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,, 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.

It became a national story:

There was even an investigation by the AG's office

And of course, there were the perpetually outraged libertea boys of granite grok:

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.