Monday, August 12, 2019

Updates on New Hampshire's Culture of Freedom

On Friday, August 9, NH Governor Chris Sununu vetoed 3 gun safety bills. From his veto statement:

New Hampshire is one of the safest states in the nation, and we have a long and proud tradition of responsible firearm stewardship. Our laws are well-crafted and fit our culture of responsible gun ownership and individual freedom. 

Later that evening,  in Derry, a 79 year old man shot and killed his wife.
Didn't  this guy know about the culture? 

In the wee hours of Monday, August 12, Dover police are investigating gunfire in a street confrontation.
Just a little individual freedom fire. Nothing to see here. 

The wee hours of Monday morning were busy. In Northwood, a man claims he shot at someone trying to break into his car. Shot 3 times and missed. The police searched the area, but didn't find anyone. 

Thursday, August 15, a responsible firearm steward barricaded himself in a house in Claremont for 9 hours. Hundreds of  shots fired, but no one was injured. 

Thursday, August 08, 2019

Why Aren't All These Guns Making Us Safer?

It was a deadly weekend. On Saturday, a gunman in a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, shot and killed 22 people, and wounded 26 more. Early Sunday morning, a gunman killed 9 people in a nightlife district in Dayton, Ohio. 

The weekend before, a gunman shot and killed 4 people and wounded 13 others at the Gilroy Garlic Festival in Gilroy, CA. 

I thought all these guns were supposed to be making us safer?

Meanwhile, here in NH, three gun safety bills languish in limbo, waiting for the attention of our governor. On Monday, August 5, there was a rally  at the Legislative Office Building in Concord, where members of gun safety groups and other concerned citizens called upon the governor to sign the bills. The room was packed with people. 

Not everyone in the room was heartbroken about the slaughter of their fellow humans. Some attendees were so dickhurt by the idea that some people were talking about gun safety, that they showed up with their guns. The guy with the long gun in the photo is Brennan Robinson, a member of the Free State Project, who very obviously came in with the intention of turning the media's attention to him. 

He succeeded admirably. Both WMUR and NHPR gave him the last word in their stories. 

This is emblematic of the NH media, which operates with GOP as their default setting. I expect  it from WMUR - hell, I've seen it in the past, from the same reporter.

I cannot wrap my head around the shoddiness of this reporting. Not a single reporter who covered this event thought to ask, "Hey, pal - these folks are all here because of gun violence - do you think it's really a good idea to bring GUNS into a room crowded with people - especially since you fit the visual profile of a domestic terrorist?" 

These are men who get up in the morning in the safest state in the country, and put on their strapons before they dare leave their houses. And we are all supposed to bow and scrape before their freedumb, because their right to play GI Joe is more important than our right to live. 

I don't expect Governor Sununu to sign those gun bills. His first act in office was to sign a bill that repealed the concealed carry license process. Gundamentalists are his base. 

I don't have any confidence that there will ever be a legislative solution to the wholesale slaughter, either at the state or national level. 

What I do know is this - people are going to stop going out. They won't go to fairs, festivals, concerts, or movies. They won't go shopping in brick and mortar stores. They won't go to bars and restaurants. And brother, when it starts to hit the bottom lines of business - then we'll see some change. Capitalism may be what changes our gun laws. 

To help along the process, I suggest that before you go to a store, a venue, a bar or restaurant that you call ahead and ask if they allow guns inside. NH is an open carry state - BUT - there's a provision built into the law:

"Businesses have the to right to ban firearms from their property, Merrigan said, and can ask customers who are carrying firearms, openly or concealed, to leave.
Customers who don’t leave a business when requested can be charged with criminal trespassing."

So call and ask, and decide for yourself whether you want to go there or not. If you see a person with a gun in a business - call the police. There is no way for you to know if he is one of the mythical "good guys with guns" or a domestic terrorist. Complaint to the management. Leave your shopping cart and walk out of the store. 

Enough is enough. And dammit, NH media - do a better job. 

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Till We Meet Again

              Cartoon by Dennis Rano - published in the Conway Daily Sun on April 19, 1997

In 1983, President Reagan signed the bill that would make Martin Luther King Jr. Day a federal holiday. It began to be observed three years later in many states. Not all states. New Hampshire was one of the states that chose not to. In 1991, the legislature abolished Fast Day, in order to create Civil Rights Day, a holiday that would coincide with MLK Day, but not use his name. Finally, in 1999 NH became the last state to honor Dr. King. 

There was a lot of discussion by white people in a white state, on how it would be wrong to honor Dr. King because he was a Communist, or an adulterer, or something – any excuse other than the real reason they didn’t want to honor him.

