Thursday, April 13, 2017

Obstruction is Easy




In the process of crafting a budget for our state, first the Governor gives the legislature his or her budget. This year it was written by our new governor and his  budget advisor  Charlie Arlinghaus of the Josiah Bartlett Center, a far right wing think tank. The House Finance Committee then uses the governor’s budget as both a model and a jumping off point for creating their own version. At crossover, the budget goes to the Senate where they tinker with it, and then send it back. The differences are hammered out in a committee of conference where everyone works hard to ensure that there isn’t enough money to run the state as if it mattered, and then it’s done.

Not this year. This year, a cabal of obstructionists calling themselves the Freedom Caucus decided they didn’t like the budget. It spent too much money, they said. This cabal is comprised of legislators who are still angry that their leader, Bill O’Brien was defeated in his second bid to become Speaker, after what was widely acknowledged as a disastrous first term in that position. Even though O’Brien is no longer part of the legislature, he’s driving this bozo bus. This is the same O’Brien who, in 2013, gave a floor speech congratulating the House on the passage of what he called, “An O’Brien budget.” Minutes before, he’d actually voted against it.  

The Freedumb caucus is comprised of the same guys who want to make changes to the SNAP program that will cost the state more to administer, while saving no money, so you know they have the best interests of taxpayers at heart. These are the same guys who have been obstructing and delaying  at every opportunity since 2013.They’re libertarians, Free Staters, and Tea Partiers,  puffed up with manly pride that they’ve made a stand against Big Gummint Spending!

They refused to vote for the budget. The Democrats refused to vote for it, too, but not for the same reasons. The Democrats had some very modest (timid) additions they wanted to see added in. They offered to work out a compromise with Speaker Shawn Jasper, who rebuffed them half a dozen times.  Apparently he was unable to make a deal with the Freedumb caucus, even after he brought the governor in to yell at them, and so, for the first time ever, the House failed to send a budget to the Senate. This means that when the Senate comes up with a budget, the House will have no bargaining chips in the Committee of Conference. The one thing we can be sure of is that there won’t be enough money in this budget to run this state like a business, which is often presented as a goal.  The GOP should be incredibly embarrassed by this failure, yet none are brave enough to speak against the hostage taking actions by the O’Brienistas.

Obstruction is easy. The GOP has been specializing in it since 2009 when Obama took office. On the local level, we’ve had a Democrat in the corner office since one-term Republican Governor Craig Benson. As long as a Democrat held the executive power, the libertea branch of the GOP was free to obstruct anything and everything – and they certainly did, often just for the sake of doing it. With a Republican majority, there’s no one left for them to obstruct except each other.

Obstruction is easy. Governing is hard.

Passing ideological legislation is not governing. It’s easy when you have the majority. What is increasingly beyond the ability of the Republican Party is compromise, as this group illustrates so perfectly. Unless they get their way, they’re going to stomp their big boy feet and no one will get to use the playground swings.

As I’ve said before, this is what you get when you elect people who hate government to be the government.  





I’m often asked, “How do these people keep getting reelected?” Stories about what they do, how they behave, and how they vote are few and far between. This is a group of about 30 and most of them are men. Locally, this group includes Ed Comeau, Lino Avellani, and Glenn Cordelli. Ask yourselves why you keep electing them.

Then ask your other Republican representatives why they are silent. Ask them why you should keep voting for them, when party loyalty means more to them than their role as an elected representative of the people. Finally, ask them if they are a little ashamed that their party has been taken over by tantrum throwing toddlers.

Obstruction is easy. Governing is hard. 


From the NH Legislative Handbook:


 Members should at all times conduct themselves in a way that exhibits the utmost respect for their elected office, their constituents and the people of the State of New Hampshire.



published as an op-ed in the April 14 edition of the Conway Daily Sun newspaper



Thursday, March 30, 2017

Business as Usual





The voter fraud drum began cranking up in 2006, when the GOP lost control of the NH House for the first time since the Civil War. Last year the drummers reached new heights. Before the election, Chris Sununu was on the radio in Massachusetts complaining about busloads of Mass voters interfering in our elections. Shortly after the election, Donald Trump started tweeting his displeasure about voter fraud in NH. The next thing you know, there are 40 bills before the NH legislature in 2017 that have to do with voting.

