Monday, August 12, 2019

Updates on New Hampshire's Culture of Freedom




On Friday, August 9, NH Governor Chris Sununu vetoed 3 gun safety bills. From his veto statement:

New Hampshire is one of the safest states in the nation, and we have a long and proud tradition of responsible firearm stewardship. Our laws are well-crafted and fit our culture of responsible gun ownership and individual freedom. 

Later that evening,  in Derry, a 79 year old man shot and killed his wife.
Didn't  this guy know about the culture? 

In the wee hours of Monday, August 12, Dover police are investigating gunfire in a street confrontation.
Just a little individual freedom fire. Nothing to see here. 

The wee hours of Monday morning were busy. In Northwood, a man claims he shot at someone trying to break into his car. Shot 3 times and missed. The police searched the area, but didn't find anyone. 

Thursday, August 15, a responsible firearm steward barricaded himself in a house in Claremont for 9 hours. Hundreds of  shots fired, but no one was injured. 




Thursday, August 08, 2019

Why Aren't All These Guns Making Us Safer?




It was a deadly weekend. On Saturday, a gunman in a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, shot and killed 22 people, and wounded 26 more. Early Sunday morning, a gunman killed 9 people in a nightlife district in Dayton, Ohio. 

The weekend before, a gunman shot and killed 4 people and wounded 13 others at the Gilroy Garlic Festival in Gilroy, CA. 

I thought all these guns were supposed to be making us safer?

Meanwhile, here in NH, three gun safety bills languish in limbo, waiting for the attention of our governor. On Monday, August 5, there was a rally  at the Legislative Office Building in Concord, where members of gun safety groups and other concerned citizens called upon the governor to sign the bills. The room was packed with people. 

Not everyone in the room was heartbroken about the slaughter of their fellow humans. Some attendees were so dickhurt by the idea that some people were talking about gun safety, that they showed up with their guns. The guy with the long gun in the photo is Brennan Robinson, a member of the Free State Project, who very obviously came in with the intention of turning the media's attention to him. 

He succeeded admirably. Both WMUR and NHPR gave him the last word in their stories. 

This is emblematic of the NH media, which operates with GOP as their default setting. I expect  it from WMUR - hell, I've seen it in the past, from the same reporter.

I cannot wrap my head around the shoddiness of this reporting. Not a single reporter who covered this event thought to ask, "Hey, pal - these folks are all here because of gun violence - do you think it's really a good idea to bring GUNS into a room crowded with people - especially since you fit the visual profile of a domestic terrorist?" 

These are men who get up in the morning in the safest state in the country, and put on their strapons before they dare leave their houses. And we are all supposed to bow and scrape before their freedumb, because their right to play GI Joe is more important than our right to live. 

I don't expect Governor Sununu to sign those gun bills. His first act in office was to sign a bill that repealed the concealed carry license process. Gundamentalists are his base. 

I don't have any confidence that there will ever be a legislative solution to the wholesale slaughter, either at the state or national level. 

What I do know is this - people are going to stop going out. They won't go to fairs, festivals, concerts, or movies. They won't go shopping in brick and mortar stores. They won't go to bars and restaurants. And brother, when it starts to hit the bottom lines of business - then we'll see some change. Capitalism may be what changes our gun laws. 

To help along the process, I suggest that before you go to a store, a venue, a bar or restaurant that you call ahead and ask if they allow guns inside. NH is an open carry state - BUT - there's a provision built into the law:


"Businesses have the to right to ban firearms from their property, Merrigan said, and can ask customers who are carrying firearms, openly or concealed, to leave.
Customers who don’t leave a business when requested can be charged with criminal trespassing."

So call and ask, and decide for yourself whether you want to go there or not. If you see a person with a gun in a business - call the police. There is no way for you to know if he is one of the mythical "good guys with guns" or a domestic terrorist. Complaint to the management. Leave your shopping cart and walk out of the store. 