The public debate went on for years. In those halcyon, pre-internet days, the debate was fought in the letters to the editor sections of local newspapers. The Conway Daily Sun was no exception to the MLK wars. I was one of the participants. For a few years I mixed it up with the local anti-King population, hand writing letters, and sending them to the newspaper. That seems quaint now, doesn’t it?

Then I moved to California for a couple of years, and didn’t participate in the letter wars. I came back just in time for the OJ verdict. I promised myself I’d stay out of the letter wars, but one day in a moment of weakness, I jumped back in. I wrote a letter that was sharply critical of the way women were represented in the paper, after the county sheriff expressed a willingness to spank bare-bottomed 14-year old girls in the center of town. They responded by offering me a column. That was on February 10, 1996. My first column was published on February 17, titled, “Some of My Best Friends Are Men.” 

It’s been 23 years of ups and downs. I somehow grew into being a columnist, which might have been easier if I’d be smart enough to ask for help. I did get some good advice along the way from both Mark Guerringue and Bill Marvel. My first editor was Anne Edwards, who was kind to the clueless new person, and took a photo of a Barbie doll that I used as my profile photo whenever I could.

The first few years brought a lot of hate mail. It was hard to handle that in the beginning.  It was interesting to look back 23 years later and read through a stack of letters from men explaining what “real” feminism was. I’d forgotten about some of my anti-fan club. Some died. Some gave up. Some had encounters with karma. One prissy and prolific Christian who wrote endless letters professing his piety went on to be arrested for having a house full of drugs and molesting boys.  

I was given the freedom to write about anything I wanted. Looking back over a stack of old paper columns, I wrote about rape, domestic violence, and guns, but I also wrote about Georgia O’Keeffe, music, suicide, the war on drugs, and the need to let people mourn. I was often too serious in the early years, and sometimes I did write things intended to piss people off. Judging by the stack of old letters, it worked. 

Eventually I found a niche and a voice in writing about NH politics, and the goings on at the State House. I’ve learned a great deal about how the legislature functions, some of it the nuts and bolts stuff, and some if it the behind the scenes dealings. I’ve learned plenty about legislators, some good, some bad. A state representative has even sued me for defamation. One year, two courts, and four dismissals later, he finally accepted losing the suit. He also lost re-election.

It’s been an eventful 23 years. I’ve run for office, been homeless, had two moose collisions, been married, widowed, and nearly killed in a car crash. Now it’s time to say adieu for a while. I love this crazy state, but circumstances require my moving closer to my family in Maine. I’ll be learning an entirely new state and a new state legislature.

I want to thank Mark Guerringue, who gave me this opportunity. I’ve exasperated him on occasion, but he has always been firmly in my corner. Terry Leavitt was joy to work with as my editor for a few years, and Margaret McKenzie has been terrific as my editor in the last year or two. The late Ron Tunning did a turn as my editor, and we became friends. I still miss him. A small town paper is an increasingly rare commodity at a time when they are desperately needed. I’m going to miss being part of this one. 

Thank you, readers.  I’ll miss you most of all.  

Friday, July 05, 2019

It's Veto Time

 Governor Sununu smiling after solving the problem of deli cheese labeling at  Market Basket

Another legislative session has come to an end. Over a thousand bills have been passed, killed, or held in committee.  After months of working on a budget, first in the House, then in the Senate, and finally in Committees of Conference, a budget was also passed. Even though the legislature gave Governor Sununu at least 90 percent of what he asked for, he vetoed it. 

The Committee of Conference (CoC) removed the paid family and medical leave program that was something he actually campaigned on. As I mentioned in my last column, other states use it as an incentive to attract skilled workers. We seem to think that being NH is sufficient attraction.

The sticking point is something the governor is calling a tax increase. A couple of years ago, business tax cuts were passed that decreased the business tax rate incrementally. Some of the decreases have already taken effect – including one at the beginning of this year. The vetoed budget puts the next cut on hold. A tax cut that isn’t being enacted shouldn’t properly be called a tax increase, but once again, if the words “income tax” and “guns” were removed from the lexicon, our NH Republicans would have nothing to say. The very last thing we want to do is have an adult discussion about our tax structure.

The freeze on this tax cut would only affect about 60 out-of-state big corporations. Most small businesses don’t even pay the business profits tax. Unfortunately most of us aren’t especially well educated about the state budget, or where the money comes from to fund our state government. The NH Fiscal Policy Institute did a good analysis of the current money flow, which you can find on their website,, dated May 22. 

In the absence of a budget, the state is running on a continuing resolution that expires on October 1.In the meantime, however, towns aren’t getting the property tax relief that was part of the budget, and school districts aren’t getting the infusion of funding that they so desperately need. The new secure psychiatric hospital won’t be happening, the affordable housing fund will not be getting $5 million, and rates for mental health and substance abuse providers will not be increased.    

