Thursday, June 20, 2019

Failure to Invest

Every two years, the governor creates a budget and hands it off to the House. The House Finance Committee uses the governor’s budget as a sort of template, and writes a whole budget (in two parts), that includes where money needs to go, and where it’s coming from. When it passes the House, it moves on to Senate Finance, where it is further altered. One reason for this is that by the time a budget reaches Senate Finance, there are better state revenue estimates to work with. Any House bill that is amended by the Senate goes back to the House, where they vote to concur with the changes, or not concur. In the event of non-concurrence, the House can either let the bill die, or ask for a committee of conference. The budget for the next biennium is currently being worked on in two committees of conference.

Governor Sununu began threatening to veto the budget in early March, weeks before it ever reached the Senate. He was all puffed up and boasting of his extensive collection of red pens, and how he was going to veto all the “dumb ideas.” That was also two months before he suddenly announced, after months of hinting at a Senate campaign, that he was going to run for reelection. 

One of Sununu’s pet peeves is the paid family and medical leave program that is included in the budget. He and his minions have labeled it an income tax, and bray about that at every opportunity. Sununu cooked up a voluntary family leave plan with Governor Scott of Vermont, using state workers as the pool. The Vermont legislature had no interest in this plan, and created an entirely different one, just as NH did. Maine is also working on a family leave program. 

It’s the kind of benefit offered in states that are thinking ahead. In NH, we bemoan the fact that our young people don’t stay here. They don’t stay because a college education here will saddle them with the highest student loan debt in the nation, and when they leave school, they can’t find a good paying job, nor can they afford housing. NH also bemoans the fact that we can’t attract skilled workers.

I have a friend who is among the 16 percent of NH residents who works in Massachusetts. He does this because he couldn’t get a good paying job in his technical field here in the state he lives in. He’ll be eligible for the Massachusetts paid family and medical leave program that begins at the first of the year. By working out of state he gets better pay and better benefits. That is how a state attracts skilled workers. 

NH has the lowest minimum wage in New England, at $7.25. NH bemoans the fact that there aren’t enough workers to fill all the jobs that need doing, many of them being low wage service jobs, but we don’t want to pay people to do the work. The low wages combined with the cost of housing may have something to do with that lack of workers. The governor is expected to veto the bill that would increase the minimum wage to $12 an hour.

Governor Sununu, on the other hand, is the highest paid governor our state has ever had. Governors in recent decades accepted reduced pay, as a nod to the poverty of our state agencies, and as a note of humility from the wealthy. (Poor people are not elected governor in NH, or anywhere else.) Governor Hassan was paid $110,400 each of the four years she served. Governor Lynch reduced his pay by $4,000 in 2009, during the recession. Governor Craig Benson didn’t even take a salary during his term. He gave his pay as bonus money for state workers. Sununu is being paid $20,000 a year more than Governor Hassan was. He received a pay raise on his first day in office – a raise negotiated by the state employee’s union, the same union he’s refused to negotiate a contract with, because the contract includes…you guessed it, pay raises. 

I love this state, but sometimes our arrogance is stupefying. We think that people will just come here to spend copiously, without our investing in the reasons they come – like our state parks, which continue to be inadequately funded by user fees.

New Hampshire has been skating by on spending little for decades, with GOP legislatures putting off work that needed to be done because they wanted to create the illusion that The Pledge works. Meanwhile, the state is being sued again for the terrible way we fund education, and the governor is getting ready to make a big Trumpian noise and veto a budget that does something good for workers and families. Other states are investing in workers and families, and attracting skilled workers, and NH is making the same mistakes over and over again, and expecting different results. 

Published as an op-ed in the June 21 edition of the Conway Daily Sun newspaper 

Thursday, June 06, 2019

NH Made History

Last week history was made in New Hampshire. The death penalty was repealed in our state, making NH the twenty-first state to enact a repeal.

To accomplish this, the legislature had to override Governor Sununu’s veto, by a two-thirds majority in both the House and the Senate. That it happened is a testimony to the kind of bipartisan coalition building that has been going on behind the scenes for years.

In 1998, a bill was introduced to expand the death penalty. Two state representatives, Cliff Below and Renny Cushing, took a different view, and introduced a floor amendment to abolish it altogether. Their amendment failed, but, so did the death penalty expansion bill. That was the beginning of the repeal movement.

The group that formed came to be known as the New Hampshire Coalition to abolish the Death Penalty. It included members from the faith community, police officers, lawmakers from both sides of the aisle, and family members of murder victims. They would spend the next twenty years speaking out, filing repeal bills, and building momentum.

As the years went on, the death penalty began to be repealed in other states. Groups like the Innocence Project were using DNA evidence to overturn wrongful convictions and getting people released from death row. The NH coalition brought some of those death row exonerees to testify before the NH legislature. The testimony over the years of Curtis McCarty, Kirk Bloodsworth, and Sabrina Butler had an impact on how legislators began to think about the death penalty. Granted, the way the NH statute was written made a wrongful conviction unlikely, but even having the death penalty made the state part of something that is increasingly regarded as barbaric. 

Governor Sununu’s reason for vetoing the repeal was that he was standing with law enforcement; that the death penalty offers them some sort of protection, and shows support for them. A more tangible means of support would be to ensure that our police officers have good pay, good benefits, and excellent training. They’d probably appreciate it if the NH GOP stopped trying to turn NH into a right to work state, too. Another show of support would be to tighten up our gun laws, but I’ll save that topic for another day.

There has been a lot of talk about how the death penalty repeal was, “politicized.” A broad, bipartisan coalition was responsible for the repeal. The governor was furious at the thought of his veto being overturned, and so he lobbied House Republicans relentlessly.

In the Trumpian political world every single issue boils down to one thing: winning. The greater good was left in the dust as we hurtled down the road to “owning the libs.” The idea that the veto would be overturned, by people voting with their deeply held beliefs in mind was apparently not worthy of respect – it was LOSING.

