As promised here yesterday, I sat on this story overnight and toned it down a bit this afternoon, but the truth must come out...NOW.
Unlike ten years ago when Democrats were responsible for throwing the state into chaos by failing to accept a reasonable redistricting plan, Republicans will bear the blame when chaos results once again this year.
Ten years ago, at the urging of House Democrat leader Peter Burling who was holding out for smaller districts, Governor Jeanne Shaheen vetoed a legitimate plan. When the House couldn’t override Shaheen’s veto, we were left with no plan. Those with short memories blame the Court for getting involved; but in fact, the Court had very little choice. Something had to be done, and lo and behold, we ended up with larger, not smaller districts, just the opposite of what Burling wanted.
One of two scenarios will play out this year, and in either case, Republicans will be responsible for the mess, specifically Speaker Bill O’Brien, Redistricting Chair Paul Mirski, Vice Chair David Bates, Majority Leader D.J. Bettencourt, and legal counsel Ed Mosca, a Manchester attorney who has been paid thousands of dollars to offer House leadership bad advice every step of the way along this agonizing process.
Democrats signaled last week that they were ready to accept a plan for Hillsborough County which would have remedied one of the clearly unconstitutional aspects of the House plan, the fact that Mirski/Mosca and company choose to apportion ZERO representatives to Pelham when it in fact deserves no less than four.
Democrats were basically saying that they would not sue, but in a pique of hubris worthy of a Greek tragic figure, O’Brien wouldn’t take yes for an answer.
Rather than accept the bipartisan solution, he called a Republican caucus and bullied dozens of members into accepting a plan which will either be vetoed by Governor John Lynch and sustained or will be taken to court and struck down as unconstitutional.
While I have personal objections with many aspects of the plan, including splitting cities apart and combining them with towns with which they have nothing in common, most of what was done is legal.
However, what was done to Pelham is clearly not acceptable. And neither is the decision to strip Ward 5 away from Concord and combine it with Hopkinton prior to being given a representative of its own.
The Constitutional amendment states clearly that every town or city ward with a population enough for its own represenative (3291) must be allotted that Rep before being combined with other units.
All 12 Manchester wards, even the two combined with Litchfield, get their own Reps prior to being floated. Nine of the ten Concord wards do as well. Only Ward 5 does not, and since another plan (I wrote it) exists which would meet the Constitutional requirement, Mirski/Mosca and company cannot claim that they had no alternative.
The “I didn’t know the gun was loaded” excuse simply will not work in court.
While O’Brien may be able to bully his own caucus, he will not be able to bully judges who will be absolutely correct in striking down this plan…assuming it gets that far.
If 25-30 Republicans join Democrats (Manchester itself has no fewer than 21 Republicans), Lynch’s veto will be sustained, and like ten years ago, we’ll be left without a plan, and the court will be forced to intervene.
I know, I know, Mirski/Mosca and Company plan to bring forward what they call order number 1, a plan which would force Secretary of State Bill Gardner to implement the unconstitutional House plan without it having to go to the governor.
That would be a sign of desperation. Who knows if Bill Gardener would even do such a thing? After all, I've always looked upon him as the most honorable man in the state.
The order would most assuredly be deemed unconstitutional upon arrival in court, before Gardner was forced to act, but meanwhile the clock would be ticking. More and more time would be wasted. We’ll be up against the filing period, and Mirski/Mosca/O’Brien and Company will have thrown the state into even worse chaos than we experienced ten years ago.
It’s all so tragic. Mirski, the Representative who most wanted to bring representatives to all towns and wards, has been co-opted by Mosca and the legal minds who must be thinking more in terms of billable hours than of giving level-headed advice on how to formulate a compromise plan which can pass overwhelmingly and not be challenged in court.
The tragedy is that Republicans won so many seats in 2010 that O’Brien and company have come to believe that they can do absolutely anything they choose.
To hell with the spirit of compromise.
To hell with the Constitution.
Let despotism rule.
That’s the modus operandi for Speaker O’Brien, and through some sort of Vulcan mind meld, he’s convinced the majority of Republicans that if they don’t go along with him, in contravention of not only tradition but of common sense, that Democrats will get their way, that the courts will end up creating a plan.
In fact, just the opposite is the truth. Democrats have basically accepted a fair plan, and only O’Brien and his lawyers are holding up its implementation.
Like Burling ten years ago, don’t be surprised if O’Brien and Company wind up with just the opposite result of what they’re striving for.
Yes, the court will become involved, but only because O’Brien—not Democrats—are forcing us in that direction.
Here’s how bad it is. I’ve learned this from an inside Republican source who would be open to retribution if I named names. Unable to answer the Pelham and Concord concerns other than merely repeating over and over that “the lawyers said...", Mirski/Bates and Company developed a deliberate strategy of obfuscation and stonewalling when the debate came to the House floor.
After the initial Hillsborough plan was defeated (after the infamous caucus), another plan from Seth Cohn was offered. This one clearly did not use the formula lawyers had objected to, but Bates/Mirski simply pretended that nothing was different. They new perfectly well that a great deal was different, that there could be no lawyerly objections to this second plan, but they deliberately deceived their colleagues into thinking it was the same.
Many Reps apparently still believe so today. That’s how successful the stonewalling and obfuscation were. In fact, a Rep just wrote to me that leadership left him not knowing what was going on.
That was intentional. They didn’t want Reps to know the truth.
