Thursday, June 20, 2019

Failure to Invest

Every two years, the governor creates a budget and hands it off to the House. The House Finance Committee uses the governor’s budget as a sort of template, and writes a whole budget (in two parts), that includes where money needs to go, and where it’s coming from. When it passes the House, it moves on to Senate Finance, where it is further altered. One reason for this is that by the time a budget reaches Senate Finance, there are better state revenue estimates to work with. Any House bill that is amended by the Senate goes back to the House, where they vote to concur with the changes, or not concur. In the event of non-concurrence, the House can either let the bill die, or ask for a committee of conference. The budget for the next biennium is currently being worked on in two committees of conference.

Governor Sununu began threatening to veto the budget in early March, weeks before it ever reached the Senate. He was all puffed up and boasting of his extensive collection of red pens, and how he was going to veto all the “dumb ideas.” That was also two months before he suddenly announced, after months of hinting at a Senate campaign, that he was going to run for reelection. 

One of Sununu’s pet peeves is the paid family and medical leave program that is included in the budget. He and his minions have labeled it an income tax, and bray about that at every opportunity. Sununu cooked up a voluntary family leave plan with Governor Scott of Vermont, using state workers as the pool. The Vermont legislature had no interest in this plan, and created an entirely different one, just as NH did. Maine is also working on a family leave program. 

It’s the kind of benefit offered in states that are thinking ahead. In NH, we bemoan the fact that our young people don’t stay here. They don’t stay because a college education here will saddle them with the highest student loan debt in the nation, and when they leave school, they can’t find a good paying job, nor can they afford housing. NH also bemoans the fact that we can’t attract skilled workers.

I have a friend who is among the 16 percent of NH residents who works in Massachusetts. He does this because he couldn’t get a good paying job in his technical field here in the state he lives in. He’ll be eligible for the Massachusetts paid family and medical leave program that begins at the first of the year. By working out of state he gets better pay and better benefits. That is how a state attracts skilled workers. 

NH has the lowest minimum wage in New England, at $7.25. NH bemoans the fact that there aren’t enough workers to fill all the jobs that need doing, many of them being low wage service jobs, but we don’t want to pay people to do the work. The low wages combined with the cost of housing may have something to do with that lack of workers. The governor is expected to veto the bill that would increase the minimum wage to $12 an hour.

Governor Sununu, on the other hand, is the highest paid governor our state has ever had. Governors in recent decades accepted reduced pay, as a nod to the poverty of our state agencies, and as a note of humility from the wealthy. (Poor people are not elected governor in NH, or anywhere else.) Governor Hassan was paid $110,400 each of the four years she served. Governor Lynch reduced his pay by $4,000 in 2009, during the recession. Governor Craig Benson didn’t even take a salary during his term. He gave his pay as bonus money for state workers. Sununu is being paid $20,000 a year more than Governor Hassan was. He received a pay raise on his first day in office – a raise negotiated by the state employee’s union, the same union he’s refused to negotiate a contract with, because the contract includes…you guessed it, pay raises. 

I love this state, but sometimes our arrogance is stupefying. We think that people will just come here to spend copiously, without our investing in the reasons they come – like our state parks, which continue to be inadequately funded by user fees.

New Hampshire has been skating by on spending little for decades, with GOP legislatures putting off work that needed to be done because they wanted to create the illusion that The Pledge works. Meanwhile, the state is being sued again for the terrible way we fund education, and the governor is getting ready to make a big Trumpian noise and veto a budget that does something good for workers and families. Other states are investing in workers and families, and attracting skilled workers, and NH is making the same mistakes over and over again, and expecting different results. 

Published as an op-ed in the June 21 edition of the Conway Daily Sun newspaper 

Thursday, June 06, 2019

NH Made History

Last week history was made in New Hampshire. The death penalty was repealed in our state, making NH the twenty-first state to enact a repeal.