In the House, 35 legislators who had voted for repeal in April voted against overriding the veto in May. The governor succeeded in convincing those folks to value party over principle. In Carroll County he turned only one member, State Rep. William Marsh from Wolfeboro. Despite Sununu’s hard work, the House did override the veto, and a week later so did the Senate.

It is unfortunate that the repeal was politicized, and even more unfortunate that those doing the politicizing pointed the finger at those who did no such thing. If Governor Sununu had stood up and said that he was disappointed in the veto override, but he understood that this was a vote by legislators on deeply held principles, he would have looked positively heroic, and I would be writing a different column. 

NH made history. The news of the repeal traveled all over the world. It was refreshing to read international press on the NH legislature that wasn’t generated by a Republican dropping his gun or his pants. We left the company of countries like Afghanistan, China, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, and Somalia where citizens are executed by the state. New Hampshire walked bravely into the 21stCentury. We’ve become an example that other states are using in their repeal efforts.

I’m proud of my state. There are far too many people to acknowledge, so I’m going to pick two. State Representative Renny Cushing of Hampton has been a leader in the repeal effort for 20 years, along with Arnie Alpert of AFSC NH. Their work to repeal the death penalty has been tireless and inspiring. I’m fortunate to be able to call them both my friends. 

On dark days when we ask ourselves why good change takes so long, and begin to doubt that it can happen at all, let this vote remind us that the arc of the moral universe does indeed bend toward justice. 

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Governor Affable

Last week Governor Chris Sununu was in New York on a right wing media braggadocio tour, boasting about the NH economy and claiming he regularly poaches companies from states like New York and Connecticut. He claimed he “could fix Connecticut in 20 minutes.” Sununu also suggested that California doesn’t manage itself properly, thereby failing “to put themselves in a position to be successful.” On Fox radio, he bragged that he was considering a run for the US Senate and he was sure he could win. 

A spokesperson for Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont pointed out, via Twitter, that Connecticut has 16 Fortune 500 companies, and NH has zero. California is failing, with the seventh largest economy in the world. As for the poaching claims, NHPR tried to find out the names of the companies he’s poached from NY and CT. Sununu’s office claimed they couldn’t answer on the grounds of confidentiality. I think we all know bunkum when we hear it.

Sununu’s been dancing around the possibility of running for US Senate for months, and has been rather obvious that he intended to. This week, that intention came to a screeching halt. In a rather peevish announcement, Governor Sununu announced he’d be running for a third term.

The announcement focuses on how he needs to stay in NH because of the “radical” agenda of Democrats. He said, “
We all know that I would defeat Jeanne Shaheen, but others can too.”  He’s telling us that he could defeat Jeanne Shaheen with both hands tied behind his back…so…he’s not even going to try. He’s going to stay in NH because of the Democrats. He complained, “More Washington DC extremism is on the way.” What better way to fight DC extremism than to avoid it, by staying in NH? Again, I think we all know bunkum when we hear it. 

The “radical agenda” Sununu refers to is the paid family and medical leave bill that passed both the House and the Senate. The plan would give workers up to 12 weeks of time off, at 60 percent of their wages. This would enable workers to have time to deal with things like personal health emergencies, family illnesses, new babies or adoptions. Sununu supported a family and medical leave plan when he campaigned. When an actual bill was written, he called family and medical leave a “vacation” several times. I remember how giddily I packed for “vacation” trips to transport my husband for chemo or radiation. When that gambit blew up in his face, Sununu began calling it an “income tax.”

The paid leave plan was going to be paid for by a small increase in the payroll tax. This is what the governor called “an income tax,” and the propaganda worked well for those who don’t ever consider that the property tax is also an income tax. Adults know that nothing is free – or at least adults in other states know this. NH remains deeply committed to not ever paying for anything, which is why we have so many red-listed bridges, and why no one ever answers the phone at the DMV. 

The governor vetoed the family and medical leave bill, scribbling childishly on it with his red pen, “No Income Tax. Not Now! Not Ever!” Sununu was so proud of himself, that the image was sent out for all to see, bearing a red signature that looks rather unfortunately like “Chicken T. Sununu.” 

During Sununu’s first term, he was the poster child for photo-ops. A media darling, he was most often described as “affable” or “avuncular.” This year, midway through his second term, the mask of affability is crumbling, and what lies underneath is increasingly reminiscent of Grumpy Governor Papa Sununu, who was perpetually arrogant and irascible. Papa had to resign as President George HW Bush’s Chief of Staff because he was using Air Force One as his personal taxi. We cared about stuff like that back in the olden days.

Do we still care about corruption? Keep an eye on the investigation into Governor Chris Sununu’s inaugural fund. It was set up as a non-profit, took big donations from corporate funders, and used as a slush fund to funnel a great deal of cash into the pockets of his family members. If this sounds familiar, it’s because Donald Trump did exactly the same thing with his inaugural fund. 

A month ago, I quoted comments Sununu made on right wing talk radio about how “the people” were going to “take back” the US Senate seat currently held by Jeanne Shaheen. Something happened between last week and this week to convince the governor that he isn’t “the people,” and his announcement reflects just how sulky he’s feeling about it.

This doesn’t bode well for the rest of the legislative session, which includes the budget. We can look forward to more red pen hijinks masquerading as leadership. Governor Affable has left the building. 

Thursday, May 02, 2019

The Wayback Machine

The social media platform Facebook has a feature called “memories.” Every day it reminds users of posts they made on that same date over their years on Facebook. It’s a daily trip into the Wayback Machine, albeit without Mr. Peabody and Sherman. On April 29 I was reminded that 10 years ago, the NH Senate was scheduled to vote on HB 436, the bill to extend the right to marry to gay couples in our state. 

