Thursday, April 30, 2015

Elections Have Consequences

The priorities of the legislature should reflect the priorities of the state. If that’s the case then obviously NH voters are completely unconcerned about our failing infrastructure, and obsessed with guns, MOAR GUNZ, and completely unrestricted, unregulated gun ownership!

On Wednesday the NH House passed SB 116, the so-called “constitutional carry” bill. Constitutional carry is a cutesy name created by the NRA or the American Legislative Exchange Council (aka ALEC) the special interest groups behind the kind of gun legislation that crops up in a number of states simultaneously. It’s nationally coordinated, then fed to state legislators to make it look “local.” SB 116 removes the requirement for a permit to carry a concealed pistol or revolver. If a gun owner wanted to carry concealed, they applied to their local police chief for a permit. Police chiefs seldom refused, by the way. They did, in some instances; attempt to keep concealed guns out of the hands of known drunks and abusers. Quelle horreur.

The NH statute that required the permit has been in place for over a century. Saint Meldrim Thomson was in favor of the permitting process. All was well until the last few years, when suddenly (with the help of the NRA and ALEC) gundamentalists realized their rights were being infringed upon. Our own Senator Jeb Bradley stepped up and filed this bill to protect “law abiding residents who want 2 protect lives, liberty” as he tweeted out on Wednesday. I tweeted back to ask him why he didn’t file this bill in 1990, when he was serving in the NH House. Poor man – simmering with rage for 25 years over this terrible injustice to our noble gun owners! No wonder he failed to answer my tweet. I’m certain it had nothing to do with his attempts to suck up to the libertea crowd to get their support for his upcoming bid for higher office. It’s worth pointing out that polls showed that NH voters opposed the concealed carry statute change 3 to 1.

Imagine if our legislators were as obsessed with our failing infrastructure as they are with guns.

The other interesting vote this week was SB 113, the bill to allow two casinos in the state of NH. This is the most recent casino bill, and we all know the rationale behind the annual parade of gambling legislation. NH has a structural deficit built into our tax system. Rather than solve the problem and tax our 33,000 millionaires appropriately, we look for outside solutions. The time to bring casinos to NH was at least a decade ago, before the economy fell apart, and before the country was saturated with casinos. (Casinos that are now failing in many places.) Each new casino bill leaves NH with less revenue coming in than the previous bill. This one required a modest licensing fee for a 10-year license that a gaming outfit could sell to another gaming corporation. They would make a profit, but NH would get nothing. If the revenue demands from our legislature continue to decline, in another few years, we’ll be begging to pay a casino to come here so we can give them the entirety of the take. The legislature seems incapable of making a good deal for our state.

There was bipartisan support and opposition to the bill. The libertea crowd did some chest beating from the House floor about monopolies and free markets, and gave that as the reason for their opposition. I suspect that since Governor Hassan supports a casino, the GOP opposition had more to do with thwarting the governor than their concern for the free market.

That isn’t the real reason. The real reason is that NH conservatives don’t want the revenue. If the money came in, it could be spent. That would mean NH could spend on higher education, infrastructure, and safety net programs to help those in need. The agitprop slogan of the NH Republicans would be at risk:  “NH doesn’t have a revenue problem, NH has a spending problem!” The goal of NH conservatives is to continue to run the state in a way that maintains that bit of fiction. We have a problem generating sufficient revenue to run the state properly, and our GOP brethren want to make sure we keep it that way.

NH sure is missing out on a huge revenue opportunity by not selling guns at our highway liquor stores.

The voters of Coos County are getting a lesson in why it is that who they send to represent them in Concord matters. The budget passed by the House closes the DMV stations in Colebrook and Gorham. This would leave the Twin Mountain DMV station as the only one in the county. For some residents in the far northern reaches of Coos, this could be a four hour round trip. Ah, what fun that will be during the long winters. State Senator Jeff Woodburn was quoted in the Berlin Sun as saying, “If this budget cut holds, 72 percent of the residents of Coos County will have to drive over 30 miles for basic motor vehicle services.”

The NH legislature abandoned all pretense of concern for the north country long ago. Remember when one-term GOP Governor Craig Benson wanted to close the notches in the winter to save money? The folks of Coos are learning the hard way that sending ideologues to Concord may come back to bite them in the behind. Coos District One covers the northernmost part of the state: the towns of Pittsburg, Colebrook, Clarksville, Errol, Millsfield, Odell, Stratford, Dixville, and Columbia. District 1 is represented by John Fothergill and Lawrence Rappaport. Both voted for the House budget. Leon Rideout of District 7 represents a big chunk of Coos: Dummer, Stark, Northumberland, Milan, Lancaster, Killkenny, Dalton, Whitefield, Jefferson, Randolph, and Carroll. He voted for the House budget, too. I’m sure their constituents will thank them effusively for their good work as they take a day off to drive to Twin Mountain next February.

Elections have consequences. Who we send to Concord matters, especially to the north country.

 This was published as an op-ed in the May 1, 2015 edition of the Conway Daily Sun.  

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