Enough is enough. And dammit, NH media - do a better job. 




Thursday, July 18, 2019

Till We Meet Again


              Cartoon by Dennis Rano - published in the Conway Daily Sun on April 19, 1997



In 1983, President Reagan signed the bill that would make Martin Luther King Jr. Day a federal holiday. It began to be observed three years later in many states. Not all states. New Hampshire was one of the states that chose not to. In 1991, the legislature abolished Fast Day, in order to create Civil Rights Day, a holiday that would coincide with MLK Day, but not use his name. Finally, in 1999 NH became the last state to honor Dr. King. 

There was a lot of discussion by white people in a white state, on how it would be wrong to honor Dr. King because he was a Communist, or an adulterer, or something – any excuse other than the real reason they didn’t want to honor him.

The public debate went on for years. In those halcyon, pre-internet days, the debate was fought in the letters to the editor sections of local newspapers. The Conway Daily Sun was no exception to the MLK wars. I was one of the participants. For a few years I mixed it up with the local anti-King population, hand writing letters, and sending them to the newspaper. That seems quaint now, doesn’t it?

Then I moved to California for a couple of years, and didn’t participate in the letter wars. I came back just in time for the OJ verdict. I promised myself I’d stay out of the letter wars, but one day in a moment of weakness, I jumped back in. I wrote a letter that was sharply critical of the way women were represented in the paper, after the county sheriff expressed a willingness to spank bare-bottomed 14-year old girls in the center of town. They responded by offering me a column. That was on February 10, 1996. My first column was published on February 17, titled, “Some of My Best Friends Are Men.” 

It’s been 23 years of ups and downs. I somehow grew into being a columnist, which might have been easier if I’d be smart enough to ask for help. I did get some good advice along the way from both Mark Guerringue and Bill Marvel. My first editor was Anne Edwards, who was kind to the clueless new person, and took a photo of a Barbie doll that I used as my profile photo whenever I could.

The first few years brought a lot of hate mail. It was hard to handle that in the beginning.  It was interesting to look back 23 years later and read through a stack of letters from men explaining what “real” feminism was. I’d forgotten about some of my anti-fan club. Some died. Some gave up. Some had encounters with karma. One prissy and prolific Christian who wrote endless letters professing his piety went on to be arrested for having a house full of drugs and molesting boys.  

I was given the freedom to write about anything I wanted. Looking back over a stack of old paper columns, I wrote about rape, domestic violence, and guns, but I also wrote about Georgia O’Keeffe, music, suicide, the war on drugs, and the need to let people mourn. I was often too serious in the early years, and sometimes I did write things intended to piss people off. Judging by the stack of old letters, it worked. 

Eventually I found a niche and a voice in writing about NH politics, and the goings on at the State House. I’ve learned a great deal about how the legislature functions, some of it the nuts and bolts stuff, and some if it the behind the scenes dealings. I’ve learned plenty about legislators, some good, some bad. A state representative has even sued me for defamation. One year, two courts, and four dismissals later, he finally accepted losing the suit. He also lost re-election.

It’s been an eventful 23 years. I’ve run for office, been homeless, had two moose collisions, been married, widowed, and nearly killed in a car crash. Now it’s time to say adieu for a while. I love this crazy state, but circumstances require my moving closer to my family in Maine. I’ll be learning an entirely new state and a new state legislature.

I want to thank Mark Guerringue, who gave me this opportunity. I’ve exasperated him on occasion, but he has always been firmly in my corner. Terry Leavitt was joy to work with as my editor for a few years, and Margaret McKenzie has been terrific as my editor in the last year or two. The late Ron Tunning did a turn as my editor, and we became friends. I still miss him. A small town paper is an increasingly rare commodity at a time when they are desperately needed. I’m going to miss being part of this one. 

Thank you, readers.  I’ll miss you most of all.  

