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

Sunday, January 01, 2017

NH House HHS Committee - Leadership to be Proud Of

                                                  That's LeBrun with the Santorum sign

State Representative Donald LeBrun  (R-Nashua) has just been elected to his fourth term in the NH House. He's also been elevated to a leadership position. Speaker of the House Shawn Jasper appointed LeBrun to be Vice Chair of the Health, Human Services, and Elderly Affairs Committee. 

According to LeBrun's website :

I will legislate to cut spending, cut taxes, and downsize government.
I will fight to reform (not cut) entitlement programs by identifying fraudulent claims and mismanagement. This will enable programs to continue without being cut.
I will represent my constituents to the best of my ability.
I will always be open, honest, and available. I will work diligently to fulfill the wishes of the majority regardless of party affiliation.
I will work with my colleagues toward a better, more efficient government in New Hampshire based on the state constitution.
No mention of health. No mention of human services - only fraud. Absolutely no mention of/or concern for the elderly. No interest in the future of our state, education, natural resources, or infrastructure. For LeBrun it's all about cutting spending and taxes. 
In 2011, LeBrun sponsored a bill to create mandatory drug testing for food stamp recipients.
In 2013, LeBrun sponsored a bill to create mandatory drug testing for TANF beneficiaries. Here's my report on the hearing:
Even more egregious - in 2013, LeBrun gave his thoughts about people with disabilities: 
Donald LeBrun is quoted as saying, “Rather than spend money on people with disabilities we have another choice, Voluntary Euthanasia….”
He didn't get kicked off his committee. It wasn't much of a news story. None of the alleged Christian groups who prey on the legislature said boo. 
Naturally, LeBrun denied this. He was telling a story, he said. 
Except that it's consistent with his actions ever since he was elected to the House. 
And now, this man who thinks we should engage in "voluntary euthanasia" to cut disability spending has been elevated to a leadership position in the NH House. 

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Mere Trumpery

George Washington was our first president. He was born into an affluent family, and inherited property and slaves after the deaths of his father, and later his older brother.  He became a surveyor at age 17. Thanks to his family connections, he was given the position of official surveyor of the newly created Culpepper County. Four years later, Washington began his military career, during the French and Indian War. In 1775 he was commissioned as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army. We all know how that turned out.

At the end of the war, Washington resigned his commission, rather than seize power as a dictator or king. He presided over the Constitutional Convention in 1787. That year he was elected president, and served as the first US president until March of 1797.

John Adams was our second president. He was born to modest circumstances. His father was a Congregationalist deacon, farmer, cordwainer, and a lieutenant in the militia. (A cordwainer is a shoemaker who makes shoes from new leather.)
As the eldest son he was expected to receive a formal education, which he did through schools and tutors. At age 16, John Adams entered Harvard College. After graduating, he taught school for a few years, and then decided to become a lawyer. He consciously chose not to become a member of the clergy. Adams wanted to become a great man, and once referred to his own hunger for fame as “mere trumpery.”  There’s a term likely to make a comeback.

Thomas Jefferson became the third US president. Jefferson was born to an affluent family. He graduated from the College of William and Mary, and practiced law. He was also an architect, president of the American Philosophical Society, spoke at least 6 languages fluently, and was the primary author of the Declaration of Independence. Thomas Jefferson served as the governor of Virginia, a member of Congress, a trade minister to France, Secretary of State, Vice President, and President.

Franklin Pierce was the 14th US president. Pierce was born into a relatively affluent and political family in Hillsborough, NH. His father was a farmer, tavern keeper, and state legislator. After graduating from Bowdoin, he got involved with state politics. Pierce served 6 terms as the town moderator in Hillsborough. He served as a state representative, and became Speaker. Pierce was also elected to the US House, the US Senate, and 10 years after leaving office he was elected president. The only president to come from NH, Franklin Pierce is widely regarded as one of our most lackluster presidents.

Warren G. Harding was our 29th president. He was born to a doctor and a midwife in Ohio. His father (the doctor) bought a newspaper, and so Harding began learning the newspaper business at age 11. After graduating from college, he bought a failing newspaper that he was eventually able to turn around. It was during this time that he began to get involved with politics. Harding was elected to the state senate, and began to enjoy the patronage and graft that came with the office. He served one term as lieutenant governor. His term was described thusly, “he had little to do, and he did it very well.”

