In response to the Red-Tailed Hawk disgrace, during which a group of fourth graders from my district were forced to watch from the Gallery as their simple bill was “mocked and ridiculed” by legislators, some of us have put together a family friendly contest for school age kids. Called “New Hampshire’s Dumbest Law,” school and college students in New Hampshire are invited to find an outdated law on the books that makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. It is illegal, for example, to collect seaweed on the beach at night, to sell your clothes to pay a gambling debt, or to check into a motel under a nickname. Several of us will select the silliest and most ridiculous rule still on the books, then cosponsor a bill to repeal that outdated, improbable law that no one could believe in. There is a Facebook page of the same name with directions for how to search for and submit their idea for the silliest law before the September 15th deadline.
The New Hampshire House of Representatives looks very different from the inside, to be sure, than it does to the public. As a freshman representative, the workload and effort to catch up and understand the process are tremendous. Speaking directly with the likes of former speakers Bill O’Brien and Gene Chandler, Representative Pam Tucker, Senator Nancy Stiles, John Reagan, and Russel Prescott is a very different experience in person than seeing them on the news.
Seated on the bench just a few yards from the podium, waiting to speak in favor of the bill that would have made the Red-Tailed Hawk the state raptor, I watched in embarrassment as Representatives Bartlett, Burt, and Groen ridiculed the bill and brought the House of Representatives to a new low, something that few then realized would go viral and make us all infamous nationwide. Rather than apologize for his own inaction during the fiasco, Speaker Shawn Jasper took the opportunity to write the fourth graders (see NHInsider April 1, 2015), who are in my district, and criticize members of the House for their behavior.
From the outside, though, the public is being told that the legislature just can’t agree with Governor Maggie Hassan, who has just vetoed an $11.3 billion budget, already 7% larger than the last one, because it doesn’t provide $40 million in pay raises and Medicaid Expansion. The impression is given that the elected officials can’t get their act together. The impression is largely correct.
From the outside, the mainstream media continues to report on the “civil war” going on among House Republicans, a problem that we don’t see on the Senate side. Shawn Jasper, described by many legislators who knew him as a “self-inflated bully” (NHInsider, Japser Boasts About His Bullying Abilities, February 27, 2012) aligned with Democratic leadership to narrowly take the Speakership, giving the Democrats the power to defeat countless NHGOP “platform” bills. Efforts to restore local control and parental oversight of schools, improve transparency in local government, strengthen self-defense rights, and reduce the burden of regulations and unfunded state mandates on businesses and towns has been defeated repeatedly by a coalition of 60 Jaspercrats (“Republicans” who vote like Democrats) and 160 Democrats who must vote as Flanagan and Shurtleff, respectively, tell them to. For three months, every Republican platform bill went to defeat or was amended to death, finding only the support of about 140 conservative or “liberty” Republicans, often followed by derisive laughter from Jaspercrats and Democrats.
From the anteroom (formerly a bar, according to lore) behind the Hall of Representatives to the hallways of the Legislative Office Building, I am asked almost daily why Jasper still refuses to assign me to a committee, why he continues to ostracize pro-life conservatives, why he “acts like a 61 year old baby.” I am warned by over 30 different reps not to go into his office alone, that he is liable to just make things up afterward and perhaps later claim that I threatened or came at him. “That’s a set up!” several warned. All bullies are cowards, and all are two-faced. Even Jasper had friends before he had the power to hurt those who wouldn't kiss up to him.
From the outside, there remains a need to appear congenial and bipartisan, giving the appearance of professionalism and working together. From the inside, Democrats are holding the entire state hostage and threatening a winter shutdown of our highways in order to squeeze a few tens of millions more out of the taxpayer. In other states, they turn whole communities into ghettos and fill states with people dependent on handouts in order to build safe Democratic holdouts, albeit at the expense of dramatically higher crime, taxes, and urban sprawl.
From the inside, platform Republicans are asking what our message is after Hassan has followed through with her threat to veto the budget. Myself having consulted with authors, business owners, inventors, and tech startups about marketing and branding decisions that have to be made early, I am left wondering why no one is working on this critical part of the NHGOP effort. Again I propose “smaller government, local control,” which everyone agrees with, but no one remembers to repeat it. No other message is brought forward, and I wonder what people are thinking in caucus.
