Thursday, December 28, 2017

Rogue Legislature


Last year, NH elected a Republican governor and voted for Republican majorities in all branches of our state government. It’s still something of a puzzle how this came to pass given the rampant voter fraud Donald Trump and his acolytes (including our governor) have brayed about, but the only plausible explanation is that those busloads of people from Massachusetts came to NH to vote for the GOP.

Where a new governor begins sets the tone for his or her administration. Governor Sununu’s first legislative priority was to pass a bill repealing the 100-year-old law requiring a gun owner to have a permit to carry a concealed handgun. NH has the 11th worst infrastructure in the United States. We ranked 2nd in the nation for overdose deaths. We have a serious housing problem, and homelessness and poverty are on the rise, yet this gun bill was the most important thing our new governor could think of?

Governor Sununu also took the big raise negotiated for him by the state employee’s union, though he hasn’t yet been willing to sit down and negotiate a contract with them. They’ve been without one for the last 180+ days. One of the sticking points? He doesn’t want to give them a raise, even though he took one, before ever sitting down at his desk in the corner office.

The legislature will be back in session next week. With the likelihood of losing at least some of those majorities (if not all) in the next election, the rabid right majority is going to attempt to pass their entire ideological wish list. There are more voter suppression bills coming up, and more bills to cut business taxes. Bills to maintain fealty to the fossil fuel industries, bills to destroy public education. There are 11 bills dealing with decals on license plates. And because our volunteer legislature full of old people has no interest in a future they won’t be part of, there’s a bill to create a memorial to Meldrim Thomson.

Governor Sununu chose Speaker of the House, Shawn Jasper to be his new Commissioner of Agriculture. One does wonder if that was a deliberate political calculation. The GOP has moved so far to the right that Jasper now appears to be moderate, and removing him from the speakership will very likely allow that rabid agenda to move along more smoothly. When Gene Chandler was elected Speaker last month, there were some sighs of relief. Some real reactionaries ran for Speaker, and Chandler, at least, isn’t one of them. That relief was short-lived.

Chandler has restructured the House leadership. It seems he promised during his campaign for the speakership, to include influential lawmakers in his leadership team. Chandler added six assistant majority leaders, who bring all kinds of “influence” to the table. One of them is State Rep. Al Baldasaro, one of the most nationally famous legislators in the state. Al is famous for a number of reasons (all of them embarrassing) but especially for suggesting that Hillary Clinton should be shot for treason. Another is Victoria Sullivan, who pleased the reactionaries in her party last year, when she launched an attack on the tweets of a female legislator, which appeared to be an attempt to distract attention from former Rep. Robert Fisher, a rape apologist her party was desperate to protect and retain. This is a nice reward for Sullivan, midway through her second term.
Speaker Chandler has also appointed a policy advisory committee. This is comprised of “influential” lawmakers who, according to the House website, will review upcoming legislation, hearings, review bills on the calendar, amendments, and give input on various issues. Two of these big thinkers are Frank McCarthy and Lino Avellani. Given that Avellani missed most of the first three months of last year’s session, one wonders how he’ll make it to the weekly meetings, and how, halfway through a second term he became “influential.” Frank McCarthy, after he was ousted in 2012, and before he was reelected, made a career of writing bellicose letters to the editor, where he made frequent bigoted and ugly accusations. In the last year or so, McCarthy has allied himself with the Carroll County contingent of Free Staters and Tea Partiers, groups that promises of inclusion must have been made to by the Speaker candidate, in order to secure their votes.

There are no moderate Republicans any more. The GOP of Trump has no interest in what is right for our state – their interest is in serving party ideology, serving themselves, and their donors/paymasters.

This rogue legislature has the potential to do a great deal of damage. Pay attention – and get involved. State politics may not be sexy, but they affect our lives every day of the week. This is an election year, which gives voters the power to hold their legislators accountable during the session, and again, at the ballot box. 

This was published as an op/ed in the December 29 edition of the Conway Daily Sun newspaper

For those who don't understand the concept of an op-ed:

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Coming up in 2018

A friend from North Conway suggested I write a column “about some of the good, intelligent legislation proposed for 2018, and some of the decent, intelligent legislators who are striving to promote good and beneficial things for NH.” This sounded as if it would be easy. Not so. There are 1030 LSRs filed so far. An LSR is a legislative service request, which is how bills begin the journey to either becoming law or becoming dead.

We can expect a contentious legislative session. The majority party has seized the opportunity to file their entire wish list, knowing that they may never have control of the entire state government again.