Friday, July 05, 2019

It's Veto Time


 Governor Sununu smiling after solving the problem of deli cheese labeling at  Market Basket


Another legislative session has come to an end. Over a thousand bills have been passed, killed, or held in committee.  After months of working on a budget, first in the House, then in the Senate, and finally in Committees of Conference, a budget was also passed. Even though the legislature gave Governor Sununu at least 90 percent of what he asked for, he vetoed it. 

The Committee of Conference (CoC) removed the paid family and medical leave program that was something he actually campaigned on. As I mentioned in my last column, other states use it as an incentive to attract skilled workers. We seem to think that being NH is sufficient attraction.

The sticking point is something the governor is calling a tax increase. A couple of years ago, business tax cuts were passed that decreased the business tax rate incrementally. Some of the decreases have already taken effect – including one at the beginning of this year. The vetoed budget puts the next cut on hold. A tax cut that isn’t being enacted shouldn’t properly be called a tax increase, but once again, if the words “income tax” and “guns” were removed from the lexicon, our NH Republicans would have nothing to say. The very last thing we want to do is have an adult discussion about our tax structure.

The freeze on this tax cut would only affect about 60 out-of-state big corporations. Most small businesses don’t even pay the business profits tax. Unfortunately most of us aren’t especially well educated about the state budget, or where the money comes from to fund our state government. The NH Fiscal Policy Institute did a good analysis of the current money flow, which you can find on their website, nhfpi.org, dated May 22. 

In the absence of a budget, the state is running on a continuing resolution that expires on October 1.In the meantime, however, towns aren’t getting the property tax relief that was part of the budget, and school districts aren’t getting the infusion of funding that they so desperately need. The new secure psychiatric hospital won’t be happening, the affordable housing fund will not be getting $5 million, and rates for mental health and substance abuse providers will not be increased.    

Governor Sununu’s mask of affability has fallen off, and what lurks underneath is an ambitious Trump acolyte. He’s more interested in feathering the nest of his own political future  than doing what is right for the state. The care and feeding of big business is very important to him, since they are his donors, and he’s going to need them even more when he runs for higher office. 

In the current age of ideology, doing right by your state means passing budgets that don’t invest in the state or its people. In New Hampshire, “living within our means” is a bogus justification for our unwillingness to invest. We have means – NH is the seventh wealthiest state. We choose not to use those means in order to perpetuate the illusion that The Pledge is working for NH in the 21stcentury. We have intentionally failed to properly fund education for decades. Now we have an unqualified Commissioner of Education who is doing his level best to dismantle our system of public education. That failure to invest is one reason why the state has so much trouble attracting young people. We’ve got plenty of wealthy retirees – but at some point they’re going to need caregivers to wipe their behinds. Where will those workers come from? 

The governor is expected to veto a bill that would create a state minimum wage, and set it at $10 an hour. NH uses the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, which was established in 2009. Ten years ago. The cost of living hasn’t been frozen in amber, but attitudes about paying workers certainly have. Rents have increased by 28.33 percent in that time period, which has a dramatic effect on the lives of low-wage workers in our state, given the lack of affordable housing. At $10 an hour, NH would still have the lowest minimum wage in New England. At $10 an hour, workers still can’t afford rental housing. Paying wages too low to live on is an expression of contempt for workers.

The veto will be couched in terms of how it would hurt business, because that is always the only real concern. There’s a lot of breast beating about how businesses can’t find workers, but there’s no willingness to take any corrective action. NH has an abundance of low wage service jobs. A lot of working folks juggle several of them at once. Workers in other states don’t seem to be sufficiently motivated to move to NH for a low wage career. Hard to imagine, isn’t it? Don’t they know it’s New Hampshire? 

Monday, July 01, 2019

Duck, Duck, Hypocrisy



In 2013, a NH State Rep from Nashua generated huge outrage when he killed some ducks with his car. 