In 2004 the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled that it was unconstitutional to allow only opposite sex couples to marry, making Massachusetts the first state where gay couples were allowed to legally wed. New Hampshire created a commission to study the issue and make recommendations. The commission held public hearings and took hours of testimony, and after all that, in 2005, recommended a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman. The commission was a sham, created to provide the illusion of listening to residents, even though the outcome had already been decided. 

In 2006, Democrats seized control of the state legislature for the first time in decades. In 2007, the legislature passed a civil unions bill, and Governor Lynch signed it. The law took effect at midnight on New Year’s Eve, and 37 couples were joined in civil unions in a big ceremony on the State House plaza in Concord. I attended a private ceremony that same night at the Notchland Inn. The next day I wrote about the ceremony, and noted that it was like a wedding only more joyful. Gay couples had waited for so long to have any legal recognition or protection that the ceremonies were that much more celebratory. Civil unions did not provide the same legal rights as marriage, but it was a step in the right direction.

Two years later, on March 26, 2009 the NH House passed HB 436, a bill that would allow gay couples to marry, and turn the civil unions into marriages. The vote was long and contentious. A move to table failed. Former State Rep. Gene Chandler’s move to kill the bill failed. The bill finally passed, by a vote of 186-179. Only two of Carroll County’s state reps that voted that day are still in office. Both are Democrats. Bill sponsor Ed Butler voted yea, and Tom Buco voted nay. Former Representatives Robert Bridgham and Susan Wiley also voted yea. Former Representatives Christopher Alghren, Gene Chandler, Joseph Fleck, David Knox, Betsey Patten, John Roberts, Dino Scala, Stanley Stevens, and Karen Umberger joined Rep. Buco on the wrong side of history.

The bill went on to the Senate, where it was amended to ensure that churches and church affiliated groups would not be forced to participate in gay weddings. The amendment also stipulated that only persons over the age of 18 would be allowed to marry. The Senate voted to pass the bill by a vote of 13-11. It should come as no surprise that State Senator Jeb Bradley voted nay. 

When the Senate amends a House bill, the House has to agree with the amendment. The House voted to concur by a vote of 178-167 on May 6. On June 3, 2009, Governor Lynch signed the bill into law.  It went into effect on January 1, 2010.

We know what didn’t happen. There was no rain of toads, no plague of locusts, no flood of lawsuits, and it was not the end of western civilization. What did happen was that new marriages took place, new families were created, and the couples that had entered into civil unions were recognized as legally married.

All this happiness and equality didn’t please everyone. The Republicans won control of the state legislature in 2010, but were not keen to take up a repeal bill. Former Rep. David Bates of Windham launched a move to put a non-binding referendum question as a warrant article at town meetings, to call for a repeal of marriage equality. The move was not a success. Most towns refused to even put the question on their warrant. That did not deter former Rep. Bates. In 2012, he sponsored a repeal bill. Even though polling data showed that NH residents were actually opposed to repeal, Bates was convinced that the polls were wrong, and he knew better. The bill failed in the Republican controlled house, by a vote of 211- 116. Bates was on the wrong side of history, as those who deny rights always are. In 2015, the US Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges made marriage equality the law of the land.

We the People are capable of doing the right thing, something we all need to be reminded of, especially right now.  

“We will never have true civilization until we have learned to recognize the rights of others.” – Will Rogers 

published as an op-ed in the May 3, 2019 edition of the Conway Daily Sun newspaper 

Thursday, April 18, 2019

National Drinking Buddy

There are five women running for president. I bring this up only because you may not be aware of it. There are a boatload of candidates, and the media is very focused on a very few of them, and none of the few have ovaries. 

If you Google, “shrill” and the names of any of the five female candidates, you’ll find abundant coverage of their degree of shrillness. Kirsten Gillibrand, Amy Klobuchar, and Kamala Harris all seem to posses the average level of shrill that one would expect from a female candidate. Gillibrand is attractive but shrill. Amy Klobuchar is shrill and bitchy. Kamala Harris is just plain old shrill.  Elizabeth Warren has an advanced level of shrill, combined with her being polarizing and not likeable enough. Tulsi Gabbard is deemed “less shrill,” or “easy on the eye and ear.” Next, try Googling “shrill” and any male candidate’s name. You won’t find anything. Shrill is not an adjective ever applied to men. Shrill is being replaced. Polarizing is the new shrill, and it’s used in direct proportion to how much of a threat the woman’s candidacy is. The smarter the woman, the stronger the shrill.

Nearly everything written about the women candidates is very different from what is written about men. The women who have children are asked how they campaign and parent at the same time. No one ever asks Beto O’Rourke that question. After he lost his Senate bid in Texas, he went on a road trip by himself, leaving his wife at home with their three kids, and reporters breathlessly covered his naval gazing without asking how he could be on a road trip and parent at the same time. The media would have crucified a female candidate doing the same thing. It seems that still, in the United States of America in the year 2019, women are responsible for parenting. Men…not so much.

What if Donald Trump had been asked that question? He admits that he didn’t do the parenting his older kids, and it seems unlikely that he’s a fun dad, hanging out with Barron and bowling a few frames in the White House bowling alley, or kicking the soccer ball around on the South Lawn. Luckily for him, no one would ever ask him about his parenting. Our national default setting is male. Imagine a woman who looked like Steve Bannon  (as if she’d slept in an alley with a pint of muscatel) achieving his level of power and influence? 

During the last presidential campaign, many voters wished that Elizabeth Warren were running for president. Now that she is, she’s called shrill and polarizing. At a time when some of the male candidates don’t have anything resembling policy on their websites, Senator Warren has reams of policy. She’s described as “cold and not likeable.” The real problem may well be that she’s too smart, and too well prepared. For a good read on that, I recommend Alexandra Petri’s April 12 column in the Washington Post.

