Rep Steve Vaillancourt



Friday
Feb102012

Minutes of Senate Hearing on House Redistricting

Thanks to Senate staffer Patrick Murphy, the minutes are now available for the Senate hearing on House Bill 592, the House redistricting bill.  Only Redistricting Chair Paul Mirski, R-Enfield, spoke in favor of the bill Tuesday.  I spoke against it; I found the tone of Senate President Peter Bragdon's questions to me interesting, almost like he did not entirely favor the methodology used by the House.  However, as I noted in my testimony, tradition is that the Senate approves the House plan and vise versa.  Rumors abound, however, that Manchester Senator Tom DeBlois is ready to propose an amendment fixing the Hillsborough County problem and restoring the two seats which House Republican leadership "stole" from Manchester.  We shall see.

Here are the complete minutes of the Senate hearing. 

 

Who supports the bill:  Representative Paul Mirski

Who opposes the bill:   Representative Steve Vaillancourt;  Caitlin Rollo on behalf of Granite State Progress 

Summary of testimony received:   

  • Senator Prescott opened the hearing at 1:05 p.m. 
  • Representative Mirski introduced the Legislation on behalf of all of the sponsors and testified that he is the chair of the Redistricting Committee in the House.
  • He said that he thought, based on the recently-enacted Constitutional amendment, that this would have been a short process – but it was a long process.    He said that the process is entirely formulaic.   He said that they did seek the help of legal counsel who carefully examined the Federal Constitutional requirements along with the State Constitutional requirements.   He noted again that it was a long and tortured process.
  • In the end, he said that the House was unable to apply the newly-adopted Constitutional amendment – 14th – because of case law that has been established over the years which gives no latitude to deviation.    They have a 10% maximum deviation – 5% plus or minus.
  • He said that their bottom line is that they have to stay within the maximum deviation and that they cannot use aggregate deviation.
  • He said that they actually just completed this task about three weeks ago – in fact, they had a last-minute amendment before the bill went to the floor of the House.    Essentially, he said that he feels that this will definitely be in court but could have avoided that had they had some latitude.  
  • He used as an example the Town of Pittsfield which lacks merely 11 people in order to qualify for their own State Representative – but he said that this would not be permitted.
  • He noted that the Constitution provides that the House and Senate shall put forth their own plans and he hoped the Senate will accept this.
  • Senator Bragdon, in commenting on the maximum 10% deviation, noted that his understanding from what he said is that this sounded like a line that could not be crossed.    But he also noted that a vote of over 80% of the people in adopting the Constitutional amendment sounded also like a compelling interest.    Representative Mirski responded that he had lobbied to go to 6% deviation, as this would have helped them in Grafton County and Pittsfield, but that federal case law is that they must try to get to zero.      He spoke of the number of different House districts previously – 95, then 103 – and that this plan establishes over 200 districts, many of which are small districts.   He said that the House is being bold here.
  • Senator Bragdon asked if maps are available.    Representative Mirski agreed to get them to Committee members.
  • Senator Larsen told of the responsibility of seeking communities of interest and about the portion of Concord (Ward 5) that has been tied to Hopkinton.   She said that representing the interest of a City is vastly different from representing a town – and noted that a similar combination has been done in Manchester.   Representative Mirski responded that in reading the Constitutional amendment, the ward boundaries disappear – and that the underlying case law argues against it.    He noted that even the House Democratic leaders proposed a plan that had part of Concord with Hopkinton.   He acknowledged that the Manchester floterial is a nightmare that they were unable to avoid, though it still enables the city to have the 34 Representatives that they wanted.    He said that this is a “house of cards” and that if you touch anything, you have to redraw that whole county.   He acknowledged that the plan is not 100%.
  • Representative Mirski said that the numbers drive everything and that there are very few places where one can make political decisions.  
  • Senator Larsen noted that if the City of Concord had raised the same ruckus that Nashua did, maybe they would have gotten more relief.

 

  • Caitlin Rollo testified in opposition on behalf of Granite State Progress.    She said that they are concerned about the lack of transparency that occurred during the House deliberations and the lack of public participation.   She said that under this plan, several towns and/or city wards will lose full representation.    She reminded Senators that the Constitutional Amendment states that eligible communities should have their own representatives.   The population threshold is 3,291.   She said that the plan they presented provides for far better representation (the plan is available at www.granitestateprogress.org).  
  • Senator Bragdon asked if the plan they presented was the one that had weighted voting.    Ms. Rollo responded “yes.”   

