Thursday, June 29, 2006

Preemptive Legislation

As I turned on to North Main St. in Concord, I knew something big was going on. It was the last day of voting in the legislature, and the place was packed with representatives hoping to override the governor’s vetoes on a number of bills. With two of the nearby parking garages under construction, parking near the state house has become more competitive than usual. The meter readers were out in full force. If everyone did their job with the zeal of Concord meter readers, the world would be a different place. One of my co-workers was ticketed before her meter expired, because she’d recently had a lot of tickets. It was a preemptive ticketing.

That wasn’t the only preemptive action in Concord this year. A number of voting bills went before the legislature this year, and two survived till the bitter end – they were vetoed by Governor Lynch, and the vetoes were not overturned. The stated intent of both bills was verifying voter eligibility and preventing abuses. After every election, there are investigations of voter fraud. The 2004 elections were no exception. The Secretary of State’s office found that there had been no fraud. NH doesn’t have voter fraud, but some members of the legislature feel a need to continually file preemptive legislation to cure a problem that we don’t have. My job provides me with frequent opportunities to speak with folks from all over the state. People tell me about the things that worry them – usually health care, housing, and wages. Not a single person has told me that their number one concern was voter fraud.

One bill (HB345) would require voters to show photo ID before voting. Those in favor of this legislation say that we have to show photo ID to get on airplanes or cash checks. That makes it sound almost logical – except that flying and banking are both customer situations. We do not (as yet – and don’t rule it out) pay to vote. The people who look at those customer IDs are employees – paid by the airport or the bank. The people who would be checking IDs at the polls are volunteers. Should volunteers have to be trained in verifying photo ID? If they are to become experts in reading ID, where will they be trained and who will pick up the tab? How will voting absentee be handled? Who will be checking the absentee ID? Will nursing home residents be forced to pay for ID they no longer need, so that they can vote? What about same day registration? Over 2000 people registered to vote in Carroll County on Election Day in 2004. They signed a domicile affidavit at the polls. Will we do away with same day registration? What if those people have moved to NH fairly recently, and their photo ID address isn’t the same as their real address? Will we refuse to allow them to vote? How will we handle the bottleneck at the polls, when the line halts while the volunteer expert reads the ID and determines its validity? There are a lot of questions that are never answered by those who favor the preemptive voting legislation.

The second bill, HB 1566 would require photo ID to match physical address, and give the voter 40 days to make the changes. The aim is to force college students (long suspected of infiltrating the state to vote here, thereby ensuring the Democratic dictatorship we see in the NH House and Senate) to have cars registered and licenses changed over in order to vote in NH. It would require anyone with a NH license to change their address within 40 days of a move. This legislation was not proposed by anyone who has recently attempted to interact with the NH DMV. This bill would essentially nullify the domicile affidavits that are traditionally used on Election Day.

The supporters of preemptive voting legislation couch this in the most reasonable terms. Representative Mike Whalley, Chair of the House Election Law Committee said that the committee wanted to tighten up record keeping and weed out illegal voting. Except there isn’t any illegal voting, according to the Secretary of State’s office. Whalley said that this bill would not be a deterrent to voting. That’s a little hard to believe. We have no documented voter fraud – yet we have legislation that’s guaranteed to make for longer lines, inconvenience, and voter disenfranchisement. We know it isn’t necessary – so of course it’s intended as a deterrent! There isn’t any other reason for it.

NH Senator Andre Martel filed similar Senate bills aimed at requiring voter ID and disenfranchising student voters. In 2004, Martel came disconcertingly close to losing his election. Rather than assess his own performance as a state senator, and try to determine why the voters weren’t happy with him, Senator Martel chose to blame students. There are several colleges in his senate district. Incumbents in the NH legislature often feel a sense of entitlement when it comes to their seats. Senator Martel leans very far to the right, at a time when voter demographics in our state are shifting. The voters in his district may feel that he isn’t representing them, and choose to vote him out, as is certainly their right. To blame his near ouster on students is both silly, and lazy.

Silly and lazy sums up the whole package of this year’s voter reform bills. Filing a number of time consuming bills aimed at fixing a nonexistent problem doesn’t seem to be the best use of legislative time. We have a number of serious, well documented problems that need legislative attention. Has history taught us nothing about the folly of the pre-emptive strike?

