017

Magic Bus

Donald Trump won the NH Primary – and he won it bigly. That night he said, “THANK YOU NH! I love you all.” Ah, gratitude…an emotion with a very short half-life.

Fast forward to a year later. Trump did NOT win NH in the general election, and it’s been eating at him ever since. That he sits in the White House is not enough for him. He’s miffed that he didn’t win EVERYTHING. The one thing Donald Trump loves more than anything is being seen as a winner. NH wounded his overweening ego, and like every petulant tyrant, he’s lashing out. If he didn’t win NH, it’s because thousands of illegal voters were bused in from Massachusetts.

The fantasy of busloads of people from Massachusetts voting in NH began sometime in the late 90’s, and was spread by the Republican Party. In a strange coincidence, this rumor began to circulate at the same time Democrats started winning elections. The more Democrats won, the louder the rumbling about buses became.

I sat through a hearing on a photo ID bill at the NH House a few years ago. It was such a big hearing that it was held in Representatives Hall. Dozens of people went to the microphone to testify that they had seen buses full of people from Massachusetts pull up to the polls and all of the passengers went inside to vote. Under questioning by members of the committee, it turned out that not a one of these folks took a photo of the bus, wrote down the license plate number, made a complaint to the moderator, spoke with the police officer on duty, called the Secretary of State or the AG’s office.

The ugly undercutting of our state elections has continued. Every year a handful of bills are presented attempting to cast the runes in some magic combination that will change the definition of the word “domicile” to allow the Republican Party to ensure that college students don’t get to vote any more. This year there are well over a dozen voter suppression bills. One of the concerns endlessly voiced by the voter suppression crowd is that of the same day voter registrations, or those who vote without ID, signing a voter affidavit. They claim there are thousands of them that need to be investigated, even though there is no proof that anyone did anything untoward.  Given the high volume of indignity expressed, one would think they’d be chomping at the bit for those investigations.

One would be wrong. They’re all mad at the AG’s office for not investigating – BUT – they aren’t funding the AG’s office sufficiently to do the investigations. That tells me that all this hype about voter fraud is intended to gin up the base and cast suspicion any time Democrats win. If they were really concerned, they’d pony up for the staffing the AG’s office needs.

This constant drumbeat of fraud serves to create a kind of cynicism intended to discourage voter participation. Republicans may have once had some interest in public service, and the best interests of our state. Now their service is to the shoddy values and dubious actions of their political party.

Now that Trump is in on the act, the stakes have suddenly gotten a lot higher. I’ve always said that when NH loses the first in the nation primary, it will be because of the Republican Party. The end feels increasingly near. The newly minted, unofficial leader of the GOP is nothing if not petty and vindictive.

Over the weekend, professional NH embarrassment, State Rep. Al Baldasaro was on WBZ-TV, showing a reporter some photos of Massachusetts license plates he saw at the polls in Londonderry on Election Day. A license plate isn’t proof of anything – but putting that aside, we also know that Al didn’t take his deep concerns to the moderator, the officer on duty, or call the Sec. of State or the AG’s office. He saved those concerns for three whole months – until he was in front of a TV camera, noble patriot that he is.

In the days before the election, candidate Chris Sununu had plenty to say about voter fraud in NH. Now he’s in the unenviable position of having to flip flop. If Governor Sununu followed his leader, that would mean that the legitimacy of his own election was in question. Can anyone explain to me, why, if busloads of people from Massachusetts came to hijack the election, do the Republicans have control of every branch of the state government?

Given the accusations leveled by Trump and his minions, there’s only one thing NH can do to put this matter to rest. 

We need to do the NH general election over, right away.

Published as an op-ed in the February 17, 2017 edition of the Conway Daily Sun newspaper

Sunday, February 05, 2017

Fort Marple

    NH has a 425 member volunteer legislature. There are 25 state senators and 400 state representatives. All of them serve two year terms and are paid $100 a year for the privilege. As the old saying goes, the legislators we wind up with are "rich, retired, or crazy." It's easy to make the case that they could be all three. 

The average age of a NH legislator is 66. These are people whose idea of the future is firmly entrenched in 1953. They file some bizarre legislation. For example,  HB 541 is being heard by the NH House Legislative Administration Committee this week. This bill requires legislators to be paid in silver dollar coins. Why would sole sponsor, 85 year old State Rep. Dick Marple of Hooksett want to do this? 

Rep. Marple doesn't believe that US federal reserve notes (aka US paper money) is legitimate currency. He's not too sure that he believes that the US federal government is legitimate, either. 

That would mean the state treasurer would need to acquire and store 85,000 silver dollars per biennium. Maybe we can name the new storage facility "Fort Marple." 