Harding went on to become a US Senator, and eventually president. He died halfway through his term. He was quite popular at the time of his death, and was mourned by the nation. It was after his death that a number of scandals came to light that sullied his posthumous reputation, notably the Teapot Dome scandal. He was beloved when he died, but is now regarded as one of our worst presidents.

George W. Bush was our 43rd president. He was born into a family of great wealth and political connection. George attended the best schools, got middlin’ grades, and went on to have a life that was free of accomplishment. He failed at business, but succeeded wildly at using his family money and influence to become the governor of Texas, and eventually president. He was appointed president by the Supreme Court, after a contentious election where he received fewer popular votes than his opponent. His Wikipedia page lists “golf and smoking cigars” as hobbies. Bush was not an accomplished man. He showed no sign of intellectual curiosity during his tenure in the White House. He may be the happiest person in the nation that Trump was elected, since he’s not likely to maintain his position as the worst president ever.

Our newly elected president, who received fewer popular votes than his opponent, is Donald Trump. He was born into wealth. Young Trump went to military school, but never served in the military. He received 4 student deferments while he was at Wharton, which enabled him to avoid going to Vietnam. Eventually he was given a medical deferment for heel spurs. Trump began his real estate career in his father’s company, which eventually became his. There have been decades of deals, big gaudy buildings with his name smeared all over them, casinos, six bankruptcies, and three wives. He’s considered to be a successful businessman, despite the many failures, bankruptcies, and refusal to pay workers. He has never been involved with any sort of public service. His “charity” is used as a slush fund to pay himself. He wanted to win. Now that he has, it’s clear that he’s spectacularly ill-prepared to govern.

Trump is a very successful salesman, who has sold us the belief that he’s a good businessman. He’s also a reality TV star, who lives in a tacky, gilded palace with his most recent wife who we haven’t seen much of since the tapes of Trump’s bus trip with Billy Bush on Access Hollywood were made public. Melania Trump, it seems, is not going to be moving to the White House. His daughter, however, will have an office there, and take on some First Lady duties.  The White House is open for business.

There is so much wrong with all of this that I don’t even know where to begin. Suffice it to say, that we began this nation with men who were accomplished and educated. We’ve settled for considerably less as the decades have gone on. It was once difficult to imagine that we would elect a B-movie actor and McCarthy fink, but we did. Our recent Electoral College choice makes Reagan look like Socrates.

We’ve gone from statesmen to a twitter troll. This may be the end of the Great American Experiment.

I wish you all Happy Holidays – see you in 2017

 This was published as an op-ed in the December 23 issue of the Conway Daily Sun newspaper 

Thursday, December 08, 2016

Stuck in Reverse

The day after being elected governor of New Hampshire, Chris Sununu started talking about voter fraud. He’s deeply concerned about it – though not so deeply as to question the legitimacy of his own election. No, our new governor is content to mutter about the need for “reform.” He’s even called for the elimination of same day voter registration. Apparently no one has explained what that would mean to our newly elected Governor.

In 1993, the National Voter Registration Act was signed into law. It requires states governments to provide the opportunity for any eligible person who applies for a driver’s license or a renewal, or for some form of public assistance to also register to vote.  The state would be required to register applicants by mail, using federal registration forms. Private entities would be able to hold voter registration drives and register voters.

New Hampshire Republicans have always hated this idea. Registering welfare recipients to vote? Registration drives on college campuses? In poor neighborhoods? Oh, hell no! They hated the idea so much that they got out of complying with the motor voter law by having same day voter registration instead. Given a choice between the two, I am certain that they will continue to prefer same-day registration, and that someone will explain all this to Chris Sununu.

Representative David Bates (R-Windham) has adopted the cause of fauxfraud as his new mission, and has filed 13 bills and one constitutional amendment to solve the non-existent problem. Imagine if he and his fellow legislators were even half as interested in solving the very real problem of our state’s crumbling infrastructure?