That’s the same reason Speaker O’Brien went out of his way to slur Rep. Cohn by saying we shouldn’t rely on someone who’s had access to a computer program and could put numbers together. Leadership didn’t want real numbers to get out, so they denigrated Rep Cohn (and me) who had worked tirelessly to get the real facts out.
Leadership didn’t want the facts to get out; they worked overtime to blur the facts. In fact, the Speaker spent weeks preventing anyone from gaining access to the computer program. That didn’t stop me from working the numbers since I always took the time using a hand-held calculator. When others like Rep Cohn and Rep Spec Bowers managed to gain access to the computer program, they came up with even more ingeniously constitutional plans, so much so that Mirski/Bates/O’Brien/Mosca/Bettencourt were forced to redouble their efforts to deceive people, to guarantee that the truth never got out.
The majority leader went so far as to blatantly claim on the floor that the committee had spent hundreds of hours working on plans. In fact, an alarmingly small number of hours was spent at the committee level, nothing like the number put in by the dedicated group of Representatives appointed by Speaker Gene Chandler ten years ago. The hours were spent by Reps Bowers, Cohn and me designing plans which the committee for the most part proceeded to ignore in favor of plans which were formulated by lawyers and staffers behind closed doors, plans put forth to rob seats from Democrats.
That kind of Mirski/Bates/O’Brien/Mosca/Bettencourt strategy can work with Representatives but will never work in court.
Mosca (or maybe the secret lawyer who was hired to pull strings behind the scenes--his identity remains a mystery despite a right to know request from the media) will have to answer how it’s fairer to deny Pelham four Reps of its own than to accept the Parison plan which would have given Hudson six Reps of its own and the chance to gain two others in a float with Litchfield which would, as the Constitutional amendment mandated, also get two reps of its own. How is it fair that not only Pelham get ZERO reps of its own, but Hudson, deserving 7.5 Reps of its own, also gets ZERO reps of its own? What kind of lawyer, billable hours notwithstanding, would be comfortable trying to answer that question?
4 plus 7.5. That’s 11.5.
Taking 11.5 Reps away is more constitutional than floating one extra Rep?
It’ll be especially difficult to argue because Mirski’s minions are already on record as having taken back a plan which stripped three Reps from a Nashua ward to be combined with Hudson.
What kind of a legal mind can argue that it’s fairer to take away four Reps than three?
Truly, you can’t make this stuff up, and you shouldn’t have to.
Chairman Mirski, whom I used to respect a great deal, promised me one week prior to the vote on the House floor—we were seated in the room just outside Reps Hall—that the Hudson/Litchfield/Pelham problem (which in fact creates a Manchester problem) would be remedied prior to the plan coming to a vote.
Another prominent Republican leader offered me similar promises (off the record, so I am honor bound not to name names).
Both broke their promises and neither deemed it important to even come back with an explanation as to why they’d reneged on their sacred word. If you ever need to break your word, you at least owe an explanation. That’s the code of honor I’ve always operated under.
Clearly in the O’Brien House, there’s no such thing as honor any more, but sadly that’s what happens when you have enough power…or think you do…of simply whipping people into line.
It gets even worse, however, because while you may not have heard this publicly, O’Brien has bragged to his caucus how he’s done the one thing a court will never accept. He’s created a plan to protect incumbent Republicans and to “screw” (my word, not his) Democrats wherever possible.
Don’t get me wrong. Gerrymandering is a time-honored and legal way of forming districts, but not when you break the Constitution in the process.
The reason Republicans want Pelham subsumed by Hudson is that if Pelham were to stand alone with the four Reps it deserves, most likely one or two (maybe even three) would be Democrats.
Wait till the Court hears that, disregarding the Constitution to play partisan games.
The reason this particular Concord ward is being combined with Hopkinton is that it creates a three-member district containing four incumbent Democrats, including respected leader Mary Jane Wallner who, regardless of our differences, is one of the most honorable members ever to serve here. She will, according to the Mirski/Mosca plan, have to vie with Hopkinton incumbents Chris Hamm, Derek Owen, and Gary Richardson to hold her seat.
Wait till the Court hears that, disregarding the Constitution to oust one particular individual.
There can be no doubt that this is what O’Brien/Mirski/Mosca/Bates/Bettencourt have done.
Like the Titanic lurching for the iceberg, we’re heading into dangerous waters. Republican leaders put the entire state at risk in order to score a few cheap tawdry political points.
I’m ashamed of them. All Republicans should be ashamed of them; and the five should be ashamed of themselves.
As Senator Joseph McCarthy was asked by Joseph Welch, “Have you no shame?”
The answer, all too sadly, is no.
The only chance to turn this liner around before it hits the iceberg is for leadership to go to the Senate and ask them to include the Cohn amendment for Hillsborough County and my amendment for Merrimack County before returning the bill to the House.
That’s the only way we can get a veto proof vote on the House floor and avoid a law suit.
Will it happen?
One word—the same word that kept the Speaker from reaching an agreement with Senate leadership prior to the state losing $3 million on the marital masters issue.
That word would be HUBRIS.
Hubris goeth before the fall. Those with absolute power, as the historian said, are corrupted absolutely.
Sadly that’s where we stand in the redistricting process with hubris leading us to the brink of disaster.
Take my committee assignments away; take Irene Messier’s parking space away. After all, she just spent two days hospitalized due to a fall on the ice. Certainly she can make the walk from Storrs Street Garage.
As always, I am compelled to speak the truth.
I can rest in peace as this ship goes down; sorry, Irene, you may need to find a new driver.