“Preemptive war punishes the defenseless not for what they have done or are doing but for what they might have done or could do.” Eduardo Galeano

Thursday, June 15, 2006

We're Jammin, We're Jammin

It’s party time! Time for NH political parties to fundraise for the upcoming elections, that is. Last week, the Carroll County Democrats had their annual fundraising dinner. On Monday, the NH Republican Party had a fundraiser, in Manchester. The speaker? The controversial political operative, Karl Rove. Given the GOP’s recent history of ethics violations, this was an interesting choice, and one guaranteed to spark the interest of GOP loyalists, Democrats, and activists from around the state.

All of the critics seized upon this opportunity to mention the 2002 phone jamming scandal. Rove’s own ethics have been called into question; he’s been called before grand juries 5 times, and has admitted to outing CIA operative Valerie Plame to reporters. The irony of this man, being asked to speak at a fundraiser that would help pay for the millions of dollars in legal fees being accrued by convicted phone jammer James Tobin was just too much to keep quiet about. About 75 people turned out for a demonstration in Manchester, at Veteran’s Park, on Monday. The NH Democratic Party was there, as well as groups like Democracy for NH, Priorities NH, and the NH Citizens Alliance for Action. There were signs reading “Funding Felonies,” and “NH GOP and Karl Rove – where Criminals Converge.” Other signs had a prison motif. Priorities NH was using the opportunity to educate passers by on the federal discretionary budget with their new carny game “Wheel of Fortune” which consists of a pie chart. The goal is to spin and NOT land on the Pentagon. I watched the NECN reporter spin several times, and land on the Pentagon every time.

NH GOP Chairman Wayne Semprini was annoyed by the suggestions that the fundraiser was going to pay for Tobin’s legal fees, but in more than one newspaper interview he admitted that a portion of the monies raised would go for just that. The belligerence of the NH GOP about the phone jamming is really quite amazing. Far from accepting responsibility, apologizing, and moving on, they’ve been angry that anyone would dare question them – much less indict and convict them!

It all began back in October of 2002. The US Senate race was hot – former Governor Jeanne Shaheen was running against then Representative John Sununu, Jr., for the seat that Bob Smith was vacating. Then Executive Director of the NH Republican State Committee (NHRSC) Chuck McGee spoke with James Tobin – then the New England Regional Director of the Republican National Committee and the Northeast political director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. McGee told Tobin he wanted to hire a telephone service to jam Democratic phone banks on Election Day.

Tobin hooked McGee up with Allen Raymond; president of a telephone services vendor called GOP Marketplace, and suggested he call Raymond to enlist his aid with the plan. Raymond’s partner, Chris Cupit, contacted Shaun Hansen, of Mylo Enterprises, a telemarketing firm based in Sandpoint, Idaho. Cupit told Hansen that GOP Marketplace wanted to hire Mylo Enterprises to place hang up calls repeatedly to certain numbers in NH on Election Day. Hansen takes the job for $2,500 – in advance. McGee sends a NHRSC check for $15,600 to GOP Marketplace, which in turn, sends a check to Mylo Enterprises.

Employees of Mylo Enterprises start phoning NH on Election Day. They call 6 NH numbers. Five are affiliated with the NH Democratic Party, and one with the Manchester Professional Firefighters Association. Those numbers had been made public, in order to provide callers with rides to the polls. The numbers were called hundreds of times, causing the lines to ring and hang up. No one else could get through. Eventually Verizon frees up the phone lines and identifies the caller as Mylo Enterprises. Meanwhile, calls were made to try to stop the phone jamming, on the advice of GOP legal counsel David Vicinanzo. It’s too late, the calls are already underway. GOP consultant (and later state party chair) Jayne Millerick began a series of calls to Nixon and Peabody (where Vicinanzo worked), David Horan (a criminal defense attorney) and the White House. Tobin was calling the White House, too.

The story broke in February of 2003, in the Union Leader. Millerick and McGee both deny any involvement. Millerick claims the $15,600 to GOP Marketplace was for telemarketing services encouraging people to vote GOP. McGee claims he didn’t hire the firm. Later, Millerick outs him to the Union Leader, and he resigns. Eventually, in 2004, Allen Raymond pleads guilty to conspiracy to engage in interstate telephone communications with the intent to annoy or harass. Chuck McGee pleads guilty to the same charge. Tobin was also convicted, and is scheduled to begin serving his sentence later this month. His case is under appeal. And that’s where the fundraising comes in. The GOP has been paying Tobin’s legal fees.

