Thursday, January 10, 2019

More Guns and Grifters

Photo by Holly Ramer of AP 

As I predicted, the rabid gundamentalists got all worked up about the proposed rule change in the NH House that would prevent them from carrying their concealed firearms on the House floor, in the gallery, the cloakroom, and the anteroom. They would still be able to strap on as many weapons as they needed to feel safe leaving home, driving to Concord, and then walking the mean streets from their parking spot to the State House. They’d just be asked to lock up (in a storage unit provided at the State House) their firearm (s) while on the floor, in the gallery, the anteroom or the cloakroom. The 2-A crowd brought signs into the State House, which is not allowed. They meekly surrendered them, with no mention of first amendment rights. 

There was wailing, moaning, and gnashing of teeth from the gun fetishists. They NEED their weapons on them at all times! They might have to protect the women! The State House isn’t going to be a “soft” target – a gun free zone! Gundamentalist groups, the NRA, and ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council invented the concept of “constitutional carry” around 2012. Nowhere in the constitution does it say that you have the right to bring a concealed firearm into the NH House chamber. It’s also worth noting that Vermont had “constitutional carry” years before everyone else. Guess what you can’t do in Vermont? Bring a weapon in the State House.

Honest, curious people who read more than just propaganda are also aware that mass shooters don’t choose “gun free zones.” School shootings are done by people who had some connection to the school. There’s also the fact that 98% of mass shooters are white men, many of whom have a history of domestic abuse. Most of those shooters were “law abiding gun owners” up until the moment they started shooting their fellow humans.

The floor debate raged. Convicted gun felon, Representative Max Abramson (R. Free State) gave an impassioned speech about gun rights, the kind he doesn’t legally possess any longer. These are the people who want the rest of us to trust them with guns. The vote was 220-163 to ban guns from the House chamber. The response from the cultists was to shriek that they’d carry anyway, because rules don’t apply to them.

After the gun vote was a vote to add mandatory sexual harassment awareness training to the House rules. There have been a number of incidents in the legislature that have come to light in the MeToo era. Some involved payoffs, some involved cover-ups. There are many older men in the legislature who wail that it’s the women who are to blame – they can’t say anything any more without it being taken the wrong way!

Rather than take an opportunity to stop wailing and learn something, members of the libertea crowd became incensed at the thought that they should be expected to attend the kind of training they would be given no choice about attending in any professional workplace. Perhaps they don’t look at themselves as professionals. Perhaps they don’t see themselves as working.

Most amusing was the overlap. Many of the same people who were braying about the need to protect the wimminfolk refused to take the sexual harassment training. That’s right – they need to protect the women with guns – the same women who are lying about sexual harassment! (It would make for an interesting Venn diagram.) The House voted 284 – 92 in favor of the rule change. 

Governor Sununu is back in the news. There’s some very timid reporting going on about the way his first inaugural fund is being dispersed. Large amounts of it seem to have landed in his pockets, and those of a variety of family members and advisors. The Governor has refused to comply with Right to Know requests that those records be produced.  If it all sounds familiar, there’s good reason for that. Sununu was very clear in his first campaign that he is a strong Trump supporter. We know Trump used his inaugural fund as a slush fund to shovel money back into his own businesses, which means into the pockets of his family. Lesson learned. 

Why is this a concern? Where the money comes from and where it goes is always a concern when it comes to politicians. Transparency means accountability, and we should all want our politicians to be accountable. We should know exactly who the donors were, how much they gave, and where that money went, and where the remainder of the fund will go.

The Union Leader has done some surprisingly good reporting on this. Surprising only because of the UL’s history of being the media arm of the NH GOP. This reporting so incensed the governor, that a Union Leader reporter and photographer were denied entry into this year’s inaugural event. It appears our governor has learned another lesson from his mentor, Donald Trump.

“No power without accountability.”  Billy Bragg

Friday, December 28, 2018

Guns and Grifting

The new legislature has been sworn in, and will be back in session on January 2. 