A news story at NH1 this week has the Secretary of State’s office claiming over 400 letters to newly registered voters were either not answered or not deliverable. Anyone who thinks the Secretary of State’s office should be in the investigating business ought to take a look at the SoS website. It’s a nightmare. I suggest they stop trying to play Harriet the Spy, and focus on bringing that office from the 19th to the 21st century.

This week, the full Senate will be voting on SB 3, a big, messy, voter suppression bill. A voter will be required to demonstrate their intent to be domiciled here by renting or leasing, buying a house, obtaining a NH driver’s license or non-driver ID, enrolling children in a school, listing the residence on tax forms or other government forms, providing the address to the USPS, obtaining a resident hunting or fishing license, or obtaining utility services at that place for an indefinite period. Those registering on Election Day would be required to provide proof within 10 days following the election. There is a form for a same day registrant to fill out that is approximately as long as Tolstoy’s War and Peace.

Supervisors of the checklist will be required to follow up, and do investigative work; including visiting the address or sending “agents” to verify that the individual was domiciled there on Election Day. The original bill specified those “agents” would be police. The new, amended (but not improved) bill doesn’t define who those “agents” might be. They might be the police. The might be Cub Scouts. They might be members of an interpretive dance troupe. They might be armed vigilantes. Call me crazy, but I don’t believe that casting a ballot should include the threat of storm troopers knocking at the door. Be sure to ask Senator Bradley why he’s sponsoring this nasty bit of business.

The voter suppression folks keep carping about the need to ensure the integrity of our elections. Of course, they’re the same people who have been sowing the seeds of mistrust for over a decade. If only they worked this hard at solving real problems in our state. Speaking of integrity, three bills aimed at creating independent redistricting procedures all failed. The majority party wants to be able to continue to gerrymander every 10 years without interference.


Something we could solve is child lead poisoning. We don’t have 40 bills to address this actual problem. Lead paint has been banned since the 70’s, but still, NH children are exposed to lead paint, and lead in the water from old pipes. If we cared about kids, we’d do something about this – but every time some pesky do-gooder tries, the landlords start to complain about how much it will cost to fix. It seems we value landlords more than we do children. By the time you read this, the fate of SB 247 will be decided – the sole bill aimed at protecting NH children from lead.

The legislature has new ethics rules that have expanded reporting requirements. Lawmakers are expected to file a form saying they have a conflict on any given bill. They can still file legislation to protect their business, or enhance their profits, and they can still vote on it. This form is a sort of magic fig leaf, providing the illusion of ethical cover for the many conflicts of interest our volunteer legislators have on bills they sponsor and vote on. The fig leaf has no teeth – there are no punitive actions taken against those who enrich themselves at taxpayer expense.

The Senate will be voting on SB 244 this week, a bill to increase the amount of money exempted from taxation under the interest and dividends tax for both individuals and businesses. The lead sponsor is Senator Andy Sanborn – a business owner. The Senate passed the bill once, and referred it to the Finance Committee. In the initial vote, multimillionaire State Senator Jeb Bradley recused himself, citing a conflict of interest. Andy Sanborn proudly declared he’d filed his form, and went on to vote for a bill he sponsored, that will increase his wealth.

A summary: This week the NH Senate will continue to perpetuate the illusion of a problem, fail to solve a real problem, and vote for a tax break for the already wealthy.

Business as usual.




This was published as an op-ed in the March 31, 2017 edition of the Conway Daily Sun newspaper 

Thursday, March 16, 2017

18th Century Outbreak

Last week the NH House had a marathon two-day session wherein hundreds of bills were dealt with, in a variety of ways. It’s hard to know if this was the result of poor planning or if it was deliberately done to create chaos and keep some bills from getting the attention they should. There were some interesting dances done.

On Wednesday, the first day of the 2-day session, legislators were informed they’d be working till 8 pm. One of the bills in the queue was HB 478, the bill to add gender identity to our state’s anti-discrimination laws. A large group of Republican legislators left early. When Speaker Jasper realized that he still had a quorum, but he had a Democratic majority, he shut the session down. He intended to table HB 478, and that wouldn’t have been possible without a GOP majority presence.