In speaking about his priorities, our new governor’s top 3 were voting, guns, and union busting. Sununu would like to eliminate the requirement for licensing a concealed handgun. Current law (written by Republicans, by the way) requires one’s local chief of police issue a permit. The chief has the discretion of being able to refuse to give a license to someone he knows to be a bad tempered drunk or domestic abuser. That isn’t enough for the gun crowd, who will not be happy until there are zero gun laws in our state. In fact, some of the gun happy legislators are opposed to domestic abusers losing their guns. Fifty percent of the women murdered in this state are murdered by their abusive partners, but apparently women are easily replaceable in the eyes of the MOAR GUNZ crowd. It is interesting though, that in a state that has so few gun laws, that the governor elect considers this a priority.

Sununu also wants to sign right-to-work (for less) legislation, which we also call union busting. Less than 10% of the NH workforce is unionized, but it’s been the mission of the far right to eliminate that small percentage altogether for decades. They love to opine that it will cause businesses to relocate to NH, because RTW states are doing so well. They’re states in warm climates (no NH energy costs), states with good infrastructure in place, and states that invest in education – AND they don’t have NH property taxes. It’s really all about eliminating the perceived political influence of unions. Well, that and their deep belief that business should be able to pay workers just as badly as they want to.

Our new Gov wants to “fix” the state budget, so he’s brought in Charlie Arlinghaus of the Koch funded Josiah Bartlett Center. Arlinghaus is going to find all the “pork”. It would be laughable if it weren’t so serious. The voter fraud crowd wails about how voter affidavits aren’t investigated quickly, while failing to acknowledge that they underfund the state agency that is in charge of doing the work. Giving the Koch brothers more influence over our state government spending will ensure that not only will we continue to have the 11th worst infrastructure in the United States; we’ll climb higher on the list.

Sununu also wants to cut business taxes, because that will “send the message that NH is open for business.” It’s uncertain who will be hearing that siren call – but if they do, they may decide that our utility costs, crumbling infrastructure, limited telecommunications options, property taxes, and failure to invest in higher education may not be what they’re looking for. One thing you can count on though, if all the business tax cuts are enacted, your property taxes will be going up. The money to run the state (even to run it as if it were going out of business) does have to come from somewhere, and that somewhere is your property. Other states have income and sales taxes. NH has you, the property owner. As businesses pay less and less of their fair share, you’ll be picking up the slack. Live free or die – and be sure to keep voting for the pledge takers.

Sununu wants to ensure that Medicaid beneficiaries work if they are able. I’m guessing that what he meant by that was the NH Health Protection Program, which is the NH version of expanded Medicaid. Most of the people who are enrolled in the NHHPP are low-wage workers – heck, some of them probably work at Waterville Valley. They already are working. The GOP is desperate to convince us that these folks are milking the system somehow to get health care benefits. Thing is – the NHHPP doesn’t pay the rent, buy the groceries, or put gas in the car. The people who make these claims either don’t understand how this works, or they don’t care, because it’s easier to get people all jacked up by lying to them. There are work requirements for food stamp recipients, by the way. You never hear about that, do you?

In this way when the legislature votes next year (and they will) to end the NHHPP, if they’ve told enough big lies, they’ll still get reelected. Even when 40,000 low-wage workers lose their health insurance.

None of this will help NH’s stagnant economy. As long as the state is stuck in reverse, there’s no hope of moving into the future. 

This was published as an op-ed in the December 9 edition of the Conway Daily Sun newspaper 

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

We Live Here Now

The Oxford Dictionaries recently chose the term “post-truth” as their international word of the year. It’s certainly appropriate, after all of the events of the last 2 years.

Post-truth is where we live now. I was driving north last weekend, and heard a North Carolina voter discussing the election with a person from NPR. She pointed out that President Obama had deported more undocumented immigrants than any other president, and he responded by saying “That may or may not be true.” In post-truth America you can decide what the facts are, based on whether or not you like them.

Given that the NH GOP has control of every branch of the NH government, we will all be dwelling in the land of post-truth for the next two years, and trying to undo the damage they will do for at least the next decade.

In a state where young people don’t stay because they can’t get good jobs or afford housing, where we have the 11th worst infrastructure, and the highest utility costs in the northeast, you might think that those might be priorities for the new legislature. You would be wrong.

There are 4 gun bills. NH has some of the least restrictive gun laws in the nation – but that is not enough to satisfy the MOAR GUNZ crowd. Perhaps when babies are given guns in the hospital along with a car seat they’ll finally be able to lighten up.