The media is a big part of the problem. Six corporations control 90 percent of the media. Men run those corporations. White male guests dominate the Sunday news shows. Men dominate talk radio. Men dominate commercial radio. (Non-profit radio is more balanced.) Women are allowed to be the sidekicks on obnoxious morning shows, but that’s about it. We hear a steady diet of male voices, and that brings with it a certain unconscious message about what voices are important. As an example, no women have shows on the local commercial radio station. It seems playing music does have boundaries. 

Candidate George W. Bush was sold to us as “the kind of guy you’d want to have a beer with.” The idea something like that was taken seriously as a qualification for the presidency is both horrifying and emblematic of the kind of low expectations we’re encouraged to have for our leaders. I don’t want a drinking buddy, I want a president. Men are presented as charismatic, while women never are. I suspect it has something to do with the fact that women are busy. They’re doing most of the parenting, cleaning, and they’re working. They are multi-tasking on a heroic level. I would like my president to be busy. The one we have now seems to have far too much time on his hands for television watching, golf playing, and tweeting out distinctly non-presidential messages on Twitter. 
Perhaps we should create the position of National Drinking Buddy, which be filled by the kind of guy you want to have a beer with. He’d be fun and charismatic, drinking beer and talking about boxers and briefs with his pleasant voice. He’d go around the country on a constant drinking buddy tour. That would free us up to elect a smart, multi-tasking woman to be president. 

published as an op-ed in the April 18, 2019 edition of the Conway Daily Sun newspaper

Thursday, April 04, 2019

Boasts, Threats, and Insults

The election of Donald Trump changed politics, changed the level of discourse, and changed the way people behave toward one another. Over the course of his campaign, he benefitted from millions of dollars worth of free media. The corporate media conglomerates couldn’t devote enough of their time to the former reality TV show host and possible billionaire. The media helped build the Trump cult. They’ve covered his administration as if what’s going on within it is perfectly normal, business as usual – and that’s created a level of tacit acceptance.

We now seem to think that it’s normal for a president to spend hours every day on Twitter, tweeting out insults, threats, boasts, and frequently just nonsense. I can’t be the only one who remembers a time when we expected a certain level of dignity and decorum from the president. Trump routinely sends out insulting tweets about losers and fake news. Ironic, isn’t it? The same media that helped elect him he now calls “fake news.” Of course no matter how fake he thinks they are, he’s desperate for their attention. He’s done well at manipulating the media. Trump has learned that he can lie with impunity, in public, and no one is going to react the same way they did when Obama wore a tan suit.

We now seem to think it’s normal for presidents to have rallies around the country. We seem to think it’s normal for a president to need the kind of ego boost he gets at big rallies where he alternately boasts, threatens, and insults. The media has failed to question the reason for the rallies or provide an insight into the results. Or compare it to past presidential behavior. Surely I can’t be the only one who remembers when presidents….worked? When they didn’t spend their days tweeting insults or playing golf? 

It can’t come as a surprise to anyone that this style of politics is catching on. We’ve seen plenty of it at the State House this year. A number of our elected officials seem to think this is the way to win the hearts and minds of voters in the next election. Given how few reporters cover the State House, there isn’t a lot of time devoted to the way representatives conduct themselves unless there’s an act of outrage that generates national attention. The NH GOP has become a microcosm, a veritable petri dish of Trumplike behavior.

Governor Chris Sununu campaigned as a Trump supporter, and has offered little in the way of criticism of the president. He’s done a lot of photo-ops, and he’s cozied up to the media, so Sununu is most often described as “affable,” or “avuncular.” Even his inaugural committee fiscal jiggery-pokery didn’t get the kind of media attention that it should have. Then again, NH has only two statewide media outlets; WMUR and the Union Leader, and their default setting is GOP. 

Last month at St. Anselm College, Governor Sununu boasted that he had “a lot of red pens” and he couldn’t wait to veto “really dumb ideas.” This was in reference to the family and medical leave bill, because apparently, it’s a really dumb idea to want to be able to take some time off to take care of a dying husband, a sick child, or to go through chemo. Sununu refers to this as an “income tax,” and said he’d “veto it three times over and then maybe four, just to make the point.”  We get the point. The point is that Sununu, like his mentor, lacks any kind of empathy or decency. To mock the needs of thousands of NH voters as “a really dumb idea,” is the kind of rhetoric we’ve never seen from the corner office in our state before. Trickle down Trump. 

This last week, the Governor had a rally on the State House steps. (A rally? Sound familiar?) The governor cashed his taxpayer-funded paycheck; drove on taxpayer funded roads, and stood before the taxpayer funded State House in front of people who were holding signs reading, “Taxation is Theft.” At this rally, he went on to dismiss the family leave bill, and mocked those who support it. He claimed that the supporters of the bill who went to his office were paid to do so. (Disclaimer: I know most of those folks. They aren’t paid.)

The lack of empathy, the mockery – it’s all right out of the Trump playbook. I confess to finding it a little surprising. There is always a lot of back and forth about Republicans versus Democrats in NH, but I’m unused to seeing a New Hampshire governor openly mock constituents. In a recent appearance on right wing talk radio, he told the host that “the people” were going to take back Senator Shaheen’s seat. The majority who elected her aren’t people? It seems the governor intends to use the Trump template to launch his bid for higher office.  

published as an op-ed in the April 5 edition of the Conway Daily Sun 

I have Mike Marland's permission to use this cartoon - which I hadn't seen when I wrote this op-ed. (I wish I'd said squirrels!)

Check out more of Mike's  work here and don't be afraid to use his PayPal donation button. We aren't overburdened with editorial cartoonists in NH - and Mike is a gem. 

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Right Wing Mardi Gras

photo from the Washington Post

We humans are social animals. We like to live in cities or towns, and in neighborhoods. We join churches, we join choirs, we join clubs, gyms, book clubs, professional associations, athletic teams and leagues, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, groups of collectors, boards of directors, retired military organizations, fantasy sports leagues, car clubs, gun clubs, gardening clubs – you get the idea. We’re joiners. We like to find people who share our interests and hang out with them.