As I write this, there are 894 LSRs. An LSR is a fledgling bill that is written by the sponsor, and then sent to Legislative Services to be fleshed out and checked out. It is assigned a number and published. It will be assigned to a committee, have a hearing, and be voted on. House members have submitted 609 LSRs, and 204 have come from the Senate. Another 71 LSRs were withdrawn before they ever became bills. There are ten proposed amendments to the NH Constitution.

Some are predictable. One wants to change the NH Constitution to stipulate that taxpayer funds can’t be limited to supporting public schools. As we learned last biennium, taking money out of the public schools will mean dramatic increases in property taxes, but our libertea brethren don’t care about that.

There’s a proposed amendment that would stipulate that any broad based tax should be prohibited. Another would alter the state constitution to prohibit a tax on personal income from being enacted. A recent report finds that NH has the third highest property taxes in the US. This kind of GOP policy will help ensure that we reach first place. 

Another amendment would reduce the number of representatives in the House, and another would allow compensation for legislators to be determined by a joint resolution with the approval of the Executive Council. It seems our “live free or die” legislators want a bigger paycheck. Another would enshrine the right to hunt, subject to laws promoting sound wildlife and conservation management.

There is also a proposed amendment that would allow no-excuse absentee voting for NH residents. Perhaps the most important amendment would establish an independent redistricting commission to draw boundaries for state and federal offices. Why does this need to be a constitutional amendment? So that neither party can undo it on a whim. The state senate districts have been ridiculously gerrymandered. NH Republicans have historically opposed the creation of an independent commission, probably because they’ve done most of the gerrymandering. All of the proposed amendments have a long way to go before we ever see them on a ballot.

The first year of the biennium is the year that the next state budget is worked out. The House and Senate have both decided to continue to have Thursday voting sessions, something that began during the last biennium. Former Speaker Terie Norelli introduced mixed party seating during her second term. Her hope was that legislators would get to know one another and form relationships that transcended party affiliation. That’s been the custom since. The Republicans asked Speaker Shurtleff to restore party segregated seating, so that they can sit together, and maintain the kind of discipline needed to meet Minority Leader Dick Hinch’s stated goal of disruption and delay. Shurtleff has agreed to their request.

The GOP gundamentalists are getting all ginned up to fight about a proposed rule change that would forbid concealed carry firearms in the House chamber, anteroom, coatroom, or in the House Gallery. It’s understandable. Republicans who carry have shown an inability to holster their guns properly, as we saw when Kyle Tasker’s gun fell to the floor in a meeting of the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee. He’d been playing quick draw out in the hallway, and failed to secure one of his holsters. Tasker carried a gun under each arm, because you can’t be too safe in dangerous NH. The last gun drop was made by Representative Carolyn Halstead whose gun fell out of the back of her pants in a hearing on full day kindergarten that was filled with parents and children. Kyle Tasker is in prison on felony charges and Halstead was not reelected, so there is an opening for a GOP gun dropper. In most public buildings where unstable persons are likely to be present (courthouses, planes, NRA conventions) concealed firearms are not allowed.

As anyone who has ever attended a demonstration at the State House knows, a sign on a stick is not allowed inside the building. That’s right – the State House is a stick free zone, and I’m certain we’re all safer as a result. The last stick massacre was a national tragedy. 

There’s going to be a lot to pay attention to in the coming biennium. Keep an eye on the story of the funds raised for the governor’s inauguration, and how the unspent funds were dispersed to the governor’s family members, advisors, and – of course, to himself. It appears to be near Trumpian level grifting, right here in River City.

It’s a shame we’ve abandoned all interest in expecting our elected officials to avoid the appearance of impropriety. Let’s insist they do better in 2019.

Happy New Year, everyone! 

This was published as an op-ed in the December 28, 2018 edition of the Conway Daily Sun newspaper 

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Seriously, John Delaney?

I live in New Hampshire, the first in the nation primary state. This means that every candidate intending to run for president will bombard me, and my fellow residents, with mail. The first one came this week. 

John Delaney is a congressman from Maryland. He's a Democrat. He chose to introduce himself to me with this mailer:

The George Will column makes this point: 

"Suppose, however, Democrats are more interested in scrubbing the current presidential stain from public life than they are in virtue-signaling and colonizing the far shores of leftwingery."