There are bills to limit abortion – something our new governor is in favor of.  (Given the endless parade of Sununus we are subjected to, do we call this one Sununew?) His pretend concern for women is touching. Abortion has been legal for over 40 years. He claims to be worried that abortion clinics must be surgical centers or some such nonsense. Meanwhile, he’s expressed zero concern for the homeless women and children who are about to experience winter. He’s expressed no concern for the increasing rate of child poverty in our state. It’s worth remembering – and I will be here to remind you – that Chris Sununu was a Trump supporter. He supported a man who said vile things about women, and boasted gleefully about sexually assaulting them. His concern for women doesn’t exist.

There are at least 4 bills aimed at making it even harder for people to vote. There were stories all over the news after the election of NH Republicans complaining about voter fraud, including one from the latest Sununu. We’ve been hearing the stories about busloads of people coming from Massachusetts to vote in NH. The Republican Party took the Governor’s office, has control of the NH House, the NH Senate, and the Executive Council. If there’s so much fraud – how did that happen? Worst buses ever!

Sununew wants to put the kibosh on same day voting. One reason we have same day voting is because it exempts us from having to comply with motor voter laws. Someone will explain that to him. Other bills include the usual tortured attempts to redefine words like “domicile” and “residence.” There’s the annual constitutional amendment aimed at making sure only white, male, Republicans can vote.

He’s snagged Charlie Arlinghaus to be his budget advisor. Arlinghaus is the head of the Josiah Bartlett Center, which is allegedly a non-partisan think tank. If perpetuating the same, failed GOP economic policies of the last 30 years is non-partisan, I guess they’re right. The Bartlett Center is funded by the Koch brothers, and is also a member of ALEC, the conservative group of state legislators who are handed model legislation and then bring it home and present it as their idea. Apparently Sununu didn’t dare to ask Greg Moore of Americans for Prosperity. Everyone knows they’re funded by the Kochs. The Bartlett Center also feeds from the Koch trough, but the NH media politely never mentions it. 

State Representative Dick Marple of Hooksett, filed an LSR that calls for the voluntary registration of motor vehicles. Rep. Marple was arrested at the polls on Election Day, on a bench warrant for driving with an expired license. He won re-election anyhow. Perhaps his next bill will call for making driver’s licenses voluntary. And maybe some doughty Republican will file a bill preventing public servants from being arrested while they’re in office. Whatever comes next, you can be certain that it won’t have anything to do with ethics reform.

The new majority will do its damnedest to pass right to work legislation. In NH no bad idea ever dies, they just return every two years, ad infinitum. One wonders, though – suppose they pass free guns for all, voting limited to middle aged white male Republicans, no more abortion, right to work – and big business tax cuts – and nothing changes? Not one of these things will do anything to solve NH’s economic problems.

There’s an ugly race brewing for Speaker of the NH House. The libertea crowd has never forgiven Rep. Shawn Jasper for beating out former Speaker Bill O’Brien with the help of the House Democrats. Somewhere, O’Brien is ensconced in a padded room, kicking and howling because he didn’t run for reelection.)   The other candidates are Rep. Laurie Sanborn of Bedford, Rep. Carol McGuire of Epsom (and the Free State Project), and Rep. Frank Sapareto of Derry.

McGuire and Sanborn are good libertea locksteppers. They both have 100% scores from the Americans for Kochsperity, the House Republican Alliance, and A’s from the NH Liberty Alliance. Sapareto is less of a lockstepper. He only got an 82% from AFP in 2013, and 89% in 2014. He got a 90% from the HRA, and a B from the NHLA. That would seem to indicate that he could think for himself at least part of the time, which means he’ll never be speaker. His conviction for 3 domestic assaults in 2013 won’t be a problem – not in today’s NH GOP.  

This would be a lot more amusing if we weren’t going into the future with leaders who are stuck in the past. Sununu wants to run our state like a business. Remember the last governor who had that dream? He lasted one term. Running a state is not like running a business, no matter how often you invoke kitchen tables. A business owner invests in his business. Republicans do not invest in our state. They’re the reason there are 350 red listed bridges. The bill for decades of neglect is going to be a whopper when it comes due. They will, however, find a way to blame it on the Democrats.

Post-truth. We live here now.

This was published as an op-ed in the November 25 edition of the Conway Daily Sun newspaper