Thursday, April 27, 2017

Rinse, Lather, Repeat

A recent editorial in the Valley News quoted a state rep as describing the current state of affairs at the NH legislature in this way, “We address problems that do not exist, we misunderstand problems that do exist, and then we do the wrong thing for ideological reasons.” That pretty much sums it up.

The very first bill passed by our legislature this year – their urgent priority - was not legislation aimed at fixing our infrastructure, solving our infrastructure problems, doing something about our affordable housing problem, or the opioid crisis. The very first order of business was passing a bill to ensure that gun owners were no longer required to get a permit to carry a concealed handgun.

There have been many attempts to solve non-existent problems. A bill to solve the problem of poor people eating was retained by the House Human Services and Elderly Affairs Committee. Senate bill 7 would have changed the eligibility requirements for food stamps, potentially kicking 17,000 families with children off the program. This was not going to save any money – in fact it was going to cost the state to do it. It did nothing to prevent fraud. All it was going to do was ensure that the working poor would have a harder time feeding their kids. Truly a victory for our well-to-do state senators. Only it wasn’t, because the House HHS committee had an outbreak of decency and decided to retain the bill. They’ll have to act on it, of course, but by the end of the year they may decide to quietly kill it.  

Our Governor’s first big appointment was Frank Edelblut, the Commissioner of Education who has no background in education, homeschooled his 7 children and had never been inside a NH public school. His confirmation was along party lines, despite all those constituent calls to Executive Councilor Joe Kenney, who does the wrong thing for ideological reasons at every opportunity. Sununu chose to drop his nominee to head the Dept. of Environmental Services, when most of the Executive Councilors thought businessman Frank Kujawski’s past as a Boy Scout wasn’t enough of a qualification for the position. Joe Kenney, however, was quoted in the press as saying he would have voted for him. He voted for one unqualified guy – why stop now?

Frank “I’ll be an implementer” Edelblut has decided to go for a big power grab. He got Senator Reagan to add an amendment to a bill that had already had a public hearing in the House, giving Edelblut unchecked power to reconfigure the Dept. of Education, an undefined plan he apparently developed without speaking to any of his alleged colleagues. There was something of an uproar over that bit of jiggery-pokery, so a public hearing was held, in a room that was too small for it, with Senator Reagan allowing all the lobbyists to speak before constituents, then berating those who questioned Edelblut’s fitness for the job. Nothing says, “I’m a duly elected representative of the people” like lecturing them for expressing their concerns. Even the Union Leader (the official state mouthpiece for the NH GOP) thought Frank’s power grab was a bad idea. Despite the best efforts of Senator Reagan, the Senate Education Committee voted thumbs down on the amendment. It still has to go before the full Senate. 

To his credit, Edelblut has been out visiting, so at least now he knows what the inside of a NH public school looks like. He asked the state board of education to reconsider the standards for teaching science, something they’d just spent two years doing. Edelblut’s criticisms of the science standards were based on a report by conservative education think tank, the Fordham Institute. Fordham uses cutting edge 1950’s science teaching as their criteria for evaluation.

The bill to solve the non-existent problem of voter fraud, SB3, is still languishing in committee. Meanwhile, HB 238, a bill to create yet another study committee to study the actual problem of broadband access to the internet is likely to pass. I predict the study will reveal we need better access, especially in the northern part of the state, and that nothing will come of it. I hope I’m not the only one amused by Senator Bradley’s attempts to cloak his opposition to legalizing marijuana in the objections of the police chiefs – the same police chiefs he blithely ignored when it came to concealed carry.

At the NH House, the bickering between the self-styled Freedom Caucus and the leadership continues, after their failure to pass their own budget.

None of this will be helped by the recent revelation that GOP State Representative Robert Fisher from Laconia seems to have had some reprehensible things to say about women in a number of online forums, including one he created. He used a variety of personas to put forth his views, including the astounding statement that rape isn’t all bad, because the rapist enjoys it. Fisher is refusing to resign.