To accomplish this, the legislature had to override Governor Sununu’s veto, by a two-thirds majority in both the House and the Senate. That it happened is a testimony to the kind of bipartisan coalition building that has been going on behind the scenes for years.

In 1998, a bill was introduced to expand the death penalty. Two state representatives, Cliff Below and Renny Cushing, took a different view, and introduced a floor amendment to abolish it altogether. Their amendment failed, but, so did the death penalty expansion bill. That was the beginning of the repeal movement.

The group that formed came to be known as the New Hampshire Coalition to abolish the Death Penalty. It included members from the faith community, police officers, lawmakers from both sides of the aisle, and family members of murder victims. They would spend the next twenty years speaking out, filing repeal bills, and building momentum.

As the years went on, the death penalty began to be repealed in other states. Groups like the Innocence Project were using DNA evidence to overturn wrongful convictions and getting people released from death row. The NH coalition brought some of those death row exonerees to testify before the NH legislature. The testimony over the years of Curtis McCarty, Kirk Bloodsworth, and Sabrina Butler had an impact on how legislators began to think about the death penalty. Granted, the way the NH statute was written made a wrongful conviction unlikely, but even having the death penalty made the state part of something that is increasingly regarded as barbaric. 

Governor Sununu’s reason for vetoing the repeal was that he was standing with law enforcement; that the death penalty offers them some sort of protection, and shows support for them. A more tangible means of support would be to ensure that our police officers have good pay, good benefits, and excellent training. They’d probably appreciate it if the NH GOP stopped trying to turn NH into a right to work state, too. Another show of support would be to tighten up our gun laws, but I’ll save that topic for another day.

There has been a lot of talk about how the death penalty repeal was, “politicized.” A broad, bipartisan coalition was responsible for the repeal. The governor was furious at the thought of his veto being overturned, and so he lobbied House Republicans relentlessly.

In the Trumpian political world every single issue boils down to one thing: winning. The greater good was left in the dust as we hurtled down the road to “owning the libs.” The idea that the veto would be overturned, by people voting with their deeply held beliefs in mind was apparently not worthy of respect – it was LOSING.

In the House, 35 legislators who had voted for repeal in April voted against overriding the veto in May. The governor succeeded in convincing those folks to value party over principle. In Carroll County he turned only one member, State Rep. William Marsh from Wolfeboro. Despite Sununu’s hard work, the House did override the veto, and a week later so did the Senate.

It is unfortunate that the repeal was politicized, and even more unfortunate that those doing the politicizing pointed the finger at those who did no such thing. If Governor Sununu had stood up and said that he was disappointed in the veto override, but he understood that this was a vote by legislators on deeply held principles, he would have looked positively heroic, and I would be writing a different column. 

NH made history. The news of the repeal traveled all over the world. It was refreshing to read international press on the NH legislature that wasn’t generated by a Republican dropping his gun or his pants. We left the company of countries like Afghanistan, China, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, and Somalia where citizens are executed by the state. New Hampshire walked bravely into the 21stCentury. We’ve become an example that other states are using in their repeal efforts.

I’m proud of my state. There are far too many people to acknowledge, so I’m going to pick two. State Representative Renny Cushing of Hampton has been a leader in the repeal effort for 20 years, along with Arnie Alpert of AFSC NH. Their work to repeal the death penalty has been tireless and inspiring. I’m fortunate to be able to call them both my friends. 

On dark days when we ask ourselves why good change takes so long, and begin to doubt that it can happen at all, let this vote remind us that the arc of the moral universe does indeed bend toward justice. 

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Governor Affable

Last week Governor Chris Sununu was in New York on a right wing media braggadocio tour, boasting about the NH economy and claiming he regularly poaches companies from states like New York and Connecticut. He claimed he “could fix Connecticut in 20 minutes.” Sununu also suggested that California doesn’t manage itself properly, thereby failing “to put themselves in a position to be successful.” On Fox radio, he bragged that he was considering a run for the US Senate and he was sure he could win. 