  • Representative Vaillancourt testified in opposition.   He acknowledged that the common practice is for the Senate to rubber-stamp the House plan and the House to rubber-stamp the Senate’s.    However, he said he needs to speak up about the process as two areas are clearly unconstitutional and will be found as such.    He spoke of Pelham that deserves to have 4 Representatives of their own but will get zero under this plan because this combines Pelham with Hudson.   He said that it makes far more sense to combine Litchfield with Hudson.  
  • He remarked that there is absolutely no need for this to happen.    He said in the City of Concord, 9 out of the 10 wards get their own Representative, but for whatever reason, one ward was singled out, even though it has more population.   He said that could have easily been floated with other Concord wards.
  • He said that he had put a plan forward.  He noted that he does not agree with the proposal for weighted voting as it creates super mega districts, but noted that this plan should be totally reworked now.
  • He commented that the plan ten years ago had a deviation of 22% and that twenty years ago, it was over by 10%.    He said that they were not allowed to create floterial districts – and that they were handcuffed in several ways.    He said that this plan only needs a “little tweaking” in order to fix it.
  • Senator Bragdon asked why they were not allowed to use aggregates.   Representative Vaillancourt responded that the House hired outside legal counsel who have kept this whole thing secret.    He said that they initially used aggregates, but he believes that the lawyers are the reason that it was abandoned.  
  • Senator Bragdon, commented that with the 10% the proof falls on the challenger, and stated again that when over 80% of the voters adopted the Constitutional amendment, this established a compelling reason.   Representative Vaillancourt responded “yes,” but again he blames the lawyers.   He said that if you allowed as small a deviation as 5.6%, then Belknap County would be fine.    

 

He said that the options must be weighed and that it would have been much wiser to use them, but the House Committee was not allowed to do so.

  • Senator Prescott closed the hearing at 1:43 p.m.

Funding:              Not applicable.

 

Future Action:     The Committee took the bill under advisement.

 

Thursday
Feb092012

Half Truths On Redistricting Must Cease

             During a meeting Thursday afternoon, every single member of the Manchester delegation, all Republicans and all Democrats, vowed to stand firm and vote to sustain any gubernatorial veto of the O'Brien/Bettencourt/Mirski/Bates/Mosca redistricting plan which takes two representative seats away from Manchester, two seats which the city clearly deserves.  Two Republicans went so far as to pledge that they would vote against O'Brien even if he decided to take away their vice chair positions (Labor and Criminal Justice) as a result.  It wouldn't be the first time.  O'Brien removed the Fish and Game chair for daring to oppose him on the right to work veto.  

            All Manchester Reps also vowed not to "take a walk" (or skip the vote) as some did last time.  (I also pledged to vote to sustain the veto even if the Speaker takes Rep. Irene Messier's parking space away--just a joke; we need humor occasionally.  I drive Irene). 

            With 21 Republican votes from Manchester to sustain the veto, only a handful of other Republican votes would be needed to shoot down the plan. My count is that up to two dozen such votes exist, so even if 70 percent of the Reps cave to pressure, O'Brien would lose on this ill-fated plan.

              However, the Speaker and his high paid lawyer/lobbyist Ed Mosca continue spreading half truths and outright lies in an attempt to twist Manchester arms.

               For example, the Speaker is now claiming that the plan to combine Litchfield and  two Manchester wards (8 and 9) came from Rep. Steve Vaillancourt.  Yes, that would be I, and yes, I discovered the mathematical possibility of such a combinuation.  However, I insisted at the time to Chairman Mirski and everybody else that it was not a good plan and I would only accept it if no other possibilities existed.  That's where the half truth comes in.  Many, many other acceptable plans have come forth in which Manchester does not need to be combined with Litchfield, both using and not using the Parison method of calculating deviation.

              Thus, it's more a lie than a half truth to blame me for this plan.

              Mosca also continues to busy himself spreading the lie that if this House plan is not approved, the court will step in and come up with a plan.  He almost makes it sound like the court is sitting back smiling and hoping that it will be called in.

               That's an out and out lie.  Ten years ago, the court virtually begged the House to come up with a plan so that it would not have to draw the maps.  Howie Zibel told the redistricting committee the same thing last week.  Should the unconstitutional O'Brien/Bettencourt/Mirski/Bates/Mosca plan not survive a veto, any sentient human being would have to assume that the Speaker's leadership team would quickly cobble together a plan which would be acceptable to all.  In other words, a compromise such as our founders intended.  I suspect such a plan has already been cobbled together.  It's an ace up the sleeve which is being held until the Speaker exhausts his attempts at intimidation; in other words, he'd rather play Russian Roulette than do the right thing.  Yes indeed, absolute power corrupts absolutely.