As a member of Laurie Sanborn’s Business Caucus, Bill O’Brien and Pam Tucker’s Republican Majority Caucus, Carol McGuire and Leon Rideout’s House Republican Alliance, and the Pro-life Caucus, I am amazed at how much legislators talk over each other. As something of an expert on many areas of public policy, I watch members raise their voices and argue over each other. Their heart is in the right place, but they are pushing efforts and positions that should never leave the room, some of which turn into proposed legislation. Watching the sausage get made with the wrong ingredients is often a frustrating view of Amateur Hour, adults acting like ten year olds. Advocates of SB113, the casino bill, were stunned when it went down to a terrible defeat, losing by about 50 votes in the House. Now that it’s too late to resurrect, they are only now talking about actually getting input from legislators who were reluctant to support it.
Governor Hassan and the Democrats are now going against the will of suburban moms, an act of political suicide and sheer insanity in the modern two party marketplace. Democrats have voted against and vetoed everything from giving local control to school boards to making the unpopular Common Core optional, from increased funds for charter schools to keep them open to letting parents opt out of politically motivated or objectionable material on these standardized PACE or SBA tests.
Jaspercrats are even joining Democrats to oppose letting businesses buy health insurance from out of state preferred provider networks (HB128), adding an obscure mold remediation licensing mandate ( SB125, despite the fact that the EPA already offers a free course and certificate that won’t count toward this new mandate, and that only two other states require one), enacting a very unpopular fee schedule set by the Department of Labor (SB133, even though both parties vocally decried fee schedules as terrible policy), and adding many other regulations that will just make life more difficult for Granite State businesses, a longtime Republican mainstay.
Worse, Jaspercrats and Democrats locked together to push through numerous “crony capitalist” bills, including the infamous SB30 “Balsams Bailout,” the $28 million loan guarantee that we were repeatedly told had nothing to do with the Balsams. I’d love to be able to live out in the middle of nowhere and get to force the taxpayers to back a huge five star resort in my backyard so that my offspring won’t have to go to the trouble of moving to southern New Hampshire to get work like the rest of us schmucks. While we’re telling people with physical and mental disabilities to go take a hike because the State is broke, maybe we could spend another $28 million on job training and scholarships for those recovering from work injuries, disabled vets, or those with permanent disabilities instead.
Questions were raised about SB221, which sounded like it would turn over $950 million in assets to private investors for just $100 million, with rates guaranteed by ratepayers in order to convince some wealthy investors to take nearly a billion in assets off our hands for about ten cents on the dollar. With careful money management like this, it’s no wonder that our elected officials are so handsomely compensated. Our annual reimbursement of $100 would almost be enough to bring half of your family to Water Country for the day, provided that you walk there and don’t eat, drink, or rent a locker for your sport blazer and winter boots.
Under the ever-present threat of removal from their various “leadership” positions, chairs, vice chairs, majority leaders and whips must steadfastly vote as N.H. Democratic Party chair Ray Buckley tells Speaker Jasper to tell Majority Leader Flanagan to tell them to vote, no matter what the cost to the taxpayer or Republican party unity. Only three votes against “leadership” will get any chairman removed. Rep. Laurie Sanborn was pulled from the House Finance Committee after she steadfastly refused to support the ill-fated 8 cent per gallon gas tax increase. Others have been threatened with being pulled from Committees of Conference if they will not do what Ray Buckley tells Jasper to tell Flanagan to tell them to do.
The tragedy of the House of Representatives is that the Speaker wields absolute, unaccountable power. Since the Democrats vote as they are told (or get removed by the union officials at the upcoming election) this gives a few wealthy liberals total control of the output of the House, even though the voters actually voted Democrats out for these very reasons. This is the real reason why 240 Republicans cannot currently downsize government, root out waste, fraud, and abuse, or take on the power of the trial lawyers.
The response to New Hampshire’s Dumbest Law from the House Clerk and the Speaker’s Office is that cannot be announced to the full membership or included in the House Calendar as it would not be fitting with “the decorum of the House.” New Hampshire’s Dumbest Law can be discussed and promoted anywhere else. The “self-inflated bully” was chosen by House Democratic leadership to turn the House into a fiasco and a national embarrassment. It worked.
Representative Max Abramson
representing the towns of Hampton Falls and Seabrook
(Despite numerous requests of the Speaker, I am still the only member of the House without a committee assignment.)