I'm registered as an "undeclared" voter. I can only assume that by choosing George Will as his intro, John Delaney is trying to appeal to the more conservative faction of undeclared voters, not those of us who proudly reside on the far shore colony. 

In 2014, George Will wrote a column about campus rape that should have caused him to lose his job. Mysteriously, after years of racist, sexist, and homophobic commentary, he remains employed. He's the poster boy for privileged white men endlessly failing upward. 

By choosing George Will as his intro, I can only assume that John Delaney isn't interested in appealing to women. 

It's working for me. 

That humble, working guy persona Delaney cultivates appears to be fiction, according to those pinkos at Forbes.

Here's a  blog post I wrote in 2014 about Will's column. (Language warning for the easily offended.) 

Thursday, December 13, 2018

One Way Street

Bipartisan: marked by or involving cooperation, agreement, and compromise between two major political parties. 

Oh, how we love that word! How we love that concept. How often we invoke the desire to see our elected officials reach across the aisle and get things done, because surely bipartisanship is the way things happen.

If we dig a little, we learn that it has happened a few times. Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neil famously worked together to protect Social Security. John Boehner and Nancy Pelosi teamed up on passing the ACA. Of course, that was after Boehner and McConnell announced their intention to block and delay everything coming from that oft-touted other side of the aisle, in their effort to make Obama a one-term president. Oddly, no one in the media seemed to call them out on their stated goal of ignoring and subverting bipartisanship. It was no big deal that Republicans had no intention of reaching across the aisle. By this time, we didn’t expect it from them anymore. By this time, bipartisanship was a one-way street, populated only by Democrats.

That’s where it remains. 

Democrats are expected to fall all over themselves to compromise. In fact, they’re expected to completely cave in to GOP demands. That’s what we call bipartisanship, but it could be more properly referred to as capitulation. There are whole “bipartisan” groups dedicated to this philosophy. No Labels claims to be dedicated to bridging the divide. In 2017 they launched the No Labels “problem solver caucus,” comprised of equal numbers of Republicans and Democrats who would work together on ambitious bipartisan proposals. They also gave out “Problem Solver Awards.” They gave one of those awards to Donald Trump, who has never solved a problem in his life. No Labels always seems to be advocating for the position of the right. I can’t think of a time when they’ve taken the other side. Nope, they want to do things like gut Social Security and Medicare, policies that aren’t popular with most people from either side of the aisle. 

We’ve seen similar antics in Concord. When the Tea Party Junta took over the State House and installed Bill O’Brien as Speaker, all possibility of reaching across the aisle flew out the window. That was when the Republican Party began the slow descent into the kind of madness that caused them to elect an incoherent game show host as President of the United States. 

Yes, this is New Hampshire, a state where the media default setting is GOP, and so since the new Democratic majority at the NH House elected Steve Shurtleff the media focus has been on bipartisanship. A Seacoast online headline read, “Speaker Shurtleff Offers Refreshing Bipartisan Message.” I guarantee you this headline would never have been written if the Republicans had kept the majority.

It took nearly a week for the speech made by Representative Dick Hinch, the new GOP minority leader to get any media attention. It was not a “refreshing message.” Hinch began with a little lip service about unity and working together for the benefit of the state, then quickly moved on to his real message. Hinch told his caucus that their primary duty is to make sure they take back the House in 2020 so that they can gerrymander districts to ensure they keep the majority for the next decade. He urged the caucus to be disruptive at every opportunity.

This speech didn’t even merit a mention in most of the NH media. Those that did carefully danced around Hinch’s speech, sanitizing it for GOP protection. The exception to the rule was long time NH political reporter Garry Rayno who reported on the content of Hinch’s speech, at Manchester Ink Link. Why didn’t other NH media cover it? GOP is the default setting of the NH media. They are always protected and never held to the same standards that Democrats are. Stories of GOP bad behavior seldom splash across the headlines unless the story is picked up by national media, as we have seen time and time again, most recently saw with (former) Representative Porn Star. 