If we are musicians, we find people to play the same kind of music we want to play.  We find people who like the same sports teams we do and we watch games with them. We find people who share our political beliefs and we associate with them. And with all of that can come uniforms, team jerseys, patches, badges, buttons, or pins. In addition to joining, we also like to identify ourselves as belonging.

Some people get deeply involved. We see middle-aged men wearing jackets for sports teams they never played on. Some of the faithful wear shirts with the name and number of their favorite player. We see supporters of political candidates wearing buttons and tee shirts, but the real die hards may have invested in hats, tote bags, even jewelry. That’s typical for a great many things - we have badges and pins to proclaim our various allegiances.  The 1999 movie “Office Space,” featured a chain restaurant called “Chotchkies,” where employees were supposed to wear at least 15 badges, buttons, or pins. In the movie it was called “flair,” which has stuck as a slang term for having a lot of pins, buttons, or badges on a hat, a vest, or a lapel. Excessive flair is usually a male condition.

We’ve brought our vehicles into the statement making party. Trucks can be seen actually flying flags: usually US, but also Confederate or Gadsden.  Bumper stickers make statements – either manufactured or homemade. We can all see how people feel about politics, food, kids, peace, dogs, and all religions, including guns. 

That’s the segue, folks. A couple of weeks ago, there was a rumpus at the NH House because some of the least charming members of a right wing NH women’s gun club handed out pearl necklaces to members of the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee. The Committee was going to be hearing testimony on a gun bill. The members were urged to wear them “in support of second amendment rights.” One of the members of the committee was already wearing lapel flair that included a large AR-15 pin. These manly, gun-totin’ guys donned the pearls.   

photo of the rather over-accessorized Rep. Scott Wallace from the Washington Post 

In a representative democracy, we the people elect representatives to go to the State House and represent our interests. Most of us expect them to go and behave in a professional manner – one that doesn’t embarrass the voters of the district. We expect them to behave like adults, not boys going to a meeting in their secret clubhouse with decoder rings.

This is an increasingly unrealistic expectation. In recent years the amount of flair in lapels has expanded to include all manner of political statements  - from gun pins to abortion. A NH voter coming to speak before a committee on a matter that concerns them can often get a read on how many members of that committee have closed minds, just by looking at lapels. It doesn’t end with flair. A national group whose goal is the destruction of public education hands out big, ugly yellow scarves to receptive legislators, who wear them in support of that goal. The gundamentalist girls handed out their pearl necklaces. Committee room tables can be populated by people so laden with signal sending trinkets it looks like right wing Mardi Gras.

In 2016, the Republican controlled state legislature passed HB 1503, which prohibits the wearing of campaign stickers, buttons, pins, or clothing inside the polls. The sponsors claimed that wearing a campaign button was an attempt to influence other voters. Yes, folks, that’s right – you can’t wear a campaign button at the polls because it might influence other voters, but the candidates you elect can bedeck themselves with gewgaws proving they’ve already been influenced and are now just mocking the legislative process.

Adult behavior is in short supply. This week, during a floor debate on a gun bill, the Republicans got up and left the room. A bill on repealing the Education Tax Credit, which is used for funneling tax dollars to private religious schools caused the legislators who oppose public education to get out their yellow scarves and wear them to work. The Speaker (finally) informed representatives that those wearing “props” would not be allowed to wear them while debating on the floor. 

Most workplaces expect adult, professional behavior, and frown on the wearing of bizarre, clownlike accessories. We really should be able to expect the same of our state representatives.  

published in the March 22, 2019 edition of the Conway Daily Sun newspaper

For more on legislative behavior: 

The House Majority Leader tried to discuss civility with his colleagues. The minority party didn't take kindly to it as Nancy West reports for

Thursday, March 07, 2019

Rentpocalypse NH

Art by Lalo Alcarez

In Oregon last month, Governor Kate Brown signed a statewide rent control law. Like many states, Oregon has a shortage of rental properties. This law caps annual rent increases to seven percent plus inflation, which amounts to a limit of about 10 percent this year. It also exempts new construction for 15 years, and landlords may raise rent if renters leave. This isn’t doing a whole lot to help anyone, which is why landlords didn’t fight it. They were more afraid that the state would remove the current ban on local rent control policies. It will do little to help those who are at the low end of the income scale, who will continue to spend upwards of half of their income on rent.

The budget calculation formula from the 60’s that is still in use today, warns that we should spend no more than 30 percent of our income on rent. Anyone who spends more than that is considered “cost burdened.” Anyone spending 50 percent or more is considered “severely cost burdened.” It is not the wealthy that are “severely cost burdened.” It is your barista, the clerk at the cash register, the server taking your order, the person stuffing you into a chairlift, the person who cares for your grandmother - the workers of the service economy that we all rely on. It might also be your grandmother. Elderly people are a fast growing segment of the homeless population. 

A 2018 report by the New Hampshire Housing Finance Authority found that NH has a rental property vacancy rate of 1.96 percent. A vacancy rate of 4-5 percent is considered a balanced market for supply and demand. The survey found that the median rent for a 2 bedroom apartment has increased 19 percent over the last five years. In Carroll County that increase was 11.7 percent. It was 31 percent in Coos. The last recorded vacancy rate for Carroll County was 1.4 percent in 2016. The sample rate has been too small for the study for the last two years. 

The 2018 report from the National Low Income Housing Coalition found that a minimum wage worker earning $7.25 an hour would have to work 96 hours a week to afford a one bedroom rental. The average wage of a NH renter is around $15 an hour. The wage needed to afford a two bedroom rental is $22.32. Right now, the average rent for a one bedroom in NH is around $900. It’s upwards of $1200 for a two bedroom.

