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