Republicans aren’t expected to behave in a bipartisan way. They will not be held accountable for the kind of disruptive, delaying tactics they’ll be engaging in on the House floor this year. Those tactics won’t even be mentioned in the news coverage of House sessions. The further north one travels in the state, the less likely one is to get any coverage of the goings on in the state house. Democrats are supposed to knuckle under to the demands of the GOP, because doing their bidding is their definition of bipartisan. 

Most of us want to have a representative body that will work hard to do what is best for New Hampshire. If we’re going to cling to the myth of bipartisanship, let’s insist that it be a two way street – in the legislature and in the media. 

Published as an op-ed in the December 14 edition of the Conway Daily Sun newspaper. 

Thursday, November 29, 2018

A Woman's Place

Women were elected to office in record numbers all over the country. Mind you, record doesn’t mean that women have achieved any sort of parity. After this election, women comprise 25% of state legislators. We’ve come a long way, baby, in the last 98 years.

In Arizona and Vermont women comprise 40% of the legislature. Nevada’s legislature is 38% women, and the number is 37% in Washington State. Colorado, New Jersey, and Maine all have legislatures that are made up of at least 30% women. The states with numbers in the 14% range are Louisiana, Oklahoma, W. Virginia, and Mississippi. In Wyoming that number plummets to 11%. Hmmm….maybe women haven’t come such a long way after all. 

New Hampshire is definitely not Vermont. In 2019, 28% of the legislature (that includes both House and Senate) will be women. We will also have a younger legislature. Last year the average age of a NH legislator was 66, making NH the oldest state legislature in the country. There were 23 state representatives under the age of 35. This year there are 42 representatives under the age of 40. In a state that can’t seem to keep or attract young people, this can only be a good thing. Perhaps we’ll see New Hampshire move bravely into the 21stcentury.

We don’t make it easy for young people to serve. The enormous state legislature is in session half the year, as well as committee work. That’s a commitment of at least two days a week, which is a tough sell with most employers. The further away one is from Concord, the more difficult that commitment becomes – all for an annual stipend of $100. That’s not even taking into consideration the time spent studying to prepare for voting on numerous bills or providing constituent service. 

One of the youngest women to ever serve in the NH House is 19-year-old Cassandra Levesque. She worked with legislators to raise the NH child marriage age, after learning about it as part of a Girl Scout project. At the time, a 13-year-old girl could marry an adult man. A fourteen-year-old boy could also be married, though adult women don’t marry 14-year-old boys. The first attempt failed. Republican men were insistent on holding on to the privilege, while bemoaning their sadness that a young service man wouldn’t be able to wed his pregnant girlfriend. That an adult man shouldn’t be impregnating a child was not even a consideration for them. A year later, the marriage age was raised to 16 for both girls and boys. The experience of working on a bill gives Representative Levesque advance familiarity with the whole process of how a bill becomes law in our state. 

Safiya Wazir is a naturalized citizen from Concord, who was just elected. She spent 10 years in a refugee camp in Uzbekistan. Wazir and her family were fleeing the Taliban, and eventually came to the United States. She ran because she wants to give back to her community and her new country. Safiya is 27. 

A report by the NH Women’s Foundation found that 335 women ran for various offices in NH, up from 306 in 2016. The party difference is stark; 44% of candidates who ran as Democrats were women. About half those numbers of female candidates were Republican. There were regional differences; women made up 49% of the candidates in Grafton County, yet only 21% of the candidates in Cheshire County.

New legislator orientation is taking place this week, over a three-day period. Organization Day is December 5, when all legislators are sworn in by the governor, and in front of the Executive Council. After that the new legislature will elect a Speaker.  The new Speaker will take the chair and the members elect the clerk and the Sergeant-at-Arms. 

Once these tasks are complete, the House informs the Senate that it has organized. The House and Senate then meet in joint session to elect a Secretary of State and the State Treasurer.

Women make up half the population, yet we aren’t well represented in the electorate. I don’t want to get too giddy about the possibility of parity, but this election’s results are at least hopeful. Why does it matter? Ask yourself how different our history and our nation would be if women had been included in the founding process. What would the Constitution look like if women hadn’t been intentionally excluded?

