Thursday, November 29, 2018

A Woman's Place

Women were elected to office in record numbers all over the country. Mind you, record doesn’t mean that women have achieved any sort of parity. After this election, women comprise 25% of state legislators. We’ve come a long way, baby, in the last 98 years.

In Arizona and Vermont women comprise 40% of the legislature. Nevada’s legislature is 38% women, and the number is 37% in Washington State. Colorado, New Jersey, and Maine all have legislatures that are made up of at least 30% women. The states with numbers in the 14% range are Louisiana, Oklahoma, W. Virginia, and Mississippi. In Wyoming that number plummets to 11%. Hmmm….maybe women haven’t come such a long way after all. 

New Hampshire is definitely not Vermont. In 2019, 28% of the legislature (that includes both House and Senate) will be women. We will also have a younger legislature. Last year the average age of a NH legislator was 66, making NH the oldest state legislature in the country. There were 23 state representatives under the age of 35. This year there are 42 representatives under the age of 40. In a state that can’t seem to keep or attract young people, this can only be a good thing. Perhaps we’ll see New Hampshire move bravely into the 21stcentury.

We don’t make it easy for young people to serve. The enormous state legislature is in session half the year, as well as committee work. That’s a commitment of at least two days a week, which is a tough sell with most employers. The further away one is from Concord, the more difficult that commitment becomes – all for an annual stipend of $100. That’s not even taking into consideration the time spent studying to prepare for voting on numerous bills or providing constituent service. 

One of the youngest women to ever serve in the NH House is 19-year-old Cassandra Levesque. She worked with legislators to raise the NH child marriage age, after learning about it as part of a Girl Scout project. At the time, a 13-year-old girl could marry an adult man. A fourteen-year-old boy could also be married, though adult women don’t marry 14-year-old boys. The first attempt failed. Republican men were insistent on holding on to the privilege, while bemoaning their sadness that a young service man wouldn’t be able to wed his pregnant girlfriend. That an adult man shouldn’t be impregnating a child was not even a consideration for them. A year later, the marriage age was raised to 16 for both girls and boys. The experience of working on a bill gives Representative Levesque advance familiarity with the whole process of how a bill becomes law in our state. 

Safiya Wazir is a naturalized citizen from Concord, who was just elected. She spent 10 years in a refugee camp in Uzbekistan. Wazir and her family were fleeing the Taliban, and eventually came to the United States. She ran because she wants to give back to her community and her new country. Safiya is 27. 

A report by the NH Women’s Foundation found that 335 women ran for various offices in NH, up from 306 in 2016. The party difference is stark; 44% of candidates who ran as Democrats were women. About half those numbers of female candidates were Republican. There were regional differences; women made up 49% of the candidates in Grafton County, yet only 21% of the candidates in Cheshire County.

New legislator orientation is taking place this week, over a three-day period. Organization Day is December 5, when all legislators are sworn in by the governor, and in front of the Executive Council. After that the new legislature will elect a Speaker.  The new Speaker will take the chair and the members elect the clerk and the Sergeant-at-Arms. 

Once these tasks are complete, the House informs the Senate that it has organized. The House and Senate then meet in joint session to elect a Secretary of State and the State Treasurer.

Women make up half the population, yet we aren’t well represented in the electorate. I don’t want to get too giddy about the possibility of parity, but this election’s results are at least hopeful. Why does it matter? Ask yourself how different our history and our nation would be if women had been included in the founding process. What would the Constitution look like if women hadn’t been intentionally excluded?

Perhaps one day we’ll move beyond the view of the founders that women were lesser beings. I’m somewhat hopeful that by the end of the new biennium, adult men won’t be able to marry minors any longer in the state of NH. Progress comes slowly in a state that is run by old men. 

