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Susan Bruce: The Combo Plate

New Hampshire is famous for many things. The beauty of our mountains, our history, our covered bridges, our highway liquor stores, and our 400-person House of Representatives. As most of us know, the NH House of Representatives is the third largest governing body in the English-speaking world. In a state of 1.3 million people, we have 400 state reps that serve a two-year term for no pay. There is a little extra money for travel, but it's limited to certain days of the week.

What do other similarly sized states do?

Our neighbors in Maine have the same sized population, spread out over a larger area. There are 151 members of the Maine House, and three non-voting members representing the Penobscot Nation, the Passamaquoddy Tribe, and the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians. Maine reps are paid $13, 852 for the first year of their session, and $9,661 for the second. They also get $38 a day for housing or mileage and tolls, and $32 a day for meals. Among those currently serving there are 10 educators, eight attorneys, two farmers, nine health care professionals, two in the pulp/paper industry, three carpenters, and one logger. There are 35 retirees.

Our neighbors in Vermont have a 150-member House. Their reps get $604.79 a week during the legislative session, and $112 a day for special sessions or interim committee meetings. They also get $101 a day for lodging (for non-commuters to the capital). They receive $61 a day for meals and mileage.

South Dakota, with a population of 833,350 has a 70 member House. They get $12,000 for their two-year term, and a $110 daily per diem. North Dakota has a population of 700,600 and a 94 member House. Their reps get $152 a day during the legislative session and for attending interim committee meetings. They also receive up to $1,351 a month in lodging reimbursement.

In Rhode Island, with a population of 1 million, there are 75 representatives in the Rhode Island House, who receive $14,185.95 a year, with no per diem. Hawaii has a 51 member House, who earn $46,272 per year. The per diems during session: $150 a day for those living outside Oahu, $120 a day for members living outside Oahu during the interim who conduct legislative business. Those living in Oahu get $10 a day during the interim.

Idaho has a 70-member House. They earn $16,116 a year. The per diems: $122 a day for members who live outside of Boise, $49 a day for members who live in Boise, and up to $25 a day for travel.

Montana has a 100-person House. Their reps get $82.64 a day, and a $105.31 daily per diem. Alaska has a 40-person House, and their reps earn $50,400 a year, with a per diem of $238 or $253 per day, depending on the time of year. That rate is adjusted lower for those who live in Juneau.

The only state legislature that comes close to New Hampshire in size is Pennsylvania, with 203 state reps. The legislature that comes closest to New Hampshire in parsimony is Alabama, whose reps earn an official wage of $10 a day. Their per diems, however, are $4, 308 per month, and $50 a day for the three days during the week that the legislature is in session.

It used to be that the size of the N.H. Legislature was a source of pride. We could boast to people in other states that we have unprecedented access to our legislators. We can call 'em up at home! We see them at the supermarket!

These days I see it a little differently. The size of the House ensures the kind of gridlock we see in the U.S. House. Those 400 representatives have no offices and no staff. They wade through hundreds of bills every year with no resources to assist them, except for the hundreds of people hanging around the House and the LOB wearing orange badges. Lobbyists. I've attended more than one committee hearing or work session this year where the chair called upon a lobbyist for information. We may tell ourselves that our giddily unpaid system eliminates corruption and special interests, but when we do, we're lying to us.

It's impossible for most working people to run for the N.H. House, so the majority of reps are retirees. "Rich, retired, or crazy" as the old saying goes. Now that's not true in every case, but there's certainly a basis for it, as we've seen a lot lately. We don't hear stupid Maine legislator remarks on late night TV. Vermont state reps don't seem to make the national news. New Hampshire, on the other hand, seems determined to become a permanent national joke.

Let's play rich, retired, or crazy! Rep. Al Baldasaro of Londonderry recently testified that the bill to ban lead sinkers and jigs comes straight from the United Nation's Agenda 21. It's actually a bill to protect the dwindling loon population in New Hampshire, even as the loon population in the legislature expands. Al's a well-to-do retiree. Crazy? You make the call. Rep. Romeo Danais of Nottingham compared food stamp recipients to wild animals. Romeo Danais is a multimillionaire. Rep. Peter Hansen called women "vagina's" in a House email. He's rich and retired. Draw your own conclusions about the full combo plate. Rep. Stella Tremblay achieved global fame by asserting her belief that the U.S. gummint blew up the Boston Marathon. Mere treason was not enough — since then, Stella's gone on to further glory by insisting that bombing victim Jeff Bauman was faking it, after having both legs blown off. Dr. Stellaaaaah asserts that Bauman wasn't in shock or pain, therefore this is all a big fake gummint show. I'm not sure if Stella ever had a job, but it's clear what part of the combo platter applies to her. There is no recall mechanism for removing her (or any New Hampshire elected official) from office. Rep. Edmond Gionet of Lincoln distinguished himself by asking Kelly Ayotte this week if she thought there was going to be a revolution, because of Obama. Ayotte bravely squashed that kind of treasonspeak by responding, "Obviously, I hope not." A real pillar of tea-flavored jello, is our Kelly. As for Gionet, he's 82, and not rich. Other aspects of the combo plate may apply.

Cutting the size of the legislature by more than half and paying a reasonable stipend would mean a younger and more diverse legislature. Adding legislative staff and offices would cut back on the influence of lobbyists. It makes sense though, so it will never happen.

It would mean paying for service rendered, which New Hampshire is always loath to do, and it would also require a Constitutional amendment. The folks serving in the N.H. House aren't likely to vote themselves out of their non-paying jobs, especially now that they've learned they can get a national platform for their tinfoil hattery.

Susan Bruce is a writer and activist who lives in the Mount Washington Valley. Visit her blog at susanthebruce.blogspot.com.
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