The next day, Rep. Packard moved to table, which squeaked through by an 8 vote margin. It seems our brave, gun-totin, GOP majority legislature was too afraid to have a fair hearing and discussion of the bill. This bill came out of committee with a recommendation of ought to pass, by a vote of 15-2. The work of that committee, the calls, letters, and emails from constituents, and the testimony by hundreds of residents were shown absolutely zero respect by the Speaker, most of the Republican majority and some Democrats. In Carroll County the only representatives who voted against the cowardly move to table were Butler, Knirk, and Crawford.  

In other bill news, HB 94 prohibited certain defenses in prostitution and human trafficking cases. The certain defense prohibited in this bill is the “I didn’t know she was underage” excuse given by johns after being arrested for buying sex from a child. The bill passed, but 86 legislators voted against it. Here in Carroll County four legislators voted to continue to allow men to use this excuse when arrested: McCarthy, Knirk, Avellani, and Comeau. Rep. Nelson was excused from voting.

In other repugnant votes, HB 499 would have required individuals to be 18 in order to marry. Current NH statute allows girls of 13 and boys of 14 to marry with the approval of a judge. Also, 13-year-old girls don’t marry 14-year-old boys. Most of those who prey on underage girls are adult men. Like the 40 year old man who married a 17-year-old girl in 2006.

The bill was recommended to pass by a unanimous committee vote, and placed on the consent calendar. Bills on the consent calendar are generally fast-tracked to be approved or killed by a voice vote. Representative David Bates removed the bill from the consent calendar. Rep. Bates (whose last bout of notoriety came from his vociferous opposition to marriage equality and his subsequent attempts to repeal marriage equality) objected to the change in the law, because, he said, “If we pass this, we will ensure forever that every child born to a minor will be born out of wedlock.” Others argued that it would block soldiers from getting married. No word on how many soldiers are enrolled in middle school.  

According to a recent Union Leader story, a judge granted a 17-year-old boy permission to marry his pregnant 13-year-old girlfriend in 2013. They claimed they wanted to get married because of their strong religious beliefs dictated babies be born to married parents. Four months later, at the age of 14, the girl filed for divorce on the grounds of infidelity and domestic abuse. Marriage, contrary to the belief system of Rep. Bates, didn’t do this girl or her baby any favors. When girl children are forced into marriage, they are more likely to drop out of school, and they are at high risk for domestic violence. They’re also on the fast track for a lifetime of poverty.

The House voted 179-168 to indefinitely postpone this bill. That means it can’t come back during the current biennium. 
In Carroll County, only Representatives Buco, Butler, and Nelson voted against the motion to indefinitely postpone.


To summarize:  Rather than protect a vulnerable population, the men of the GOP clung to a myth to bray about the need to protect girls and women in bathrooms. Other cherished GOP myths include: busloads of voters from Massachusetts, trickle down economics, and the NH advantage. When the majority had a chance to actually vote to protect - they chose to protect the old pervs buying sex from underage girls. When they had a chance to protect girls, they chose to ensure that girls could still be auctioned off, because domestic abuse is more palatable when it comes with the seal of holy matrimony.


When they say, “we want to take our country back,” this is what they mean – back to the 18th century.
  
        

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





Of course, there are always consequences....



Saturday, March 04, 2017

Hoell Lotta Nonsense


This is one of seven posts on the Facebook page of NH State Representative JR Hoell on the subject of HB 478.

This is HB 478:




Women don't need  JR Hoell or any of his ilk  to protect us. Women know very well what kind of people are a threat to our safety. They aren't wearing women's clothes. They are dressed as boyfriends, husbands and fathers. They are dressed as athletes, fratboys, teachers, and bosses. They are dressed as politicians - like JR Hoell was the day in 2014 when he voted against a bill making domestic violence a stand alone crime in the state of NH.  WMUR

In fact, the men who make the most noise about protecting women are usually the biggest threat to our safety. 

JR Hoell votes against helping women at every opportunity. He votes against increasing the minimum wage. He votes against women having full bodily autonomy, by trying to make their personal medical decisions for them. He's sponsoring a bill to repeal the NH Health Protection Program which has enabled thousands of low wage working women to have access to health care. 