                Mosca continues to disgrace himself and his position by spreading the lie that that court would create a plan if this one is struck down.  Clearly, the court will go out of its way to allow the House to come up with an acceptable plan.  Failure to do that will reside strictly with the Speaker and Mosca (Mirski, Bates, and Bettencourt), not with Manchester Representatives.

                There's at least one more complete lie that is apparently being spread.  Manchester delegation chair Will Infantine revealed that the O'Brien leadership team has told him that my plan for 33 Manchester Reps of its own does not meet the deviation standard of plus or minus five percent.

                  Fortunately, I put that lie to rest immediately by whipping out my plan which shows the following deviations, far, far short of exceeding five percent.

Ward 1--0.9 percent

Ward 2--1.7%

Ward 4--0.9%

Ward 5--2.0%

Ward 3--0.4%

Ward 10-- (0.4%)

Ward 11--(0.5%)

Ward 12--(0.5%)

Ward 6--2.1%

Ward 7--1.5%

Ward 8--1.1%

Ward 9--1.4%

               In other words, the overall deviation for Manchester would only be (add the highest positive and negative and you can figure it out for yourself) only 2.6% (2.1 plus 0.5).

               Isn't it time for attorney/lobbyist to stop making up half truths and out and lies and get down to the business of providing a fair plan which can pass and be signed into law before the crisis sets in?

               Of course it is, and while Hillsborough County is fixed, one other thing.  I have pledged not to support any plan which does not also remedy the blantantly unconstitutional Concord plan, an attempt to "screw" not merely the city but one particular individual who happens to have the second most tenure of any House member and is one of the nicest people you could ever hope to meet.

              Yes, that would be Mary Jane Wallner.

               The Speaker is also coming dangerously close to saying things which will come back to haunt the Republican Party in court.  For example, he told Infantine, who admitted to the entire delegation, that the plan was put together to help Republicans retain seats in Wards 8 and 9 since Litchfield is very Republican.

                Hey, Mr. Speaker, I've represented Ward 8 for 16 years and I neither need nor want your help.  I want only a fair playing field which this leadership team apparently is unwilling to provide.

Thursday
Feb092012

The Four Sweetest Words--"I Told You So"

            Remember House Bill 655?

            Like me, you probably don’t remember bill numbers, so allow me to explain before I ask a second question.

            House Bill 655 was that misguided effort by the House Redistricting Committee to force cities to realign their wards prior to January 7, 2012.

            Undoubtedly you begin to remember how, on December 12, a day which the House had presumably been called back to override John Lynch’s right to work veto, wasted two or three hours debating that bit of inanity.

            You probably recall how I argued that it didn’t matter what we did because it would never be passed by the Senate and singed by the Governor prior to January 7.

            The debate centered on Lebanon which had a plan to equalize population in its three wards but was not going to vote on it until the regularly scheduled city meeting in early March.

            In other words, if we could wait till March, we’d save the good people of Lebanon thousands of dollars by not having to call a special election.  But it was worse that that—on December 12, there wasn’t enough time for a special election to be posted prior to January 7.

            So the house was wasting all our time by insisting that the impossible be done, like a man sprouting wings and flying like a bird.

            When the Redistricting Committee asked that the impossible be done on another bill earlier this week, I asked Chairman Paul Mirski, R-Enfield, whatever became of House Bill 655.

            He didn’t know, nor did I.

            But, of course, I know now…so the question is—whatever happened to this inane bill?

            As it turns out, as I predicted, the Senate did not come back into special session to deal with the issue, but when it returned January 4, 2012, on a motion by Senator Jeb Bradley, to Senate voted 16-6 (more than the necessary twp-thirds) to suspend its rules to allow introduction of House Bill 656.

            So, you might assume it was immediately assigned to the appropriate committee and dealt with.

            You would be partially correct.  It was in fact assigned to the Internal Affairs Committee, but as I write this on February 9, one month and two days beyond the January 7 deadline noted in the bill, the Senate Internal Affairs Committee has taken no action on the bill, not even scheduled a public hearing.

            Yes indeed, the four sweetest words our lexicon come into play again.

            Those words, of course are, “I TOLD YOU SO.”

            You just can’t make this stuff up.

Thursday
Feb092012

With Gambling, It's Kill Me Now Or Kill Me Later

            Remember the tag line from the Fram Oil commercial back in the early 80s?

            “Pay me now or pay me later”.

            That comes to mind today with one slight change.  When it comes to a gambling proposal in the New Hampshire House, it’s “kill me now or kill me later”.

            As predicted in this blog back prior to the New Year, gambling is going nowhere in the House, but with Republican leadership now on board—hey, whatever happened to that anti-gambling plank in the Republican platform?—gambling is going to die the slow way, death by a thousand cuts rather than a clear vote on the floor.           