Some of the good bills that are coming back were held over from 2017. SB 247 would prevent childhood lead poisoning from paint and water, and make an appropriation to a special fund for the purpose of remediating lead in rental housing. The bill passed the Senate and was amended by the House, and the Senate refused to concur with the amendments. Lead paint was outlawed 40 years ago. NH is the last state where a child died from lead poisoning. There are a lot of good organizations and some legislators who have been fighting to get the lead out for years.

SB 244 will be back. This bill prohibits licensed counselors from engaging in conversion therapy with persons under the age of 18. Conversion therapy is the discredited and damaging practice of trying to change a person’s sexual or gender orientation. The list of bipartisan sponsors includes Rep. Ed Butler.  

HB 1671 would abolish the death penalty. The fight to abolish the death penalty has been going on for decades. This year, three Democrats and a Libertarian will be the standard bearers.

HB 1213 would remove the exception for married minors from the definition of sexual assault. Last year a bill to stop allowing child marriage failed to pass. This would at least allow married minors to file rape charges against their adult spouses.

HB 1564 concerns the sexual assault of a victim who is incarcerated in a correctional institution by a person with supervisory or disciplinary authority over the victim. Last year the NH Supreme Court overturned a Belknap County deputy sheriff’s rape conviction. The deputy was transporting a prisoner, and had intercourse with her. He claimed it was consensual. The state argued that consent isn’t possible when one party holds authority over the other. There was a lot of jiggery pokery around what agency he was working for, who issued the transport order – and as a result he was freed. This bill is aimed at closing the many loopholes that allowed that to happen. The strong bipartisan sponsorship for this bill is a good sign that it may pass.

HB 1793 would establish a single payer health care system in NH. Given that the entire population of our state is smaller than many suburbs, this would make a lot of sense. I applaud the sponsors (including Rep. Knirk of Tamworth) for trying.

HB 1246 would increase the minimum wage for tipped employees. The minimum wage for tipped employees in NH is $3.26. Rep. Jackie Cilley has been fighting this fight for years. There is also legislation coming up that would allow employers to take tips from servers, but since nothing in that bill qualifies as good, we’ll take that up at another time.  

HB 1772 would allow online voting. Thirty states allow online voting, so it’s not a fad. This would forever put to rest the stories of busloads of people from Massachusetts. They can’t park that bus behind your laptop.

HB 1343 would protect beavers. It provides protection for beaver habitats and requires Fish and Game to include advice on beaver control on their website. We can all agree that protecting the wildlife in our state is a good thing – and in this session, I’m taking good where I find it.

HB 1611 would create a study committee to examine offshore wind energy development. Similar bills have failed in the past. Many of our legislators can’t even face a conversation about the future of energy in our state. State Rep. Renny Cushing perseveres – on this and so many other bills that would move our state forward.

HB 1632 would require bottled water to be tested for certain chemicals and labeled with the results of those tests. In a state where PFOA contamination has been so damaging, this makes sense. Rep. Mindi Messmer has proven to be a strong advocate for protecting water in our state.

Readers can find all of the proposed LSRs at the NH General Court website: The list of LSRs can be accessed on the right side of the page, under the heading “State Legislation Dash Board.”

These are some good bills. Next time we’ll look at the others.

PS: Alice, I tried.

Published as an op-ed  in the December 15 edition of the Conway Daily Sun newspaper 

Friday, December 01, 2017

In Today's Mail

I've corrected my recent piece about those who didn't sign off on the House Sexual Harassment policy. State Representative Brian Stone was annoyed that I had said he'd suspended his campaign because he was in jail for violating a restraining order. I was wrong. He was arrested for violating a restraining order, but the charges against him were dropped. He says he didn't suspend his campaign because of the arrest, or any other reason. I take him at his word.  

Let's summarize - Brian Stone was arrested for violating a restraining order. The charges were dropped. Brian Stone did not sign off on the House Sexual Harassment policy. Those are the facts. 

I apologize for my errors. Mea culpa.  

This could have gone a lot more easily if Brian Stone had sent me a note asking,  instead of issuing threats. 

Representative Stone has expressed annoyance because he feels I've insinuated that he's part of a sexual harassment culture. I'd suggest if he wants to be free of that stain, he should leave the Republican Party. 