A spokesperson for Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont pointed out, via Twitter, that Connecticut has 16 Fortune 500 companies, and NH has zero. California is failing, with the seventh largest economy in the world. As for the poaching claims, NHPR tried to find out the names of the companies he’s poached from NY and CT. Sununu’s office claimed they couldn’t answer on the grounds of confidentiality. I think we all know bunkum when we hear it.

Sununu’s been dancing around the possibility of running for US Senate for months, and has been rather obvious that he intended to. This week, that intention came to a screeching halt. In a rather peevish announcement, Governor Sununu announced he’d be running for a third term.

The announcement focuses on how he needs to stay in NH because of the “radical” agenda of Democrats. He said, “
We all know that I would defeat Jeanne Shaheen, but others can too.”  He’s telling us that he could defeat Jeanne Shaheen with both hands tied behind his back…so…he’s not even going to try. He’s going to stay in NH because of the Democrats. He complained, “More Washington DC extremism is on the way.” What better way to fight DC extremism than to avoid it, by staying in NH? Again, I think we all know bunkum when we hear it. 

The “radical agenda” Sununu refers to is the paid family and medical leave bill that passed both the House and the Senate. The plan would give workers up to 12 weeks of time off, at 60 percent of their wages. This would enable workers to have time to deal with things like personal health emergencies, family illnesses, new babies or adoptions. Sununu supported a family and medical leave plan when he campaigned. When an actual bill was written, he called family and medical leave a “vacation” several times. I remember how giddily I packed for “vacation” trips to transport my husband for chemo or radiation. When that gambit blew up in his face, Sununu began calling it an “income tax.”

The paid leave plan was going to be paid for by a small increase in the payroll tax. This is what the governor called “an income tax,” and the propaganda worked well for those who don’t ever consider that the property tax is also an income tax. Adults know that nothing is free – or at least adults in other states know this. NH remains deeply committed to not ever paying for anything, which is why we have so many red-listed bridges, and why no one ever answers the phone at the DMV. 

The governor vetoed the family and medical leave bill, scribbling childishly on it with his red pen, “No Income Tax. Not Now! Not Ever!” Sununu was so proud of himself, that the image was sent out for all to see, bearing a red signature that looks rather unfortunately like “Chicken T. Sununu.” 

During Sununu’s first term, he was the poster child for photo-ops. A media darling, he was most often described as “affable” or “avuncular.” This year, midway through his second term, the mask of affability is crumbling, and what lies underneath is increasingly reminiscent of Grumpy Governor Papa Sununu, who was perpetually arrogant and irascible. Papa had to resign as President George HW Bush’s Chief of Staff because he was using Air Force One as his personal taxi. We cared about stuff like that back in the olden days.

Do we still care about corruption? Keep an eye on the investigation into Governor Chris Sununu’s inaugural fund. It was set up as a non-profit, took big donations from corporate funders, and used as a slush fund to funnel a great deal of cash into the pockets of his family members. If this sounds familiar, it’s because Donald Trump did exactly the same thing with his inaugural fund. 

A month ago, I quoted comments Sununu made on right wing talk radio about how “the people” were going to “take back” the US Senate seat currently held by Jeanne Shaheen. Something happened between last week and this week to convince the governor that he isn’t “the people,” and his announcement reflects just how sulky he’s feeling about it.

This doesn’t bode well for the rest of the legislative session, which includes the budget. We can look forward to more red pen hijinks masquerading as leadership. Governor Affable has left the building. 

Thursday, May 02, 2019

The Wayback Machine

The social media platform Facebook has a feature called “memories.” Every day it reminds users of posts they made on that same date over their years on Facebook. It’s a daily trip into the Wayback Machine, albeit without Mr. Peabody and Sherman. On April 29 I was reminded that 10 years ago, the NH Senate was scheduled to vote on HB 436, the bill to extend the right to marry to gay couples in our state. 