Marple's not big on laws. He was arrested on Election Day on a bench warrant from a 2014 motor vehicle stop where he was found to be in possession of an expired driver's license.

Thursday, February 02, 2017

Failure is the Goal

We’ve all been watching as the various nominees of our new president go through the confirmation process. Most of them are spectacularly unqualified or burdened with serious conflicts of interest, not that that is an impediment in this regime. This week there have been hearings regarding Betsy DeVos whose most important qualification to be Secretary of Education appears to be the hundreds of millions her family has donated to the GOP.

New Hampshire often serves as a mirror, reflecting locally what is going on nationally. That’s never been more apparent than it is right now, with our Trump-supporting new governor, Chris Sununu, sitting in the corner office.  This week the Executive Council had a public hearing on Sununu’s nominee for Commissioner of Education.

Frank Edelblut is a businessman from Wilton. He has a BA in business and a Masters in Theology. His seven children were homeschooled. Frank Edelblut has no background in education, and none of the experience that we would hope a qualified contender for this important position might possess. While serving a single term in the legislature he supported a bill that would have forced all state funded facilities (including hospitals, day care centers, halfway houses) to allow guns on their premises. He’s never been to a school board meeting. He’s never been to a parent teacher conference. He does, however, oppose public education, while supporting taxpayer funded religious education, and charter schools. He’s utterly unqualified for this position. Would you hire your barber to remove your gall bladder?

None of that will matter in either the case of DeVos or Edelblut. These are ideological appointments, and there aren’t any Republicans with principles any more. They have no interest in what’s best for the nation or the state – all they have is obedient cowardice. Doing the right thing isn’t even on the radar screen. Edelblut will be approved because Republicans have a 3-2 majority on the Executive Council.  He’ll be approved, because thanks to gerrymandering, the kind of people who are elected to office in this state hate public education, and refer to them as “gummint schools.” He’ll be approved because the goal here is failure.

There are bills coming up this week in committee hearings in the House and Senate that you won’t hear anything about. One such bill is HB 209. If this were to pass, NH would leave Eastern Standard Time behind, and move into the Atlantic Standard Time Zone. We’d be joining Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and most of Labrador. The Atlantic Time Zone also includes a number of Caribbean islands like Barbados and Martinique. This bill is co-sponsored by Free State Project members Keith Murphy and Carol McGuire, who are concerned that Massachusetts may change to AST, and they want NH to emulate what Republicans and their libertea brethren usually refer to as the socialist republic to the south.

HB 532 would deny state benefits to anyone who desecrates the US or the NH state flag. People who engage in a constitutionally protected act would be punished, by a denial of food stamps or tuition assistance. Lest you think that this bill is in reaction to a sudden outbreak of flag burning, it is not. The last flag burnings I’m aware of were done either by college students or by members of the Free State Project. If it passes, it’s a guaranteed court challenge, which means a lot of money wasted by our allegedly fiscally conservative legislators. Why even write this silliness? To demonize low-income folks, whom the sponsors seem to believe are most likely to burn flags.

SB 154 would allow pharmacists to dispense oral contraceptives without a prescription, after an initial consultation with a health care provider. This sounds like a good thing for women, until one remembers that prescription medications are covered by health insurance. Non-prescription medications are not. And oral contraceptives can be costly.

We are constantly presented with businessmen as candidates, as if that were the best possible qualification. NH has been sold the sob story that we’re a poor state for so long that voters buy into the businessman making tough decisions as the ideal. Not a one of these businessmen would run their businesses the way they approach running the state. Sununu wouldn’t fail to keep the ski lifts in good repair at Waterville Valley, but he’ll make sure NH lacks sufficient revenue to fix our roads and bridges.

If anyone wonders why NH won’t legalize marijuana, and take advantage of all the revenue that would bring in – that’s exactly the reason why. The last thing we want in this state is revenue. 

The last thing we want in this state is success.

published as an op-ed in the February 3 edition of the Conway Daily Sun newspaper 

Friday, January 20, 2017

Two Weeks In

The new legislative session got off to a bang – almost. The annual gun-dropping incident by a lawmaker has already occurred. Not only did we have a gun-dropping incident this early in the session, but this time it came with gender parity! Yes, finally a female member of the NH House has dropped a gun in a committee hearing. Ah, equality!

State Representative Carolyn Halstead of Milford was late for the hearing on all-day kindergarten in the Education Committee room. As she settled near a woman with some small children, she yanked off her backpack, and the gun she had stuck in the back waistband of her pants fell out. Her gun instructor had told her not to carry her weapon this way – but she did it anyway, and now she’s a national news story. This is a perfect illustration of why not every nitwit should have a gun, especially legislators.