Perhaps one day we’ll move beyond the view of the founders that women were lesser beings. I’m somewhat hopeful that by the end of the new biennium, adult men won’t be able to marry minors any longer in the state of NH. Progress comes slowly in a state that is run by old men. 

Published as an op-ed in the November 30, 2018 edition of the Conway Daily Sun

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Change Comes to New Hampshire

NH has survived another election, despite the confusion around the NH Supreme Court decision concerning SB3, which was helpfully intensified by the Secretary of State.  In spite of the incorrect absentee ballots that were sent out, and without even the usual complaining about busloads of out of state voters. I’ve read grousing about how people from Commiechusetts are coming here to destroy NH, but the reality is, that most people who migrate to NH move to Rockingham County, the reddest county in the state. They aren’t coming to Carroll County. There aren’t good paying jobs, and there isn’t any affordable housing. The migrants to Carroll County are primarily in their 50’s and 60’s, coming to live in their second homes and protect their pensions in tax free splendor.

In 2016, the Republicans won control of every part of the NH state government. What did they do with that control? The governor’s first priority was passing a concealed carry bill – because, apparently, guns are more important than anything. After taking a pay increase negotiated by the State Employees Union, he tried to pass right-to-work legislation. The Republicans passed more business tax cuts. They tried to pass a voucher bill that would have dramatically increased property taxes. The governor referred (more than once) to a bill that would have provided family leave for workers as “a vacation.” Caring for a sick family member isn’t exactly a trip to the Bahamas. The Trumpublicans are nothing if not tone deaf. 

On the other hand, the Governor earned a reputation with the media for being “affable,” and “avuncular.” Anywhere a camera was held up and the lens focused, he was there. His party often touted his bold leadership, and I think we can all agree that Sununu did some fine work on the placement of price labels on deli cheese at Market Basket.

In May, he boasted that the state had “more money than we know what to do with.” What did he do with it? Nada. Nil. Nothing. He claims he wants to invest in infrastructure. Meanwhile, we still have hundreds of red listed bridges. We have rest areas on I-95 that are in less than stellar condition. Our parks are years behind in maintenance. We have a serious housing problem, and a very serious school funding problem. We need to build a secure psychiatric hospital that isn’t part of the NH prison system. If Sununu is having trouble coming up with ideas, he should call me.

At least we know that NH will not become a right-to-work-for-less state during the next biennium. NH will not pass a voucher bill. There’s already a bill to make the very questionable voucher program an amendment to the NH Constitution loitering in the queue of upcoming legislation for 2019. 

The legislature will be voting to choose a Secretary of State for the next 2 years. The House will be voting on a new Speaker. The Republicans will be voting for a new minority leader. All of the committee chairs will be different with a Democratic majority. The first year of the biennium is always the year that a budget is crafted. 

I urge all legislators, old and new, to spend some time on the Secretary of State’s website before they vote. I’m an adept researcher, but I had to spend a couple of hours trying to come up with the magic phrases that unlocked candidate financial forms. The magic phrase was different each time, and more difficult if one were trying to access a “Friends of Rep. Jim Jeremy” committee finance report. I was trying to access candidate forms for several different candidates, including Senator Bradley. Wheelabrator, an international solid waste incineration company mysteriously appeared in the biomass bill, which guaranteed them taxpayer subsidies. Bradley was a sponsor of the bill, and a vocal public supporter. It turns out that Wheelabrator generously donated $4,500 to Bradley’s 2018 re-election campaign. I should have been able to access that information easily, but the Secretary of State’s website is not user friendly. In an NHPR discussion with Secretary of State candidates, Gardner commented that the information is there, it’s just hard to find. That just isn’t acceptable. 

Northern Carroll County experienced a blue wave. The entire northern House delegation is now comprised of Democrats. In southern Carroll County, voters inexplicably chose to re-elect the same candidates who voted to dramatically increase their property taxes by attempting to initiate a school voucher program.

We should all take a page from Rep. Karen Umberger who lost her bid for re-election, and graciously wished the winners well. Rep. Umberger and I have disagreed on many issues over the years, but she has been unfailingly polite and willing to listen, which is what we should expect from citizen legislators.