In 2004 the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled that it was unconstitutional to allow only opposite sex couples to marry, making Massachusetts the first state where gay couples were allowed to legally wed. New Hampshire created a commission to study the issue and make recommendations. The commission held public hearings and took hours of testimony, and after all that, in 2005, recommended a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman. The commission was a sham, created to provide the illusion of listening to residents, even though the outcome had already been decided. 

In 2006, Democrats seized control of the state legislature for the first time in decades. In 2007, the legislature passed a civil unions bill, and Governor Lynch signed it. The law took effect at midnight on New Year’s Eve, and 37 couples were joined in civil unions in a big ceremony on the State House plaza in Concord. I attended a private ceremony that same night at the Notchland Inn. The next day I wrote about the ceremony, and noted that it was like a wedding only more joyful. Gay couples had waited for so long to have any legal recognition or protection that the ceremonies were that much more celebratory. Civil unions did not provide the same legal rights as marriage, but it was a step in the right direction.

Two years later, on March 26, 2009 the NH House passed HB 436, a bill that would allow gay couples to marry, and turn the civil unions into marriages. The vote was long and contentious. A move to table failed. Former State Rep. Gene Chandler’s move to kill the bill failed. The bill finally passed, by a vote of 186-179. Only two of Carroll County’s state reps that voted that day are still in office. Both are Democrats. Bill sponsor Ed Butler voted yea, and Tom Buco voted nay. Former Representatives Robert Bridgham and Susan Wiley also voted yea. Former Representatives Christopher Alghren, Gene Chandler, Joseph Fleck, David Knox, Betsey Patten, John Roberts, Dino Scala, Stanley Stevens, and Karen Umberger joined Rep. Buco on the wrong side of history.

The bill went on to the Senate, where it was amended to ensure that churches and church affiliated groups would not be forced to participate in gay weddings. The amendment also stipulated that only persons over the age of 18 would be allowed to marry. The Senate voted to pass the bill by a vote of 13-11. It should come as no surprise that State Senator Jeb Bradley voted nay. 

When the Senate amends a House bill, the House has to agree with the amendment. The House voted to concur by a vote of 178-167 on May 6. On June 3, 2009, Governor Lynch signed the bill into law.  It went into effect on January 1, 2010.

We know what didn’t happen. There was no rain of toads, no plague of locusts, no flood of lawsuits, and it was not the end of western civilization. What did happen was that new marriages took place, new families were created, and the couples that had entered into civil unions were recognized as legally married.

All this happiness and equality didn’t please everyone. The Republicans won control of the state legislature in 2010, but were not keen to take up a repeal bill. Former Rep. David Bates of Windham launched a move to put a non-binding referendum question as a warrant article at town meetings, to call for a repeal of marriage equality. The move was not a success. Most towns refused to even put the question on their warrant. That did not deter former Rep. Bates. In 2012, he sponsored a repeal bill. Even though polling data showed that NH residents were actually opposed to repeal, Bates was convinced that the polls were wrong, and he knew better. The bill failed in the Republican controlled house, by a vote of 211- 116. Bates was on the wrong side of history, as those who deny rights always are. In 2015, the US Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges made marriage equality the law of the land.

We the People are capable of doing the right thing, something we all need to be reminded of, especially right now.  

“We will never have true civilization until we have learned to recognize the rights of others.” – Will Rogers 

published as an op-ed in the May 3, 2019 edition of the Conway Daily Sun newspaper 

Thursday, April 18, 2019

National Drinking Buddy

There are five women running for president. I bring this up only because you may not be aware of it. There are a boatload of candidates, and the media is very focused on a very few of them, and none of the few have ovaries. 