December 1, 2017
Rep. Brian J. Stone
860 1st NH Turnpike
Northwood, NH 03261
Dear Susan Bruce:
You are hereby directed to
Im an educated, respected professional in the community. I have spent years serving the community in public service and building a positive reputation. I have learned that you have engaged in spreading false, destructive, and defamatory rumors about me.
Under New Hampshire law, it is unlawful to engage in libel of another’s character and reputation. libel consists of
(1) a written statement that tends to injure reputation;
(2) communicated to another; and
(3) that the writer and/or publisher knew or should have known was false.
Your libelous statements involved publishing of an article where you state that I had suspended an election campaign because I was in jail for violating a restraining order (i.e. . This is not true. I have never served a jail sentence. I have never been convicted of any crime, no do I have any criminal charges pending against me. I have never suspended my campaign, let alone for that reason.
Accordingly, I demand that you (A) immediately cease and desist your unlawful defamation of me, (B) remove the said article, or in the alternative, any reference to me in the article, and (C) provide me with prompt written assurance within ten (10) days that you will cease and desist from further libel of my character and reputation.
If you do not comply with this cease and desist demand within this time period, I am entitled to seek monetary damages and equitable relief for your libel. In the event you fail to meet this demand, please be advised that I will pursue all available legal remedies, including seeking monetary damages, criminal prosecution, injunctive relief, and an order that you pay court costs and attorney’s fees. Your liability and exposure under such legal action could be considerable.
Before taking these steps, however, I wished to give you one opportunity to discontinue your illegal conduct by complying with this demand within ten (10) days.

Rep. Brian J. Stone

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Harassment in the House

At the beginning of the legislative session in 2017, legislators were handed a copy of the official State House policy on sexual harassment. They were asked to read the policy, and sign a form saying they’d read it. They weren’t asked to surrender their guns, or burn a US flag. They were just asked to read the policy and sign a form saying they’d read it.

This proved to be a bridge too far for some of our doughty legislators. State Rep. John Burt brayed that it was “political correctness gone wrong.” I’ve had some experience with the kinds of things John Burt says to women. I’m not surprised he’s unwilling to sign. The same people who are refusing to sign a paper saying they’d received and read a policy are the same people who will sign any anti-tax or pro-gun pledge you put in front of them.

It will come as no surprise to learn that most of the refuseniks are men. Most of the Free Staters and Libertea types refused to sign, including the women of the Free State Project, Amanda Bouldin, the Free Stater who runs as a Democrat and votes as a Republican was quoted in an early story as saying she felt she was treated with respect. Apparently the remarks made about her nipples by fellow Representatives Josh Moore and Al Baldasaro in 2015 had slipped her mind. A more recent story reports that Bouldin has signed the form.

Representatives JR Hoell and Frank Sapareto voted against making domestic violence a specific crime in NH, and they both refused to sign the form saying they’d read the policy. There were some surprises in the category of those who signed. Free Stater Michael Sylvia, who voted against the domestic violence bill, did sign the form.  Representative Brian Stone was arrested in 2015 for violating a restraining order. The charge was dismissed. Representative Stone did not sign the form indicating he had received and read the official State House policy on sexual harassment.

The entire Libertarian Caucus of the NH House signed the form: Caleb Dyer, Joseph Stallcop, and Brandon Phinney. With grim amusement I note that Rep. Eric Schleien signed off on the policy, even before he was arrested for sexually assaulting a minor.

In Carroll County, all but one State Rep. signed the form stating they’d read the policy. Surprisingly, Free Stater Ed Comeau did sign the form. Not surprisingly, Lino Avellani did not. He was quoted in a November 17 story at WMUR as saying, “I didn’t sign it. If I’m not going to act appropriately, I shouldn’t be there.” Rep. Avellani, it’s worth noting, has a very poor attendance record.

The policy itself is toothless. All policies relating to ethics in the legislature are toothless. Senators and representatives are asked to sign conflict of interest forms, and then may go on to vote on bills that benefit their businesses or investments. It’s a charade.

There have been 10 cases of harassment reported from 2015 – 2017. One involved a male state representative who touched a woman’s leg and told off color jokes, and invaded personal space. These are toothless policies. “The member may be expelled” is hardly a threat, since no one ever is.

In 2004, a State House secretary, Dorothy Pike, sued a legislator and the House for sexual harassment. She sued the House for not protecting her from the advances of then Representative Ron Giordano. Giordano repeatedly groped her, tried to kiss her, and called her at home to threaten her. When Pike brought the issue to the attention of her boss, the complaint was never investigated. Instead they hired a security guard to follow her around, and told Giordano to stop.