WMUR all but had a sound truck parked out in front of his house. There were daily reports. 

https://patch.com/new-hampshire/nashua/state-rep-accused-of-running-down-resident-ducks-at-crowne-plaza

https://www.wmur.com/article/rep-david-campbell-pays-695-fine-for-hitting-ducks/5187267

It became a national story:
http://nymag.com/intelligencer/2014/04/duckgate-the-best-political-scandal-of-the-year.html


There was even an investigation by the AG's office

https://www.nhpr.org/post/ag-no-charges-campbell-or-pappas-duck-incident#stream/0


And of course, there were the perpetually outraged libertea boys of granite grok:
https://granitegrok.com/blog/2013/12/representative-david-campbells-own-duck-dynasty

They were so incensed that they even referenced the hunting season for ducks:

Ducks are not in season for Nashua. The season for ducks was October 2 to November 3, and November 19 to December 15 for inland areas and October 4 to January 5, 2014 for the Coastal Zone. Nashua “ain’t” in the Coastal Zone. So the ducks were taken out of season.

That's what makes this latest legislative animal killing story so interesting. 

None of the outrage is present. Rep. James Spillane, shot a squirrel on his birdfeeder with a 50 caliber muzzleloader, and posted the result on social media. Apparently this was a manly thing to do, and he felt compelled to boast to his manly friends, about his manly squirrel killing act. 

https://www.unionleader.com/news/politics/state/deerfield-state-rep-booted-from-fish-game-committee-after-i/article_3358fdad-42ff-51e3-baaf-1833556824e9.html

Minority Leader Dick Hinch was infuriated. Not at the conduct of a member of his party, but at the removal of Spillane from Fish and Game:

"Removing Rep. Spillane from the Fish and Game committee for a minor infraction is heavy-handed and I'm disappointed that the Speaker chose to take this action," he said. 

It's unfortunate that the Speaker did not give Representative Spillane the opportunity for a face-to-face meeting to discuss the issue, or even a warning for that matter. In the future, will members of the Transportation Committee be removed for minor infractions such as a speeding ticket?"

Not a very good analogy, Dick. There's a big difference between a speeding ticket and shooting an animal out of season, posting a photo and bragging about it. 


Spillane was on the Fish and Game Committee at the NH House, which made all this just a little more embarrassing. *NOTE the link below contains the squirrel photo taken by Representative Squirrel Hunter. 

https://www.concordmonitor.com/State-Rep-Spillane-killer-of-a-squirrel-ousted-from-committee-26633533

We learned that there is such a thing as squirrel hunting season in NH, which made Spillane's conduct even worse for Fish and Game, where they spend time encouraging sportsmanlike conduct: 

The tweet prompted a complaint to the state Fish and Game Department, which sent officers to Spillane’s home to tell him he did not have the legal right to kill the squirrel outside the hunting season, which runs from Sept. 1 to Jan. 1. 

https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/lawmaker-removed-from-committee-after-shooting-squirrel/2019/06/28/7ef46162-99df-11e9-9a16-dc551ea5a43b_story.html?utm_term=.10833199b899


The outrage machine, however, is strangely silent. 
In fact, those who were outraged in 2013 are now defending Rep. Squirrel Killer. Over at granitegrok the boys decided that Spillane getting kicked off Fish and Game was a violation of his free speech rights! Their 2013 concern for hunting season wasn't even mentioned. In fact, their poutrage was diversionary whattaboutism, concerning a host of other, non-related incidents. After all, something a legislator they hate said a few years ago is bound to be justification for a legislator they love to kill a squirrel. Or something like that. It surely couldn't be.....hypocrisy. 

https://granitegrok.com/blog/2019/06/nh-speaker-of-the-house-removes-state-rep-from-committee-for-expressing-free-speech#comment-4523356043

Oh, shucks. I forgot to mention that David Campbell was a Democrat and James "squirrel hunter" Spillane a Republican. Kinda looks like outrage in NH leans far to the right.  






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 https://www.marlandcartoons.com 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 InDepthNH.org

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