If you Google, “shrill” and the names of any of the five female candidates, you’ll find abundant coverage of their degree of shrillness. Kirsten Gillibrand, Amy Klobuchar, and Kamala Harris all seem to posses the average level of shrill that one would expect from a female candidate. Gillibrand is attractive but shrill. Amy Klobuchar is shrill and bitchy. Kamala Harris is just plain old shrill.  Elizabeth Warren has an advanced level of shrill, combined with her being polarizing and not likeable enough. Tulsi Gabbard is deemed “less shrill,” or “easy on the eye and ear.” Next, try Googling “shrill” and any male candidate’s name. You won’t find anything. Shrill is not an adjective ever applied to men. Shrill is being replaced. Polarizing is the new shrill, and it’s used in direct proportion to how much of a threat the woman’s candidacy is. The smarter the woman, the stronger the shrill.

Nearly everything written about the women candidates is very different from what is written about men. The women who have children are asked how they campaign and parent at the same time. No one ever asks Beto O’Rourke that question. After he lost his Senate bid in Texas, he went on a road trip by himself, leaving his wife at home with their three kids, and reporters breathlessly covered his naval gazing without asking how he could be on a road trip and parent at the same time. The media would have crucified a female candidate doing the same thing. It seems that still, in the United States of America in the year 2019, women are responsible for parenting. Men…not so much.

What if Donald Trump had been asked that question? He admits that he didn’t do the parenting his older kids, and it seems unlikely that he’s a fun dad, hanging out with Barron and bowling a few frames in the White House bowling alley, or kicking the soccer ball around on the South Lawn. Luckily for him, no one would ever ask him about his parenting. Our national default setting is male. Imagine a woman who looked like Steve Bannon  (as if she’d slept in an alley with a pint of muscatel) achieving his level of power and influence? 

During the last presidential campaign, many voters wished that Elizabeth Warren were running for president. Now that she is, she’s called shrill and polarizing. At a time when some of the male candidates don’t have anything resembling policy on their websites, Senator Warren has reams of policy. She’s described as “cold and not likeable.” The real problem may well be that she’s too smart, and too well prepared. For a good read on that, I recommend Alexandra Petri’s April 12 column in the Washington Post.

The media is a big part of the problem. Six corporations control 90 percent of the media. Men run those corporations. White male guests dominate the Sunday news shows. Men dominate talk radio. Men dominate commercial radio. (Non-profit radio is more balanced.) Women are allowed to be the sidekicks on obnoxious morning shows, but that’s about it. We hear a steady diet of male voices, and that brings with it a certain unconscious message about what voices are important. As an example, no women have shows on the local commercial radio station. It seems playing music does have boundaries. 

Candidate George W. Bush was sold to us as “the kind of guy you’d want to have a beer with.” The idea something like that was taken seriously as a qualification for the presidency is both horrifying and emblematic of the kind of low expectations we’re encouraged to have for our leaders. I don’t want a drinking buddy, I want a president. Men are presented as charismatic, while women never are. I suspect it has something to do with the fact that women are busy. They’re doing most of the parenting, cleaning, and they’re working. They are multi-tasking on a heroic level. I would like my president to be busy. The one we have now seems to have far too much time on his hands for television watching, golf playing, and tweeting out distinctly non-presidential messages on Twitter. 
Perhaps we should create the position of National Drinking Buddy, which be filled by the kind of guy you want to have a beer with. He’d be fun and charismatic, drinking beer and talking about boxers and briefs with his pleasant voice. He’d go around the country on a constant drinking buddy tour. That would free us up to elect a smart, multi-tasking woman to be president. 

published as an op-ed in the April 18, 2019 edition of the Conway Daily Sun newspaper

Thursday, April 04, 2019

Boasts, Threats, and Insults

The election of Donald Trump changed politics, changed the level of discourse, and changed the way people behave toward one another. Over the course of his campaign, he benefitted from millions of dollars worth of free media. The corporate media conglomerates couldn’t devote enough of their time to the former reality TV show host and possible billionaire. The media helped build the Trump cult. They’ve covered his administration as if what’s going on within it is perfectly normal, business as usual – and that’s created a level of tacit acceptance.