The Speaker of the House at the time was Gene Chandler, who claimed they were powerless to discipline Giordano because he was an elected official, not an employee. The jury awarded Pike $175,000 in damages and $130,000 in back pay. The House was ordered to pay 55% and Giordano the balance. Speaker Chandler said that he was disappointed and would appeal the verdict. Imagine how disappointed Dorothy Pike must have been to learn that the men she worked for had so little respect for her. The House finally settled up with Ms. Pike in 2005. As of that time, Giordano hadn’t paid a dime. After the trial, Chandler filed legislation to create a sexual harassment policy aimed at covering legislators.

It looks as if Chandler will be Speaker again in 2018. The GOP caucus decided against supporting two of the candidates whom, despite multiple terms in office, are unable to correctly frame a parliamentary inquiry. One hopes he keeps his copy of the harassment policy handy. In the era of Trump, it’s likely to get a workout.

This was published as an op-ed in the December 1 edition of the Conway Daily Sun 

Thursday, November 09, 2017

We Have A Man Problem

When the story of Harvey Weinstein broke, the floodgates opened. All over social media, women were talking about their experiences with sexual harassment, with the #MeToo hashtag making the rounds. Years (decades) of stories and outrage were expressed. After a few days of that, some men began to be very uncomfortable. They began by getting defensive. Some moved on to make accusations that some of the women were surely lying. This is why women don’t come forward. They aren’t believed. 

Every woman has a story of harassment, often beginning in childhood. A family friend or a relative might have groped her as a child. She might have been a teenager who was groped by the father of the children she was babysitting for. It might be the story of a boss with a hands problem, or a violent story of date rape. It might be an experience she had while working in a restaurant. In a business where customers directly pay a worker’s salary, the worker is forced to put up with a great deal of foolishness in order to get  their pay, also known as the tip.

Hot on the heels of revelation after revelation of bad behavior by wealthy, powerful, men came the shooting in Texas. A man went into a church in a small town in Texas and killed 26 people. Devin Kelley’s past was filled with stories of violence and abusive behavior. If anyone had taken any one of the events seriously, he wouldn’t have been able to legally own a gun. He probably wouldn’t have been able to perpetuate a massacre.

There are a few things that mass shooters have in common. Since 1982, all but three of them have been men. Most of them had a history of domestic violence. It’s one of the best predictors of a potential mass shooter, but we don’t really take domestic violence all that seriously here. After all, it’s only women.

Here in NH, in 2014, three state legislators voted against Joshua’s Law, which made domestic violence a specific crime. JR Hoell was worried about “unintended consequences.” The other two were Frank Sapareto and Michael Sylvia. Rep. Sapareto was charged with assaulting his girlfriend’s two children in 2012. In 2017, he’s the Vice Chair of the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee. As for Sylvia, during discussion of a Belknap County deputy who was accused of raping a woman in custody whom he was transporting, Rep. Sylvia commented, “You know what that tells me, that tells me he had time on his hands.” The real worry shared by all three was that domestic abusers would lose their guns. Because, of course, that  “unintended consequence” would be a real tragedy.

By now we all know the tropes: when a man who has skin color of a somewhat duskier hue starts shooting, he’s a terrorist. When it’s a white guy, he’s a lone wolf with mental health problems. We often discover that that the shooter has anger issues, and even more often that he has a history of domestic violence. The Las Vegas shooter was never charged with domestic violence, but he had been heard in shops being cruel and demeaning to his female partner.

One of the great mythologies of our country is the nuclear family, where mom stayed home and baked cookies for the kids while dad went off to work and brought home the paycheck. The single paycheck family went off the rails a long time ago. It takes both partners working at least one job apiece to keep a family financially afloat. That collides with the other mythology: the macho man. The myth of the hyper masculine man has been growing exponentially, and married into the gun culture family. Now the pervasive myth is that of the gun totin’ patriot with a gun who is going to save the nation (by himself, for he is a rugged individualist!) from gubmint tyranny with his gun.

Gun culture is all around us. In NH, our new governor’s very first order of business was a gun bill. In a state with crumbling infrastructure – his biggest concern was passing a law to allow any halfwit with a gun to carry it concealed. There are too many guns, and too many halfwits – and the halfwits are increasingly armed and angry. Too many of them regard women and children as their property. A woman trying to protect herself and her children by removing them from a violent situation is perceived as taking what is theirs.

We need to change our violent, sexist culture. We need to change our societal definition of manhood and masculinity. Given that so many men can’t even handle listening to the stories of women’s lives, I am not hopeful.

Published as an oped in the November 10 edition of the Conway Daily Sun newspaper