In addition to having very high housing costs, NH also has very low unemployment. So far that low unemployment has done little to raise wages. Employers are only now starting to grasp that housing is a big part of their problem. Housing is one of the many problems that New Hampshire has been ignoring for decades. Adequate housing might mean people with kids and that means funding their education. We fund education through property taxes, and NH has the second highest property taxes in the nation.

When the economy collapsed in 2008, people lost their houses and moved into rentals. That caused prices to skyrocket. The collapse of the economy created the so-called “sharing economy” where desperate folks were trying to monetize their possessions by ride sharing or renting out rooms in their houses. Airbnb caught on, and quickly became a way for privateers to buy up housing and rent it for big bucks. Both events meant fewer rentals for working folks. A lot of the people whose finances were destroyed in 2008 never got back to where they were. The jobs created in the aftermath of the 2008 economic collapse were largely low wage service jobs. While rental costs have increased in NH by 19 percent over the last five years, for most workers, wages have not. Homelessness, however, has increased by 10 percent in the last 4 years. 

NH has a problem. We have an aging population. We have a housing shortage. We have a lot of low wage jobs. Raising the minimum wage would help, but it won’t solve the housing shortage. Even if we raised the minimum wage to $22 an hour, there still wouldn’t be enough housing. Some ideas: there should be no new commercial construction that doesn’t include housing. Building an outlet? Build up: stores and restaurants downstairs. Housing upstairs. That should be true of every single ugly new store built along the Rt. 16 strip. Locally, there are many empty buildings. Some of them have been empty for years. Turn them into housing.  (Also, build more housing.) A tourist economy needs workers. An aging population needs caregivers – and housing, unless you want Granny living in her car. Until then, there are many helpful YouTube videos on how to live in a car.

“A man’s car is his castle,” – said  no one, ever.   

Published as an op-ed in the March 8 edition of the Conway Daily Sun Newspaper 

Thursday, February 21, 2019

NH Death Penalty Optics

Michael George Haddad

The last time the State of New Hampshire executed anyone was in 1939. For the last 20 years, there has been a bill every biennium to repeal the death penalty. In 2000, a repeal bill passed both houses and was vetoed by Governor Jeanne Shaheen. 

In 2019, there is an impressive bipartisan coalition supporting HB 455, a bill that would change the death penalty in NH to life without parole. It seems likely that the bill will pass in both the House and Senate. Governor Sununu has said that he will veto it. There could well be, for the first time in 20 years, enough support for repeal to override the governor’s veto.

I’ve written about the death penalty several times over the years. We know it is expensive – more expensive than life in prison. We know it is not a deterrent. We know that people of color are more likely to be sent to death row. We know that a great many people have been wrongly convicted, spent years on death row, and then exonerated. We also know that at least one innocent person has been wrongly murdered by the state, in the name of “justice.” Above all, we know…well, not all of we, but most of we know that the death penalty is not about justice. It is about vengeance.

As the old saying goes, we kill people to show them that killing is wrong. The state should not be in the business of killing its citizens.

A big public hearing resulted in hours of testimony this week. There was testimony from murder victim’s family members. There was testimony from people who were wrongly convicted and sent to death row.  There was also testimony from former US Senator Kelly Ayotte, who breezed in to emphasize how important it is that we kill Michael Addison, the only person on death row in NH. Ayotte the NH Attorney General vigorously pursued the death penalty case against Addison, and used it as a springboard to a single term in the Senate. 

Michael Addison was charged with killing Manchester Police Officer Michael Briggs in 2006. In 2006, a millionaire named John Brooks was convicted of capital murder for his role in hiring people to kill his former handyman, whom he believed had stolen from him. In New Hampshire, contract killing is a capital offense.  John Brooks was given two life sentences without parole. In 1997, Gordon E. Perry killed police officer Jeremy Charron in Epsom, NH. After pleading guilty to capital murder, he was sentenced to life in prison without parole. 

When repeal advocates talk about how the death penalty isn’t equally applied, this is exactly what they mean. Gordon E. Perry is white. John Brooks is rich and white. Michael Addison is black. John Brooks was convicted the same year as Addison, in the same state. Kelly Ayotte did not zealously pursue his case. Gordon Perry and Michael Addison both killed police officers. Only one is on death row. 

Our Governor has said that he will veto a repeal because he “stands with law enforcement.” Our governor stands with law enforcement when it’s convenient. Sununu’s first legislative priority after being elected to his first term was to eliminate concealed carry licenses for firearms. Law enforcement vigorously opposed that bill. Sununu didn’t listen to them, never mind stand with them. Governor Sununu is a Trump acolyte, and we know that Trump loves the death penalty. Even after the five young black men known as the Central Park Five were exonerated after falsely being convicted of the rape, assault, and attempted murder of jogger Trisha Mieli, Donald Trump continued to call for their executions.

Civilized countries don’t engage in execution. The United States is increasingly uncivilized, particularly in the area of race and religion. We don’t hear any discussion of how, exactly, the state will kill Michael Addison. The methods sanctioned by our state are hanging and lethal injection. Lethal injection drugs are no longer available. The countries that manufacture them don’t sell them to us any more, because they don’t believe in the death penalty. Will New Hampshire purchase other, questionable drugs? Or will New Hampshire rebuild the gallows that was dismantled at the state prison in 1994?

We should, perhaps, take a moment to consider this.  New Hampshire hasn’t conducted an execution since 1939. Will we bring the death penalty out of mothballs to kill a black man? Would we hang him? Tiny, white, New Hampshire proudly clings to the first in the nation presidential primary, despite rumblings from other states that we’re tiny, white, and clueless about the rest of the country. If the moral arguments against the death penalty don’t sway folks, perhaps the very real potential of losing that exalted primary status will. 

Published as an op-ed in the February 22, 2019 issue of the Conway Daily Sun newspaper 

Thursday, February 07, 2019

Trickle Down Hate

The United States has always had a problem with racism. We’ve never been willing to tackle it head on, preferring to sweep it under the carpet and pretend that passing a law or two and paying annual homage to Dr. Martin Luther King is enough to take care of it.