Published as an op-ed in the Conway Daily Sun newspaper, November 16, 2018

Thursday, November 01, 2018

Election Integrity

NH has a late state primary. This year it fell on September 11. The general election is November 6. This doesn’t leave a lot of time for the Secretary of State’s office to print up ballots for the 221 towns, 13 cities, or the absentee ballots – especially those that have to be sent overseas. The overseas ballots are sent out 45 days before Election Day. 

This year it didn’t go well. There were errors on the ballots. Some of the overseas voters received incorrect ballots. Stephen D’Angelo, a Democrat running for State Rep. in Rockingham District 4 was completely left off the ballot. In his place was the name of the guy he’d beaten by 5 votes in the primary. Tammy Siekman, a Democrat from Londonderry, running for State Senate was listed as a Libertarian. Gray Chynoweth, a Democrat running for the Executive Council was listed in the column for Democrats, but as a Libertarian. The mistakes have been corrected, but the incorrect ballots were sent overseas.

Deputy Secretary of State, Dave Scanlan, was quite offhand about it. He was quoted in the Concord Monitor as saying that it only affected about 50 votes, but those people would all get a corrected ballot. He said that it was a small percentage of voters who received incorrect ballots, but the key thing was that the ballots for Election Day, when most people vote, were corrected.

That sounds rather blithe to me. If I were one of the 50 voters who got a bogus ballot, I would be angry. I would feel as though my vote didn’t count, and that my state didn’t care about my vote. Secretary of State Bill Gardner was quoted in the Boston Globe as saying, “We do a lot of proofing here, but things happen.” Things happen? We should just accept these errors as part of the process? That’s ironic, coming from a guy who claims to be concerned about election integrity.

Bill Gardner has been the Secretary of State in NH since 1976. He is elected every biennium – not by the voters, but by the NH legislature. For decades he enjoyed the support of legislators from both parties. But that was before he bought into the Republican fairy tales about our elections. That was before candidate Chris Sununu went on the Howie Carr radio show and talked about busloads of people from Massachusetts coming to vote in NH. It was before he got involved with Kris Kobach’s voter integrity commission. It was before he surrendered to becoming a pawn of the far right and their voter fraud/voter suppression agenda.

The bus rumors began when Democrats began winning elections. NH Republicans felt entitled to those seats, and they were plenty miffed when they started losing. Then came Chris Sununu who really put the rumors up in lights – and by doing so, enabled Donald Trump to question the integrity of NH elections. Somewhere along the way Republicans decided it was easier to blame their failure to recruit young people to their party on student voting, and they’ve been desperate to eliminate it ever since.

And so they set about undermining our elections. Every year there are nearly a dozen bills filed that attempt to redefine the words “residency,” “resident,” and of course, everyone’s favorite, “domicile.” SB 3, currently in a bizarre legal limbo, comes with a provision that if your residency is in question, people may come to your house and question you. Yep, that’s voting in the free world, folks. In a state that has no problem with voter fraud. Brought to you by the political party that ran an out-of-stater as their goobernatorial candidate in 2014.

A study done by the Secretary of State’s office and the AG found that voter fraud is quite rare in New Hampshire. Yet, State Senator Regina Birdsell (a zealous perpetuator of the false fraud narrative) often refers to the “perception” her constituents have about voter fraud. It’s a perception that she and her cohorts in the Republican Party have worked hard to create. Our hapless Secretary of State has fallen right into their trap.

When asked about the busloads, Gardner said at a hearing at the State House, that his office has never been provided proof, but a lot of people in this state believe that is happening. Under no other circumstances do we write laws based on perception or the beliefs of “a lot of people.” It is truly unfortunate that Bill Gardner didn’t choose to retire before he tarnished his own legacy. 

Finally, there are those who continue to spout the fiction of college students influencing our elections. A helpful reminder: the Republican Party won control of every branch of our state government in the last election. It seems all those college students and busloads of Democrats voted Republican. 

Published as an op-ed in the November 2, 2018 edition of the Conway Daily Sun newspaper.