On Feb. 7, 2011, newly minted Speaker of the New Hampshire House, Bill O’Brien had this to say: “We are committed to bringing transparency to state government and making it easier for people to know what their government is doing.”
That was certainly a lofty and admirable sentiment. Of course only a month later, O’Brien closed the House gallery to the people during a lengthy debate. The Speaker also refused to allow Concord Monitor reporter Ann Marie Timmins into a press conference. The Monitor had published an unflattering cartoon of the Speaker, and Mr. Transparency responded by taking it out on Timmons.
The Speaker’s latest foray into transparency came at the end of September, when we learned that he’d attempted to keep the LSRs filed by incumbents under wraps until after the upcoming election. There’s an early filing period (Sept. 17 - 26) when incumbents can file LSRs (potential bills for the upcoming legislative session) so that Legislative Services can get an early start on writing and researching the bills. With a 400 member House the proposed legislation can stack up, and indeed, they are. There are 255 proposed LSRs on the House General Court website today.
O’Brien denies making an attempt to change the rules. For decades proposed bills were released in writing every week. In recent years, they’ve been posted daily on the House website. The postings are not comprehensive — it’s generally a title or a reference to the subject of a bill that has yet to be fleshed out. There is often enough information, however, to discern what the bill is about. That’s why the Speaker wants these bills kept quiet until after the election — he doesn’t want the legislators filing them to be held accountable by the electorate. It is rumored that this all came about because flagrant homophobe Rep. Al Baldasaro filed a bill to repeal marriage equality. Apparently “making it easier for people to know what their government is doing” hasn’t turned out so well for a Speaker and a House intent on pursuing a far right social agenda.
A number of bills are coming back, some for the umpteenth time. The Speaker himself has filed a right-to-work bill, despite how thoroughly he was routed on that particular subject last year. Rep. Dan Itse has filed his perennial bill to form a state militia. This is the fourth time Itse has filed this particular piece of legislation, showing remarkable disdain for the taxpayers of our state who pay for the filing and writing of the bill, not to mention the cost of this militia to the state. (An estimated $500,000 per year in 2011) Itse also shows disdain for his colleagues who have to listen to it again. And again. Rep. Robert Kingsbury of Laconia became famous on late night comedy shows last year when he sponsored a bill to include a relevant phrase from the Magna Carta in each new piece of legislation. Apparently he liked the spotlight, because that bill is back. He’s also filed a bill that requires the rebuilding of the Old Man of the Mountain. The bill to require random drug testing of food stamp recipients is back. As you may recall, in 2011 we learned that this would cost NH taxpayers $3 million a year, while saving them absolutely no money. There are also a few other bills taking a run at food stamp recipients. What I didn’t see were bills aimed at bringing New Hampshire into the future. Forcing food stamp recipients to urinate into cups won’t rebuild the NH infrastructure; in fact, it will divert money that could be used to fix our dreadful infrastructure into a witch-hunt against poor people.
The Speaker doesn’t want you to know what incumbents have in mind for 2013, but there’s little he can do to keep their voting history over the last two years a secret. The folks at Granite State Progress have put together a legislative report card database that is very easy to use. You can look up incumbents and learn how they voted on a number of issues during the last biennium. The data was compiled from some 200 roll call votes. This is a great resource, and I urge all voters to use it before they vote.
In July, former Rep. Norman Tregenza told the Conway Sun that the key concerns of valley residents are: “ jobs, liberty, and roads.” He mentioned his concern for road maintenance, and his intent to divert funds for repair work. Given his comments to the paper, I was shocked to learn that former Rep. Tregenza voted in favor of cutting the highway fund — which is where the monies for constructing, repairing, and maintaining our highways and byways comes from. Tregenza also voted against establishing a commission to encourage broadband service in underserved areas. He voted against allowing municipalities to bond for building their own broadband infrastructure. Roads and telecommunications are essential to the economic future of our state, a fact that seems to be lost on Norm Tregenza, despite his claims to the newspaper.
He did vote in favor of every gun bill, though, including the ones that would have allowed stalkers and abusers to legally possess handguns.
He voted for a bill that would have made it impossible for a married couple with minor children to obtain a no-fault divorce. He voted for every bill aimed at regulating women’s reproductive decisions and defunding Planned Parenthood. He voted to repeal NH’s marriage equality law. Liberty, it would seem, is only for heterosexual men.
Governor Lynch vetoed a bill that would ban abortion even when the woman’s health is in jeopardy. Representatives Umberger, McCarthy, and Tregenza all voted to override that veto. That’s right, women. They all voted in favor of letting you DIE rather than get an abortion. That’s right, men. They voted in favor of letting your wife (and possibly the mother of your children) DIE rather than have an abortion that would save her life.
These people are but a few of the extremists desperate to get back into the N.H. Legislature. They all supported O’Brien’s election as Speaker, and will again, should he be re-elected to the House. Gene Chandler didn’t just support the Speaker, he’s also part of the O’Brien leadership team.
I wish I could say “vote for them at your peril” but by voting for them, you imperil the rest of us.
Do your homework before you vote: http://granitestateprogress.org/service/legislator-report-cards
Susan Bruce is a local free lance writer. Visit her blog at susanthebruce.blogspot.com.