It’s ironic that this incident took place days before the NH Senate votes on SB 12, the bill to eliminate licensing for the concealed carry of a pistol or revolver. The gun crowd loves to call it “Constitutional carry,” yet try as I might I see nothing stating, “every nitwit should have a gun” in the second amendment. One GOP former legislator turned felon commenting on a friend’s blog compared it to dropping a set of keys on the floor. One thing that the gun crowd won’t do is call it what it is – negligence.  Kyle Tasker is working on a thank you note from jail, to Rep. Halstead for replacing him as the latest gun dropping doofus in the NH House, thereby taking the focus off of him.  

The Senate is intent on ramming that through ASAP, along with SB 11, the so-called “right to work” bill that seeks to eliminate collective bargaining and unions. NH Republicans are furious at the thought that workers could band together and demand better pay, working conditions, and benefits, and have been trying to keep that from happening for over 30 years. It’s a bill that comes from ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council. ALEC is a group of far right legislators from around the country who are handed model legislation at their events to take home and present as their own. The Koch brothers fund ALEC. The title is a brilliant bit of deception - it should properly be called “Work without Rights.”  It was one of the centerpieces of Governor Chris Sununu’s campaign. Sununu showed his disdain for the collective bargaining process by taking office and immediately accepting the governor’s full salary AND a pay raise negotiated by the state employee’s union.

Neither of these bills will do anything to address the very real needs of our state.

Also coming up is HB 279, a bill to allow smoking in bars and supermarkets. Who doesn’t find the idea of smokers tapping their ashes all over the supermarket appealing? The sponsors of the bill are Rep. Robert Hull from Grafton, and Lino Avellani from Wakefield. Hull is a member of the Free State Project. Avellani may or may not be a Free Stater, but he’s certainly one of their allies. He’s also a restaurant owner, who apparently wants to serve a side order of lung cancer with breakfast. What’s droll about this is that the liberty crowd hates government and government spending. They don’t seem to have thought this through. Cigarette taxes fund the state, so increased tobacco sales work against their goal of dismantling the state government.

HB 106 would change our sexual assault laws. The new wording would go like this: "The testimony of the victim shall be corroborated in prosecutions under this chapter only in cases where the defendant has no prior convictions under this chapter." If you’re lucky enough to get raped by a guy with a prior conviction, you won’t need to corroborate your testimony. The concern here is that some poor man will be wrongly accused. The concern is not for the actual victims of sexual assault. This bill will protect rapists and pedophiles.

If the intention of the sponsors is to ensure that even fewer victims come forward, then this bill will work as planned. Oh, and speaking of sponsors, this bill was written by Rep. William Marsh of Wolfeboro. Carroll County sure is having a banner year in bad legislation so far – and we’re only halfway through January. One of my friends referred to this bill as “Saudi Arabia on the Merrimack.” In Saudi Arabia in  2015, a woman who was gang raped was publicly flogged. Perhaps Representative Marsh can write up something like that for 2018.  

There are 776 LSRs listed on the NH General Court website. LSR stands for legislative service request, meaning that a lawmaker is submitting it to legislative services for help in writing it up in bill-like language. A number of bills have been submitted this year by legislators seeking to pass laws that benefit their companies or themselves.

Some glaring (and amusing) examples of that come from State Rep. Richard Marple of Hooksett. Rep. Marple was arrested at the polls on Election Day. It seems that the police stopped Marple in 2014, while driving with a suspended license. His license was suspended for not paying a court fine in 2013. When he failed to show up in court, an electronic bench warrant was issued. This isn’t the only problem that the 85-year-old legislator is having. The town seized his house in June 2016, because he hadn’t paid his property taxes for a number of years. Marple claims he didn’t have to pay them, because of an “elderly exemption.” So far, he has yet to produce any proof of having applied for any such exemption. In the fantasy world he inhabits, he is not required to pay taxes or obey state laws. 

Marple filed HB 292, which would grant a jury trial for execution of a tax lien. He also filed HB 383, prohibiting electronic bench warrants. There are 116 LSRs that were withdrawn before being written up. One of them was Marple’s, “relative to the allocation of delinquent property taxes.” Given his fearlessness in filing legislation to benefit himself, it’s a wonder he didn’t go ahead with that one, too.  

The session runs till June. Lace up your lederhosen – we’re only two weeks in.

This was published as an opinion column in the January 20 edition of the Conway Daily Sun newspaper. 

Thursday, January 05, 2017

Leadership in the New Biennium

The NH legislature begins their new biennium this week. The GOP controls every branch of our state government, so we can be sure that some terrible legislation will be passed and none of it will actually do anything to improve our state’s economy, infrastructure, or do anything to plan for the future.