Then along came Obama. In 2004, after three terms in the Illinois Senate, Obama ran for US Senate. He delivered a well received speech to the Democratic National Convention that same year.  In the interest of full disclosure, I was in Chicago on business that year, and heard him speak at a dinner I attended. He gave a fine speech – it was easy to see why there was so much buzz around him.

That was the year that birtherism was born. It’s been traced back to perennial candidate (and something of a vexatious litigant) Andy Martin, who has run for office in a number of states, including New Hampshire. Martin began the rumors about Obama – that he wasn’t born in the US, that he was a Muslim, and so on. Those rumors persisted over the years, but had nearly died down when along came Donald Trump who demanded to see Obama’s “long form” birth certificate in 2011, and birtherism kicked into high gear.

President Obama took it all in stride. He even made jokes about it. (He didn’t sit around in his underpants tweeting in a vituperative frenzy.) The Trump birtherism spread and deepened, and suddenly it was okay to be openly racist in public again, in a way that had been unacceptable since the sixties. The Trump administration has continually exacerbated that open racism.

We’ve seen violence against people of color, violence and bullying against children – including children right here in New Hampshire. The wall has served as fuel for a national tiki torch sized outpouring of racist outrage. Every day, Trump sends out malevolent rage tweets about caravans, invasions, and a crisis at the border. The reports from the border don’t bear any of this out. There is no crisis. Trump spent last weekend playing golf, which illustrates how serious this crisis is.

Given the rise in racist rhetoric, it shouldn’t surprise anyone to see it mirrored in the NH legislature. This year there are two anti-immigrant bills, one in the House and one in the Senate. House bill 232 requires state and local governments to comply with federal detainer requests and prohibits state and local government entities from adopting policies that prohibit, restrict, or discourage the enforcement of federal immigration law. (Republicans love local control….except that they really don’t.) This is an unpleasant bit of work, called the “anti-sanctuary act,” and sponsored by a variety of tea partiers and Free Staters.

HB 232 pales in comparison to Senate bill 317, which bills itself as “an act prohibiting sanctuary locations in New Hampshire.” From the statement of intent…”is necessary to protect our country from foreign and domestic terrorism, diminished prosperity caused by artificially low wages paid to those present in the United States in violation of our immigration laws, a disregard of the rule of law, the presence of foreign criminals, foreign persons participating in our elections, and strained local and state finances caused by a disproportionate participation of foreign welfare recipients…”

This is a load of codswallop. Domestic terrorism in this country is perpetuated by angry white men. Foreign terrorists aren’t behind mass shootings. The pinkos at the CATO institute found in 2018 that you were more likely to die from an animal attack than be killed by a foreign terrorist. There are no foreign persons participating in NH elections. That is a nasty bit of xenophobia aimed at perpetuating the GOP myth of voter fraud. The Republicans need to keep that myth alive, because it’s how they’ll continue to chip away at voting rights. As for foreign welfare recipients? More bunk. Undocumented people don’t have the documents needed to receive public assistance.

New Hampshire Republicans eliminated the state minimum wage, and have resisted every attempt to put one into place. Yet here they are, mouthing concerns about artificially low wages? These hypocrites have turned their backs on the plight of low wage workers for decades. 

Please read SB 317, and take notice of the sponsors. There is only one from Carroll County, State Senator Jeb Bradley. Jeb Bradley has long enjoyed an undeserved reputation as a moderate. These days, he’s a political windsock, flapping in the racist breeze generated by what the Republican Party has become in the era of Trump. Wealthy old white men like Senator Jeb don’t actually march with tiki torches. They write the inflammatory rhetoric that ratchets up the kind of anger that fuels the mob mentality and leads to violence.

No matter how you feel about the wall, you should be ashamed that our state senator put his name on this dishonest and shockingly xenophobic piece of legislation.

Published as an op-ed in the February 8, 2019 edition of the Conway Daily Sun Newspaper 

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Silver, Sovereigns, and Propaganda

Like so many things these days, the annual look at bills coming up isn’t much fun. There are 938 bills that will be heard by the legislature. Over one hundred have been withdrawn. Some were withdrawn because the sponsors weren’t re-elected. Some were withdrawn because they duplicated others, and some of the authors may have had a sudden attack of common sense. House Minority Leader Dick Hinch withdrew his school voucher bill, which was wise, considering that it didn’t pass under a Republican controlled House, and was even less likely to pass under Democratic control. A bill to amend the Constitution to enshrine vouchers was also withdrawn. Also withdrawn was a bill relative to carrying a pistol or revolver while hunting with a muzzleloader. Can there really be such a thing as carrying too many guns at once in New Hampshire? 

HB 190 would allow gold and silver as lawful mediums of exchange. Would we all be expected to carry around our own scales and testing chemicals, or would those be provided at businesses, banks, and other agencies? The bill doesn’t specify. The lead sponsor of this bill is Representative Dick Marple from Hooksett. He also sponsored HB 525, which requires legislators be paid in silver dollar coins. No word on where those coins would be stored. Representative Marple is deeply concerned with matters of currency, as he what is known as a sovereign citizen, a band of miscreants who fancy themselves Constitutional scholars and experts on British common law, as well as US law. They do not recognize US currency and have found convoluted “loopholes” to try to avoid obeying the law. If you’d like a little fun with sovereign citizens, go to YouTube and search, “I’m not driving, I’m traveling,” and immerse yourself in videos of sovereign citizens getting pulled over for traffic violations. Fun for the whole family. 

Sovereign citizens are no joke. They don’t believe that the US government is legitimate; they believe the county sheriff is the most powerful law enforcement officer in the country, and some places they are actual terrorists, tied to white nationalist groups and militias. Representative Marple is serving his fifth term for the town of Hooksett. These bills are the kind of fringe nutter stuff that the minority party knows won’t go anywhere, but they encourage the fringe to file these bills as part of their mission to obstruct and delay. 