We now seem to think that it’s normal for a president to spend hours every day on Twitter, tweeting out insults, threats, boasts, and frequently just nonsense. I can’t be the only one who remembers a time when we expected a certain level of dignity and decorum from the president. Trump routinely sends out insulting tweets about losers and fake news. Ironic, isn’t it? The same media that helped elect him he now calls “fake news.” Of course no matter how fake he thinks they are, he’s desperate for their attention. He’s done well at manipulating the media. Trump has learned that he can lie with impunity, in public, and no one is going to react the same way they did when Obama wore a tan suit.

We now seem to think it’s normal for presidents to have rallies around the country. We seem to think it’s normal for a president to need the kind of ego boost he gets at big rallies where he alternately boasts, threatens, and insults. The media has failed to question the reason for the rallies or provide an insight into the results. Or compare it to past presidential behavior. Surely I can’t be the only one who remembers when presidents….worked? When they didn’t spend their days tweeting insults or playing golf? 

It can’t come as a surprise to anyone that this style of politics is catching on. We’ve seen plenty of it at the State House this year. A number of our elected officials seem to think this is the way to win the hearts and minds of voters in the next election. Given how few reporters cover the State House, there isn’t a lot of time devoted to the way representatives conduct themselves unless there’s an act of outrage that generates national attention. The NH GOP has become a microcosm, a veritable petri dish of Trumplike behavior.

Governor Chris Sununu campaigned as a Trump supporter, and has offered little in the way of criticism of the president. He’s done a lot of photo-ops, and he’s cozied up to the media, so Sununu is most often described as “affable,” or “avuncular.” Even his inaugural committee fiscal jiggery-pokery didn’t get the kind of media attention that it should have. Then again, NH has only two statewide media outlets; WMUR and the Union Leader, and their default setting is GOP. 

Last month at St. Anselm College, Governor Sununu boasted that he had “a lot of red pens” and he couldn’t wait to veto “really dumb ideas.” This was in reference to the family and medical leave bill, because apparently, it’s a really dumb idea to want to be able to take some time off to take care of a dying husband, a sick child, or to go through chemo. Sununu refers to this as an “income tax,” and said he’d “veto it three times over and then maybe four, just to make the point.”  We get the point. The point is that Sununu, like his mentor, lacks any kind of empathy or decency. To mock the needs of thousands of NH voters as “a really dumb idea,” is the kind of rhetoric we’ve never seen from the corner office in our state before. Trickle down Trump. 

This last week, the Governor had a rally on the State House steps. (A rally? Sound familiar?) The governor cashed his taxpayer-funded paycheck; drove on taxpayer funded roads, and stood before the taxpayer funded State House in front of people who were holding signs reading, “Taxation is Theft.” At this rally, he went on to dismiss the family leave bill, and mocked those who support it. He claimed that the supporters of the bill who went to his office were paid to do so. (Disclaimer: I know most of those folks. They aren’t paid.)

The lack of empathy, the mockery – it’s all right out of the Trump playbook. I confess to finding it a little surprising. There is always a lot of back and forth about Republicans versus Democrats in NH, but I’m unused to seeing a New Hampshire governor openly mock constituents. In a recent appearance on right wing talk radio, he told the host that “the people” were going to take back Senator Shaheen’s seat. The majority who elected her aren’t people? It seems the governor intends to use the Trump template to launch his bid for higher office.  

published as an op-ed in the April 5 edition of the Conway Daily Sun 

I have Mike Marland's permission to use this cartoon - which I hadn't seen when I wrote this op-ed. (I wish I'd said squirrels!)

Check out more of Mike's  work here and don't be afraid to use his PayPal donation button. We aren't overburdened with editorial cartoonists in NH - and Mike is a gem. 

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Right Wing Mardi Gras

photo from the Washington Post

We humans are social animals. We like to live in cities or towns, and in neighborhoods. We join churches, we join choirs, we join clubs, gyms, book clubs, professional associations, athletic teams and leagues, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, groups of collectors, boards of directors, retired military organizations, fantasy sports leagues, car clubs, gun clubs, gardening clubs – you get the idea. We’re joiners. We like to find people who share our interests and hang out with them.