Problems, misunderstanding, and ideology. Rinse, lather, and repeat.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Obstruction is Easy

In the process of crafting a budget for our state, first the Governor gives the legislature his or her budget. This year it was written by our new governor and his  budget advisor  Charlie Arlinghaus of the Josiah Bartlett Center, a far right wing think tank. The House Finance Committee then uses the governor’s budget as both a model and a jumping off point for creating their own version. At crossover, the budget goes to the Senate where they tinker with it, and then send it back. The differences are hammered out in a committee of conference where everyone works hard to ensure that there isn’t enough money to run the state as if it mattered, and then it’s done.

Not this year. This year, a cabal of obstructionists calling themselves the Freedom Caucus decided they didn’t like the budget. It spent too much money, they said. This cabal is comprised of legislators who are still angry that their leader, Bill O’Brien was defeated in his second bid to become Speaker, after what was widely acknowledged as a disastrous first term in that position. Even though O’Brien is no longer part of the legislature, he’s driving this bozo bus. This is the same O’Brien who, in 2013, gave a floor speech congratulating the House on the passage of what he called, “An O’Brien budget.” Minutes before, he’d actually voted against it.  

The Freedumb caucus is comprised of the same guys who want to make changes to the SNAP program that will cost the state more to administer, while saving no money, so you know they have the best interests of taxpayers at heart. These are the same guys who have been obstructing and delaying  at every opportunity since 2013.They’re libertarians, Free Staters, and Tea Partiers,  puffed up with manly pride that they’ve made a stand against Big Gummint Spending!

They refused to vote for the budget. The Democrats refused to vote for it, too, but not for the same reasons. The Democrats had some very modest (timid) additions they wanted to see added in. They offered to work out a compromise with Speaker Shawn Jasper, who rebuffed them half a dozen times.  Apparently he was unable to make a deal with the Freedumb caucus, even after he brought the governor in to yell at them, and so, for the first time ever, the House failed to send a budget to the Senate. This means that when the Senate comes up with a budget, the House will have no bargaining chips in the Committee of Conference. The one thing we can be sure of is that there won’t be enough money in this budget to run this state like a business, which is often presented as a goal.  The GOP should be incredibly embarrassed by this failure, yet none are brave enough to speak against the hostage taking actions by the O’Brienistas.

Obstruction is easy. The GOP has been specializing in it since 2009 when Obama took office. On the local level, we’ve had a Democrat in the corner office since one-term Republican Governor Craig Benson. As long as a Democrat held the executive power, the libertea branch of the GOP was free to obstruct anything and everything – and they certainly did, often just for the sake of doing it. With a Republican majority, there’s no one left for them to obstruct except each other.

Obstruction is easy. Governing is hard.

Passing ideological legislation is not governing. It’s easy when you have the majority. What is increasingly beyond the ability of the Republican Party is compromise, as this group illustrates so perfectly. Unless they get their way, they’re going to stomp their big boy feet and no one will get to use the playground swings.

As I’ve said before, this is what you get when you elect people who hate government to be the government.  

I’m often asked, “How do these people keep getting reelected?” Stories about what they do, how they behave, and how they vote are few and far between. This is a group of about 30 and most of them are men. Locally, this group includes Ed Comeau, Lino Avellani, and Glenn Cordelli. Ask yourselves why you keep electing them.

Then ask your other Republican representatives why they are silent. Ask them why you should keep voting for them, when party loyalty means more to them than their role as an elected representative of the people. Finally, ask them if they are a little ashamed that their party has been taken over by tantrum throwing toddlers.

Obstruction is easy. Governing is hard. 

From the NH Legislative Handbook:

 Members should at all times conduct themselves in a way that exhibits the utmost respect for their elected office, their constituents and the people of the State of New Hampshire.

published as an op-ed in the April 14 edition of the Conway Daily Sun newspaper