Another of the 7 "protect the wimmins" posts on Hoell's FB page:



This is Hoell's fourth term in the legislature. He hasn't done a damn thing for women so far. We certainly don't need his "help" in regulating our bathrooms. 



Thursday, March 02, 2017

False Economy



Senate Bill #7 (SB7) was introduced on January 19, after the legislature was already in session, after most bills had been put forward. Apparently it was languishing in someone’s back pocket, and that someone wasn’t keen on the idea of the bill getting a lot of advance attention. It was wise to hide this nasty bit of business from the public eye for as long as possible.

Conservatives never object to military spending. Over half of the federal discretionary budget goes to the Pentagon, and much of it is wasted. No one ever says boo. The tiny little sliver of the budget that goes to food stamps, however, is a constant source of angst for Republicans. They are unable to accept the fact that trickle down economics are a failure, and that a great many working people in our state can’t afford to pay their rent, pay childcare, and put food on the table all at the same time. Accepting that would mean acknowledging that trickle down is a failure, and we’ll have none of that kind of crazy talk!

Food stamps (properly called SNAP – supplemental nutrition assistance program) are 100% funded by the federal government. The state pays for half of the administrative costs. Only food can be bought with food stamps. One cannot buy diapers, soap, toothpaste – or any non-food item. There is a work requirement. There are strict income (both gross and net) and asset guidelines, and the application process is rigorous. At least 30 states simplify the application process with what is called “expanded categorical eligibility” in order to help more people. NH doesn’t really want to help more people, so we use a limited version of this, and it applies only to families with children.

That means that low wage working families who have income over the gross income limit of 130% of the federal poverty level who have high basic living expenses (like rent and childcare) can be under the net income limit of 100% of the FPL.

SB 7 stipulates that NH cannot ask for or ever receive a waiver for the federal work requirement. There are some towns where that work requirement has been waived, where unemployment is pretty much permanent. Mostly those towns are in Coos County, but there are two in Grafton and one in Carroll County. SB 7 would take food stamps, and any remaining hope away from these folks. SB 7 would eliminate the expanded categorical eligibility. This would affect an estimated 17,000 working families in our state, families already struggling to stay afloat.

State Senator Kevin Avard of Nashua is the main sponsor of the bill, which is model legislation written by a conservative think tank from Florida. Avard is quoted by NHPR as saying that food stamps are a disincentive to work, and that this will get people back into the work force. Except that there already is a work requirement in place, and thousands of food stamp recipients are already working and still don’t earn enough.

Avard also made the astounding statement that a person could have a million dollars in a trust fund and collect food stamps.

No, Senator, this is NOT possible. This is a big, irresponsible, public lie. NH Republicans are far too practiced at telling these whoppers. When expanded Medicaid was on the horizon, State Reps. Neal Kurk and Laurie Sanborn wrote an op-ed that expressed concern that low-income yacht dwellers would take advantage of “free” health care. Has anyone ever found a low-income yacht dweller? Busloads of people from Massachusetts vote in our elections. It’s an endless stream of craven nonsense, and no one in our media ever seems to challenge it.

This bill will save NH taxpayers ZERO dollars. It will cost us plenty.  Remember, NH pays for half the administrative costs of food stamps. This bill will increase those costs. The bill will also mean that NH food pantries, already stretched to the max, will see a huge increase in need. Town welfare officers will see a budget breaking increase in residents requesting help. Town welfare officers testified against this bill for that very reason.

One might think Senator Avard would have a hard time getting cosponsors to sign on to such a loathsome bill. One would be wrong. The Senate co-sponsors are Birdsell, Guida, Reagan, Senate President Chuck Morse, and our own multimillionaire Senator Jeb Bradley. House sponsors are Representatives: Kotowski, LeBrun, Kimberly Rice, and Speaker of the House Shawn Jasper.

Between this and the gun bill, it seems Senator Bradley is afraid of a primary challenge by a hard-core ideologue, so he’s turning into one.

One wonders if the leadership of both bodies understood this bill when they signed on to it. To summarize: this legislation hurts people, hurts children, saves no money, and will in fact cost taxpayers more.

False economy – it’s the NH way. 



published as an op-ed in March 3, 2017 edition of the Conway Daily Sun newspaper



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