Marple is also a sponsor of HB 198, which would repeal the prohibition against texting while driving. That’s supported by a number of Free Staters and libertea types, because their perceived freedom is more important than your safety. Another Marple is HB 215, which would require the legislature to approve the appointment of town managers. Think about that Conway – the next time you appoint a town manager; hundreds of representatives from other counties would make your decision for you. 

In HB 124, ideologues would repeal the buffer zone bill around women’s health clinics that was passed a few years ago. These folks think that women should be shouted at, harassed, photographed, and abused while going in to a medical facility. To take that right away from the harassers (who may also be terrorists, given the level of clinic violence that occurs in this country) is cause for loud bleating about the first amendment, an amendment conveniently ignored by this crowd the rest of the time. 

HB 177 would limit education stabilization grants, which is bad timing, given that we learned this week that Berlin is being forced to close their last elementary school, because of our bizarre education funding system. We fund education through property taxes. New Hampshire has the 2ndhighest property taxes in the nation. What towns do you think have the highest taxes? Rye, Newcastle, Wolfeboro, maybe Bedford? The places where the wealthy reside? Not even close.  The highest property taxes in the state are in Claremont, and Berlin is a close second. This says a few things – that our education funding system is deeply flawed, that Berlin (and the rest of Coos) should stop electing Republicans, and that The Pledge is a bumper sticker, not a tool for good government.

There are a couple of bills to enshrine our tax structure in the Constitution, one concerning a broad based tax and one an income tax. The property tax IS an income tax. The difference is that if your income goes down, so does an income tax. The property tax, on the other hand, continues to increase. The Pledge is a remarkable lesson in the power of propaganda. It prevents discussion and discourages learning. 

Here’s a thought; in addition to teaching civics, we should be teaching high school kids how to understand the NH tax structure. It would be great preparation for future voters. Who wants to write that bill? 

published as an op-ed in the January 25, 2019  edition of the Conway Daily Sun newspaper

Thursday, January 10, 2019

More Guns and Grifters

Photo by Holly Ramer of AP 

As I predicted, the rabid gundamentalists got all worked up about the proposed rule change in the NH House that would prevent them from carrying their concealed firearms on the House floor, in the gallery, the cloakroom, and the anteroom. They would still be able to strap on as many weapons as they needed to feel safe leaving home, driving to Concord, and then walking the mean streets from their parking spot to the State House. They’d just be asked to lock up (in a storage unit provided at the State House) their firearm (s) while on the floor, in the gallery, the anteroom or the cloakroom. The 2-A crowd brought signs into the State House, which is not allowed. They meekly surrendered them, with no mention of first amendment rights. 

There was wailing, moaning, and gnashing of teeth from the gun fetishists. They NEED their weapons on them at all times! They might have to protect the women! The State House isn’t going to be a “soft” target – a gun free zone! Gundamentalist groups, the NRA, and ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council invented the concept of “constitutional carry” around 2012. Nowhere in the constitution does it say that you have the right to bring a concealed firearm into the NH House chamber. It’s also worth noting that Vermont had “constitutional carry” years before everyone else. Guess what you can’t do in Vermont? Bring a weapon in the State House.

Honest, curious people who read more than just propaganda are also aware that mass shooters don’t choose “gun free zones.” School shootings are done by people who had some connection to the school. There’s also the fact that 98% of mass shooters are white men, many of whom have a history of domestic abuse. Most of those shooters were “law abiding gun owners” up until the moment they started shooting their fellow humans.

The floor debate raged. Convicted gun felon, Representative Max Abramson (R. Free State) gave an impassioned speech about gun rights, the kind he doesn’t legally possess any longer. These are the people who want the rest of us to trust them with guns. The vote was 220-163 to ban guns from the House chamber. The response from the cultists was to shriek that they’d carry anyway, because rules don’t apply to them.

After the gun vote was a vote to add mandatory sexual harassment awareness training to the House rules. There have been a number of incidents in the legislature that have come to light in the MeToo era. Some involved payoffs, some involved cover-ups. There are many older men in the legislature who wail that it’s the women who are to blame – they can’t say anything any more without it being taken the wrong way!

Rather than take an opportunity to stop wailing and learn something, members of the libertea crowd became incensed at the thought that they should be expected to attend the kind of training they would be given no choice about attending in any professional workplace. Perhaps they don’t look at themselves as professionals. Perhaps they don’t see themselves as working.

Most amusing was the overlap. Many of the same people who were braying about the need to protect the wimminfolk refused to take the sexual harassment training. That’s right – they need to protect the women with guns – the same women who are lying about sexual harassment! (It would make for an interesting Venn diagram.) The House voted 284 – 92 in favor of the rule change. 

Governor Sununu is back in the news. There’s some very timid reporting going on about the way his first inaugural fund is being dispersed. Large amounts of it seem to have landed in his pockets, and those of a variety of family members and advisors. The Governor has refused to comply with Right to Know requests that those records be produced.  If it all sounds familiar, there’s good reason for that. Sununu was very clear in his first campaign that he is a strong Trump supporter. We know Trump used his inaugural fund as a slush fund to shovel money back into his own businesses, which means into the pockets of his family. Lesson learned. 

Why is this a concern? Where the money comes from and where it goes is always a concern when it comes to politicians. Transparency means accountability, and we should all want our politicians to be accountable. We should know exactly who the donors were, how much they gave, and where that money went, and where the remainder of the fund will go.

The Union Leader has done some surprisingly good reporting on this. Surprising only because of the UL’s history of being the media arm of the NH GOP. This reporting so incensed the governor, that a Union Leader reporter and photographer were denied entry into this year’s inaugural event. It appears our governor has learned another lesson from his mentor, Donald Trump.

“No power without accountability.”  Billy Bragg