This is a disturbing story on many levels. Apparently dirty tricks and lawbreaking have become justifiable means to the end of winning. Far from blushing in shame for being caught, the GOP is belligerent that they were ever even investigated or charged.
On the WMUR late news Monday night, state Senator Bob Clegg was asked about the phone jamming, and he launched into an incoherent rant about how “THOSE PEOPLE need to admit to all the votes they pay for.”

Rove is not going to be indicted, and his champions are crowing that this is a victory; much in the same way OJ Simpson’s defenders did at the end of his trial. That an unethical politico has escaped prosecution is hardly grounds for celebration. We’re at a sorry pass when the ends justify the means, and the meanness.

“It is the confession, not the priest, that gives us absolution.” Oscar Wilde

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Civics in NH

The NH legislative session is winding down. Bills of varying levels of importance have been dealt with, and now it’s time for our legislators to hit the campaign trail. Yes, Virginia, it’s an election year. In NH we will be electing a governor, all of our state representatives and senators, county officials, and our two US Congresspersons. In 2004 record numbers of new voters registered, and voted. In Carroll County 2,902 people registered to vote on Election Day. Will all of these new voters maintain their interest in civic participation?

There are populations that traditionally do not vote in representative numbers; women, people with low incomes, people of color, and young people. In 1972 about half of the age 18-24 group voted. By 2000 that number had dropped to 33 percent. In 2004, the presidential election increased the number to about 45 percent. Why don’t our young people vote? In a state that is governed by a citizen legislature, why aren’t we more concerned about this? What can we do to interest more of our young people in the civic process?

I registered to vote when I turned 18. I’ve voted in every election since then. When I was growing up, I was taught that voting was my right, and my duty. All freshmen in my high school were required to take a civics class. Civics was a solid grounding in the nuts and bolts of how our system of government works. We learned what our role in a participatory democracy is. By that point in our education, we’d already had years of romanticized US history. Civics was a welcome change because it was much more practical stuff. It was the early seventies, and even though the politics of the time were extremely contentious, we were still expected to grow up to be voting citizens.

Somewhere along the way, that expectation has changed. We stopped teaching civics, too. At the website of my alma mater, I couldn’t find a civics class listed, but it does seem to have been thoroughly integrated into their Social Studies curricula. Civics is not mandatory in NH, which is particularly unfortunate given our enormous volunteer legislature. We expect NH residents to run for office and serve – so shouldn’t we educate our youth to be prepared for the possibility?

In 2005, Representative Paul Smith, from Auburn, sponsored HB 435 a bill that would require a civics class for high school graduation. A similar bill (SB 82) was filed in the Senate. Paul Smith is 24, and one of the youngest members of the NH legislature. For his graduate thesis at UNH, he surveyed junior and senior political science majors on their knowledge, and then gave them the same test that potential US citizens take. Many of them failed the citizenship exam. Smith became determined to try to enact some positive change. The bill had bi-partisan support and sponsorship, but ultimately it was voted inexpedient to legislate. The Senate bill was sponsored by Democrats, and was ultimately killed as well. The prevailing sentiment was that the legislature should not mandate what classes are taught – that this should be decided locally.

They didn’t feel that same sense of “local control” when it came to abstinence only sex education. The legislature was more than happy to try to make that a mandate, with HB 39, which was filed in 2005, and finally killed in 2006. It was killed because studies show that abstinence only sex education seems to cause an increase in teen pregnancies and sexually transmitted disease. Apparently we’re more in favor of playing roulette with teen sexual behavior than we are in educating them about their roles as citizens. Local control has been so perverted by the legislature in recent years that it has become nothing but a convenient excuse for inaction. We claim to want our young people to participate in our democracy – so we should be in favor of educating them to do so.

Instead there have been deliberate attempts to discourage college students from voting. There is a faction that believes wholeheartedly that college students “from away” are just dying to come here and vote, and change our one party system of government. The fact that the majority party has had control of the NH House since the Civil War does nothing to assuage their fears. They are convinced that all manner of voter fraud takes place here, despite reports from the Secretary of State’s office showing no evidence of fraud – and despite the outcome of our elections! In fact, the last documented case of fraud was a kid who voted under his father’s name – as a Republican.

What we teach our children matters. We are certainly willing to allow television and advertising to teach our children how to be consumers. We teach reading and math – why not teach citizenship?

“American youth attributes much more importance to arriving at driver’s license age than at voting age.” Marshall McLuhan