Published as an op-ed in the November 30, 2018 edition of the Conway Daily Sun

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Change Comes to New Hampshire

NH has survived another election, despite the confusion around the NH Supreme Court decision concerning SB3, which was helpfully intensified by the Secretary of State.  In spite of the incorrect absentee ballots that were sent out, and without even the usual complaining about busloads of out of state voters. I’ve read grousing about how people from Commiechusetts are coming here to destroy NH, but the reality is, that most people who migrate to NH move to Rockingham County, the reddest county in the state. They aren’t coming to Carroll County. There aren’t good paying jobs, and there isn’t any affordable housing. The migrants to Carroll County are primarily in their 50’s and 60’s, coming to live in their second homes and protect their pensions in tax free splendor.

In 2016, the Republicans won control of every part of the NH state government. What did they do with that control? The governor’s first priority was passing a concealed carry bill – because, apparently, guns are more important than anything. After taking a pay increase negotiated by the State Employees Union, he tried to pass right-to-work legislation. The Republicans passed more business tax cuts. They tried to pass a voucher bill that would have dramatically increased property taxes. The governor referred (more than once) to a bill that would have provided family leave for workers as “a vacation.” Caring for a sick family member isn’t exactly a trip to the Bahamas. The Trumpublicans are nothing if not tone deaf. 

On the other hand, the Governor earned a reputation with the media for being “affable,” and “avuncular.” Anywhere a camera was held up and the lens focused, he was there. His party often touted his bold leadership, and I think we can all agree that Sununu did some fine work on the placement of price labels on deli cheese at Market Basket.

In May, he boasted that the state had “more money than we know what to do with.” What did he do with it? Nada. Nil. Nothing. He claims he wants to invest in infrastructure. Meanwhile, we still have hundreds of red listed bridges. We have rest areas on I-95 that are in less than stellar condition. Our parks are years behind in maintenance. We have a serious housing problem, and a very serious school funding problem. We need to build a secure psychiatric hospital that isn’t part of the NH prison system. If Sununu is having trouble coming up with ideas, he should call me.

At least we know that NH will not become a right-to-work-for-less state during the next biennium. NH will not pass a voucher bill. There’s already a bill to make the very questionable voucher program an amendment to the NH Constitution loitering in the queue of upcoming legislation for 2019. 

The legislature will be voting to choose a Secretary of State for the next 2 years. The House will be voting on a new Speaker. The Republicans will be voting for a new minority leader. All of the committee chairs will be different with a Democratic majority. The first year of the biennium is always the year that a budget is crafted. 

I urge all legislators, old and new, to spend some time on the Secretary of State’s website before they vote. I’m an adept researcher, but I had to spend a couple of hours trying to come up with the magic phrases that unlocked candidate financial forms. The magic phrase was different each time, and more difficult if one were trying to access a “Friends of Rep. Jim Jeremy” committee finance report. I was trying to access candidate forms for several different candidates, including Senator Bradley. Wheelabrator, an international solid waste incineration company mysteriously appeared in the biomass bill, which guaranteed them taxpayer subsidies. Bradley was a sponsor of the bill, and a vocal public supporter. It turns out that Wheelabrator generously donated $4,500 to Bradley’s 2018 re-election campaign. I should have been able to access that information easily, but the Secretary of State’s website is not user friendly. In an NHPR discussion with Secretary of State candidates, Gardner commented that the information is there, it’s just hard to find. That just isn’t acceptable. 

Northern Carroll County experienced a blue wave. The entire northern House delegation is now comprised of Democrats. In southern Carroll County, voters inexplicably chose to re-elect the same candidates who voted to dramatically increase their property taxes by attempting to initiate a school voucher program.

We should all take a page from Rep. Karen Umberger who lost her bid for re-election, and graciously wished the winners well. Rep. Umberger and I have disagreed on many issues over the years, but she has been unfailingly polite and willing to listen, which is what we should expect from citizen legislators.