Governor Sununu’s mask of affability has fallen off, and what lurks underneath is an ambitious Trump acolyte. He’s more interested in feathering the nest of his own political future  than doing what is right for the state. The care and feeding of big business is very important to him, since they are his donors, and he’s going to need them even more when he runs for higher office. 

In the current age of ideology, doing right by your state means passing budgets that don’t invest in the state or its people. In New Hampshire, “living within our means” is a bogus justification for our unwillingness to invest. We have means – NH is the seventh wealthiest state. We choose not to use those means in order to perpetuate the illusion that The Pledge is working for NH in the 21stcentury. We have intentionally failed to properly fund education for decades. Now we have an unqualified Commissioner of Education who is doing his level best to dismantle our system of public education. That failure to invest is one reason why the state has so much trouble attracting young people. We’ve got plenty of wealthy retirees – but at some point they’re going to need caregivers to wipe their behinds. Where will those workers come from? 

The governor is expected to veto a bill that would create a state minimum wage, and set it at $10 an hour. NH uses the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, which was established in 2009. Ten years ago. The cost of living hasn’t been frozen in amber, but attitudes about paying workers certainly have. Rents have increased by 28.33 percent in that time period, which has a dramatic effect on the lives of low-wage workers in our state, given the lack of affordable housing. At $10 an hour, NH would still have the lowest minimum wage in New England. At $10 an hour, workers still can’t afford rental housing. Paying wages too low to live on is an expression of contempt for workers.

The veto will be couched in terms of how it would hurt business, because that is always the only real concern. There’s a lot of breast beating about how businesses can’t find workers, but there’s no willingness to take any corrective action. NH has an abundance of low wage service jobs. A lot of working folks juggle several of them at once. Workers in other states don’t seem to be sufficiently motivated to move to NH for a low wage career. Hard to imagine, isn’t it? Don’t they know it’s New Hampshire? 

Monday, July 01, 2019

Duck, Duck, Hypocrisy

In 2013, a NH State Rep from Nashua generated huge outrage when he killed some ducks with his car. 

WMUR all but had a sound truck parked out in front of his house. There were daily reports.

It became a national story:

There was even an investigation by the AG's office

And of course, there were the perpetually outraged libertea boys of granite grok:

They were so incensed that they even referenced the hunting season for ducks:

Ducks are not in season for Nashua. The season for ducks was October 2 to November 3, and November 19 to December 15 for inland areas and October 4 to January 5, 2014 for the Coastal Zone. Nashua “ain’t” in the Coastal Zone. So the ducks were taken out of season.

That's what makes this latest legislative animal killing story so interesting. 

None of the outrage is present. Rep. James Spillane, shot a squirrel on his birdfeeder with a 50 caliber muzzleloader, and posted the result on social media. Apparently this was a manly thing to do, and he felt compelled to boast to his manly friends, about his manly squirrel killing act.

Minority Leader Dick Hinch was infuriated. Not at the conduct of a member of his party, but at the removal of Spillane from Fish and Game:

"Removing Rep. Spillane from the Fish and Game committee for a minor infraction is heavy-handed and I'm disappointed that the Speaker chose to take this action," he said. 

It's unfortunate that the Speaker did not give Representative Spillane the opportunity for a face-to-face meeting to discuss the issue, or even a warning for that matter. In the future, will members of the Transportation Committee be removed for minor infractions such as a speeding ticket?"

Not a very good analogy, Dick. There's a big difference between a speeding ticket and shooting an animal out of season, posting a photo and bragging about it. 

Spillane was on the Fish and Game Committee at the NH House, which made all this just a little more embarrassing. *NOTE the link below contains the squirrel photo taken by Representative Squirrel Hunter.

We learned that there is such a thing as squirrel hunting season in NH, which made Spillane's conduct even worse for Fish and Game, where they spend time encouraging sportsmanlike conduct: 

The tweet prompted a complaint to the state Fish and Game Department, which sent officers to Spillane’s home to tell him he did not have the legal right to kill the squirrel outside the hunting season, which runs from Sept. 1 to Jan. 1.

The outrage machine, however, is strangely silent. 
In fact, those who were outraged in 2013 are now defending Rep. Squirrel Killer. Over at granitegrok the boys decided that Spillane getting kicked off Fish and Game was a violation of his free speech rights! Their 2013 concern for hunting season wasn't even mentioned. In fact, their poutrage was diversionary whattaboutism, concerning a host of other, non-related incidents. After all, something a legislator they hate said a few years ago is bound to be justification for a legislator they love to kill a squirrel. Or something like that. It surely couldn't be.....hypocrisy.

Oh, shucks. I forgot to mention that David Campbell was a Democrat and James "squirrel hunter" Spillane a Republican. Kinda looks like outrage in NH leans far to the right.  

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.