Now that there are no restraints, House Speaker Jasper has made some peculiar leadership choices. He named Al Baldasaro of Londonderry as Vice Chair of the State-Federal Relations and Veterans Affairs Committee.  Representative Baldasaro distinguished himself in August 2016 by braying on WRKO radio that Hillary Clinton should be shot for treason. Baldasaro has been saying stupid stuff in public for over a decade now. There was the time he testified at a committee hearing that the state of NH sells babies to gay couples for $10,000, or his nonsense about how a bill to stop the sale of lead fishing tackle  (it kills loons) was part of the UN plan for global domination. Rep. Baldasaro has the same level of impulse control that we see in our Twittertroll-in-Chief. There are many definitions of leader, from “inspires confidence in others” to  “horse placed in advance of the other horses of a team.”

Speaker Jasper named Rep. Yvonne Dean-Bailey of Northwood to be the Vice Chair of the Election Law Committee. Rep. Dean-Bailey is beginning her second term (it will be her first full term) in office. Landing a leadership position in the second term is very unusual, especially for someone who may not be old enough to drink legally. Most leadership positions are given to experienced legislators. Dean-Bailey was touted as a “fresh young voice” when she ran her remarkably well funded (by outside special interests) campaign in a special election in 2015. In this case, “fresh, young voice” means: “same old GOP talking points coming out of a young female mouth.” The NH GOP lost up and coming women Pam Tucker and Marilinda Garcia, and obviously intends to groom Dean-Bailey for bigger things.

Jasper appointed Rep. Donald LeBrun of Nashua to be the Vice Chair of the Health, Human Services, and Elderly Affairs Committee. Representative LeBrun’s campaign website says nothing about health, human services, or elderly folks. His sole interest is in cutting taxes and spending. LeBrun has chosen interesting ways to attempt it. In 2011 he sponsored a bill that would have made drug testing mandatory for food stamp recipients. It would have cost the state at least $7 million dollars, while saving nothing, given that SNAP is a federal program. There isn’t any way that there could be $7 million in fraud in NH – a state with a population of only 1.3 million. Hardly a fiscally responsible decision, but LeBrun has it in for the poors.

His next foray into cutting spending was a bill to drug test TANF recipients. This time he was smart enough to put a “Pay to Pee” provision in, whereby the individuals would have to pay for their own testing. If they passed, they’d be reimbursed. I attended the hearing for this poorly written bill, and witnessed LeBrun getting a little fed up with being asked questions he couldn’t answer. The bill isn’t perfect, he kept  repeating, petulantly. When people who knew actual facts testified, LeBrun sat there shaking his head no at them.

But that isn’t even the worst. At a hearing in 2013, LeBrun was quoted as saying, “Rather than spending money on people with disabilities, we have another choice, voluntary euthanasia…”
LeBrun was not removed from the committee. He was not ousted from the House. It wasn’t a big story in the NH media, unlike the story of the 90 year old freshman legislator who was ousted a few years ago for telling a constituent that it was too bad we couldn’t send people with disabilities to Siberia to freeze to death. This time, the leadership and the media covered for LeBrun. And now, despite an absence of any visible humanity at all, he’s just been given a leadership position on a committee that deals with important issues relating to humans.

In addition to being a poor excuse for a human being, he’s also a clown. This year he filed a bill to deny public benefits to anyone who desecrates the US or the NH flag. This is his idea of a priority for our state.

This is a man Speaker Jasper considers worthy of a leadership position. It seems that Jasper has abandoned all pretense of rationality and has chosen to let his freak flag fly along with the rest of his party.

Speaking of leadership, Rep. Frank Sapareto of Derry has been made Vice Chair of the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee. In 2013, Sapareto was convicted of simple assault in a domestic violence case. Gun felon and former State Rep. Max Abramson was not allowed to remain on the committee when his felony came to light. Sapareto challenged Jasper for the Speakership, and Jasper admitted that he promised Sapareto the committee position if he ended his run and backed Jasper. So, not only is a convicted abuser serving as the Vice Chair of the House Criminal Justice Committee – he got the job as quid pro quo.

The House Child and Family Law Committee has been eliminated. Speaker Jasper claimed that the only people who wanted to be on the committee were people who have grievances with the system. At a time when DCYF is under investigation for child deaths, this is a remarkable decision.

The good news is that the work of this committee will be shipped off to the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee (under the leadership of a convicted domestic abuser) and the Health, Human Services, and Elderly Affairs Committee – under the leadership of a man who thinks euthanizing people with disabilities is a reasonable cost saving plan.

Oh, what a biennium it’s shaping up to be. 

NOTE: The House voted on Wednesday not to eliminate the Child and Family Law Committee 

Published as an op-ed in the January 6 edition of the  Conway Daily Sun newspaper