Published as an op-ed in the Conway Daily Sun newspaper, November 16, 2018

Thursday, November 01, 2018

Election Integrity

NH has a late state primary. This year it fell on September 11. The general election is November 6. This doesn’t leave a lot of time for the Secretary of State’s office to print up ballots for the 221 towns, 13 cities, or the absentee ballots – especially those that have to be sent overseas. The overseas ballots are sent out 45 days before Election Day. 

This year it didn’t go well. There were errors on the ballots. Some of the overseas voters received incorrect ballots. Stephen D’Angelo, a Democrat running for State Rep. in Rockingham District 4 was completely left off the ballot. In his place was the name of the guy he’d beaten by 5 votes in the primary. Tammy Siekman, a Democrat from Londonderry, running for State Senate was listed as a Libertarian. Gray Chynoweth, a Democrat running for the Executive Council was listed in the column for Democrats, but as a Libertarian. The mistakes have been corrected, but the incorrect ballots were sent overseas.

Deputy Secretary of State, Dave Scanlan, was quite offhand about it. He was quoted in the Concord Monitor as saying that it only affected about 50 votes, but those people would all get a corrected ballot. He said that it was a small percentage of voters who received incorrect ballots, but the key thing was that the ballots for Election Day, when most people vote, were corrected.

That sounds rather blithe to me. If I were one of the 50 voters who got a bogus ballot, I would be angry. I would feel as though my vote didn’t count, and that my state didn’t care about my vote. Secretary of State Bill Gardner was quoted in the Boston Globe as saying, “We do a lot of proofing here, but things happen.” Things happen? We should just accept these errors as part of the process? That’s ironic, coming from a guy who claims to be concerned about election integrity.

Bill Gardner has been the Secretary of State in NH since 1976. He is elected every biennium – not by the voters, but by the NH legislature. For decades he enjoyed the support of legislators from both parties. But that was before he bought into the Republican fairy tales about our elections. That was before candidate Chris Sununu went on the Howie Carr radio show and talked about busloads of people from Massachusetts coming to vote in NH. It was before he got involved with Kris Kobach’s voter integrity commission. It was before he surrendered to becoming a pawn of the far right and their voter fraud/voter suppression agenda.

The bus rumors began when Democrats began winning elections. NH Republicans felt entitled to those seats, and they were plenty miffed when they started losing. Then came Chris Sununu who really put the rumors up in lights – and by doing so, enabled Donald Trump to question the integrity of NH elections. Somewhere along the way Republicans decided it was easier to blame their failure to recruit young people to their party on student voting, and they’ve been desperate to eliminate it ever since.

And so they set about undermining our elections. Every year there are nearly a dozen bills filed that attempt to redefine the words “residency,” “resident,” and of course, everyone’s favorite, “domicile.” SB 3, currently in a bizarre legal limbo, comes with a provision that if your residency is in question, people may come to your house and question you. Yep, that’s voting in the free world, folks. In a state that has no problem with voter fraud. Brought to you by the political party that ran an out-of-stater as their goobernatorial candidate in 2014.

A study done by the Secretary of State’s office and the AG found that voter fraud is quite rare in New Hampshire. Yet, State Senator Regina Birdsell (a zealous perpetuator of the false fraud narrative) often refers to the “perception” her constituents have about voter fraud. It’s a perception that she and her cohorts in the Republican Party have worked hard to create. Our hapless Secretary of State has fallen right into their trap.

When asked about the busloads, Gardner said at a hearing at the State House, that his office has never been provided proof, but a lot of people in this state believe that is happening. Under no other circumstances do we write laws based on perception or the beliefs of “a lot of people.” It is truly unfortunate that Bill Gardner didn’t choose to retire before he tarnished his own legacy. 

Finally, there are those who continue to spout the fiction of college students influencing our elections. A helpful reminder: the Republican Party won control of every branch of our state government in the last election. It seems all those college students and busloads of Democrats voted Republican. 

Published as an op-ed in the November 2, 2018 edition of the Conway Daily Sun newspaper.