If we are musicians, we find people to play the same kind of music we want to play.  We find people who like the same sports teams we do and we watch games with them. We find people who share our political beliefs and we associate with them. And with all of that can come uniforms, team jerseys, patches, badges, buttons, or pins. In addition to joining, we also like to identify ourselves as belonging.

Some people get deeply involved. We see middle-aged men wearing jackets for sports teams they never played on. Some of the faithful wear shirts with the name and number of their favorite player. We see supporters of political candidates wearing buttons and tee shirts, but the real die hards may have invested in hats, tote bags, even jewelry. That’s typical for a great many things - we have badges and pins to proclaim our various allegiances.  The 1999 movie “Office Space,” featured a chain restaurant called “Chotchkies,” where employees were supposed to wear at least 15 badges, buttons, or pins. In the movie it was called “flair,” which has stuck as a slang term for having a lot of pins, buttons, or badges on a hat, a vest, or a lapel. Excessive flair is usually a male condition.

We’ve brought our vehicles into the statement making party. Trucks can be seen actually flying flags: usually US, but also Confederate or Gadsden.  Bumper stickers make statements – either manufactured or homemade. We can all see how people feel about politics, food, kids, peace, dogs, and all religions, including guns. 

That’s the segue, folks. A couple of weeks ago, there was a rumpus at the NH House because some of the least charming members of a right wing NH women’s gun club handed out pearl necklaces to members of the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee. The Committee was going to be hearing testimony on a gun bill. The members were urged to wear them “in support of second amendment rights.” One of the members of the committee was already wearing lapel flair that included a large AR-15 pin. These manly, gun-totin’ guys donned the pearls.   

photo of the rather over-accessorized Rep. Scott Wallace from the Washington Post 

In a representative democracy, we the people elect representatives to go to the State House and represent our interests. Most of us expect them to go and behave in a professional manner – one that doesn’t embarrass the voters of the district. We expect them to behave like adults, not boys going to a meeting in their secret clubhouse with decoder rings.

This is an increasingly unrealistic expectation. In recent years the amount of flair in lapels has expanded to include all manner of political statements  - from gun pins to abortion. A NH voter coming to speak before a committee on a matter that concerns them can often get a read on how many members of that committee have closed minds, just by looking at lapels. It doesn’t end with flair. A national group whose goal is the destruction of public education hands out big, ugly yellow scarves to receptive legislators, who wear them in support of that goal. The gundamentalist girls handed out their pearl necklaces. Committee room tables can be populated by people so laden with signal sending trinkets it looks like right wing Mardi Gras.

In 2016, the Republican controlled state legislature passed HB 1503, which prohibits the wearing of campaign stickers, buttons, pins, or clothing inside the polls. The sponsors claimed that wearing a campaign button was an attempt to influence other voters. Yes, folks, that’s right – you can’t wear a campaign button at the polls because it might influence other voters, but the candidates you elect can bedeck themselves with gewgaws proving they’ve already been influenced and are now just mocking the legislative process.

Adult behavior is in short supply. This week, during a floor debate on a gun bill, the Republicans got up and left the room. A bill on repealing the Education Tax Credit, which is used for funneling tax dollars to private religious schools caused the legislators who oppose public education to get out their yellow scarves and wear them to work. The Speaker (finally) informed representatives that those wearing “props” would not be allowed to wear them while debating on the floor. 

Most workplaces expect adult, professional behavior, and frown on the wearing of bizarre, clownlike accessories. We really should be able to expect the same of our state representatives.  

published in the March 22, 2019 edition of the Conway Daily Sun newspaper

For more on legislative behavior: 

The House Majority Leader tried to discuss civility with his colleagues. The minority party didn't take kindly to it as Nancy West reports for