Thursday, March 23, 2006

Controversy in Concord

I was coming around the corner on State St, in Concord, heading down a side street next to the State House. I nearly crashed into a small, scruffy man who had a big cigar stuffed in his face. He was carrying a sign that read, “NO MORE NANNY STATE.” I was surprised, and delighted to find that the libertarians were finally expressing an opinion about the constitutional amendment that would ban recognition of any same sex union in NH. “It’s about time,” I thought to myself. “Libertarians spout off about privacy rights, but never seem to take any action. This is great.”

I was wrong, of course. The House was voting on a bill that would ban smoking in restaurants, and that’s what the anti-nanny staters were up in arms about. The right to kill folks with second hand smoke (in the name of the rights of the individual or business owner) is worth fighting for – but civil rights are not. It’s too bad. They might have broader appeal and credibility if they walked their talk more often, and on more issues.

The NH House did vote for the smoking ban. This controversial vote has a lot of folks up in arms about the rights of the individual and the business owner. The health of workers is always dismissed, as apparently those underpaid restaurant employees have unlimited choices about where they work. So diners and drinkers can choose to go to a non-smoking establishment, and employees can choose to work elsewhere. Heck, let’s go whole hog – and eliminate the board of health. Surely those pesky health inspections to make sure that a kitchen is clean and free of rat droppings are the sort of inconvenience that a business owner shouldn’t be forced to endure. After all – the customer can choose to go elsewhere, where rat feces aren’t a side dish.

NH makes a ton of money peddling death in the form of individual choice. Spare me the rationalizations about junk food and alcohol. Most people do not drink to excess, and alcohol has a positive health benefit for some – that healthy glass of red wine. If someone eats fast food until they die the rest of us won’t die from being exposed to them.
Cigarettes have no redeeming value – it’s a product that when used as directed causes disease and ultimately death. NH has the lowest tobacco taxes in New England. We want to sell you some foul smelling death – it’s one way we fund our state government. We’d rather kill you than tax our own millionaires, thank you very much. Naturally we’d rather you come from out of state to buy, because we don’t want to pay for your exorbitant health care costs as you sicken and die.

I was surprised by this vote. I’ve seen the tobacco lobbyists working the House in the past, with great success. I lived in California when the smoking ban was enacted, and it didn’t hurt business there, and it won’t here. There will be plenty snorts and sighs about the erosion of the rights of the individual. I wish those folks were a little less concerned about smoking, and a little more concerned about the Bush administration eavesdropping on American citizens. That’s a bigger outrage than banning cigarettes. It is a shame that the “ownership society” validates the conservative myth of the rugged individual. We are increasinongly less concerned the greater good, to our societal detriment. The anti-nanny staters can relax; it’s unlikely that this bill will pass the NH Senate. Senate campaigns are hugely expensive, and the tobacco lobby is strong, persuasive, and carries a big checkbook.

The House also voted that CACR34, the proposed amendment to the NH Constitution that would refuse to recognize any same sex union, was inexpedient to legislate, or ITL. The vote was 207 to 125 against tinkering with the state constitution.
This is a huge victory for civil rights and just plain sensible thinking. The amendment was proposed to give right wingers a chance to weigh in on same sex marriage in an election year – and to use it to stir up the basest of their base. As has been said aplenty, using the constitution to deny rights to a minority group is reprehensible.

A lot of grumpy right wingers are unhappy about this vote – because the issue “should be decided by the people.” These are folks who apparently wanted this to be a big, ugly divisive issue in an election year. Given that NH law already prevents same sex marriage, this was an unnecessary bit of theatrical display, and our state representatives voted very sensibly to scuttle it. We the people had plenty of opportunities to lobby our legislators about it. In fact, this vote gives me the opportunity to do something I have never done before – congratulate the entire Carroll County District 1 contingent on their vote. Carolyn Brown, Tom Buco, Gene Chandler, and Howard Dickinson all voted against this bad bill, and so did Harry Merrow in district 3. Representatives Philbrick, McConkey, and Babson voted in favor constitutional amendment. The whole roll call vote is available at the state house website: .
Our district 1 representatives deserve our thanks, so don’t be stingy! A thank you from you is going to mean more to Gene Chandler than one from me, no matter how sincere mine may be.

“If you let us marry each other, we will stop marrying you.” Jason Stuart – gay comedian

This column should appear in the March 24 edition of the Conway Daily Sun, though one can never be sure.

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