            Kind of reminds you of the way Speaker Bill O’Brien lost the veto override of right to work, n’est-ce pas?  You can delay and delay all you want, but you can’t make gold out of straw.

            The time will come for gambling to go down once again.           

            That time wasn’t yesterday.  Realizing he didn’t have the votes to pass the bill, O’Brien and his minions decided to sent it back to the Ways and Means Committee for more work (257-91 was the vote (no roll call, so names cannot be named—isn’t that special?).

            Last month, when they realized they didn’t have the votes to pass the bill, GOP leadership broke the rules by creating a special joint committee of Ways and Means and Constitutional Review to look into legal ramifications of the bill.

            That committee met a few times—I even presented The Honorable Gambling Plan (formulated by former Senator and future governor Ted Gatsas) to the panel—but nothing seems to have come of it except an amendment which leadership claims needs more study (not to mention openness) before being voted on.

            Yes, the clown prince of the House, the majority leader, managed to make that argument with a straight face in urging those on both sides to send the bill back to committee?

            How stupid do they think we are?

            If you need to ask that question, you certainly don’t need to answer it.

            Kill me now or kill me later, that’s where we stand on gambling.

            On another frontm, one can only wonder how much.

            How much what, you ask.

            How much money have the out of state gambling interests, which stand to benefit by passage of this bill, promised O’Brien and his Republican re-election pact to get this true.

If you think it’s nothing, you just aren’t thinking.

Ways and Means Chair Steve Stepanek noted that all new amendment will be welcome at a new hearing Monday, Feb. 13.  Does anyone not think the Gatsas plan will fail to surface yet again?

Yes, Edmond, it will!  It even has a co-sponsor this time around.

Thursday
Feb092012

Sorry Toni, Carol, Sandy; Two Years It Remains

            In a stunning repudiation of Hillsborough County Chair Rep. Carl Seidel, R-Nashua, and of the entire Municipal and County Government Committee, by nearly a two to one margin the New Hampshrie House Wednesday voted not to allow Hillsborough County Commissioners to abandon two year terms and run for “staggered” four year terms.

            Without consulting most of his 122 Hillsborough County colleagues, Chairman Seidel bought into the absurd argument by Commissioners, unless they are given four year terms, might all be freshmen and unable to govern at some future time.

            The Muni/County Committee not only bought the argument and voted for the bill by a 15-1 margin, but it had the unmitigated gall to place it on the consent calendar where bills automatically pass unless someone removed them from consent.

            Congratulation to Rep. Gail Barry, R-Manchester Ward 9, for removing from consent this attempt to rob hundreds of thousands of New Hampshire residents of their right to vote.  (I would have pulled it had Rep. Barry not chosen to do so).

            The House overturned the 15-1 committee vote by a 107-192 margin (64.2 percent; it was not a recorded vote so we cannot name names).  Yes, that's correct 93.75 percent of the committee was overturned by 64.2 percent on the House floor.  That must be some kind of record or close to it.

            Here’s the insanity of it all.  County commissioner in many instances is basically a lifetime chore.  Carol Holden was elected in the towns of Hillsborough upon the death of a commissioner in 1997; she’s been there ever since, only having to get re-elected every two years.  Manchester’s Toni Pappas has also held her seat more than any of us would care to remember.

            So the argument that we might have three new commissioners is simply laughable, and even if we did, the people would have chosen three qualified people who could certainly get the job done.

            Even more laughable, as Rep. Barry pointed out on the House floor, the veteran Holden and Pappas, rather than relying on their own decades of experience, chose first year commissioner Sandra Ziehm to chair the board.

            You just can’t make this stuff up.

            The Governor still has to run every two years (in New Hampshire and Vermont only).  All State Reps have to run every two years; all State Senators have to run every two years; all other county officers have to run every two years.

            However, some counties in the past ten years have adopted this silly notion that they need to stagger terms, so that a commissioner is elected for four years, then two years, then four years again.  Just because your neighbor jumps off a cliff certainly doesn’t mean you should follow him—words of wisdom from the mothers of all of us coming back to mind.     

            It makes no sense whatsoever.  Carl Seidel, and not for the first time either—he’s working mightily behind the scenes to restore an unnecessary county position which the executive committee rolled back--abandoned the wishes of the vast majority of his fellow reps.  The Municipal and County Government Committee drank the same foul water, and they both got slapped down by the House.

            When I informed Secretary of State Bill Gardner (gosh I hope this isn’t an off the record comment), he told me good—now maybe other counties will go back to two year terms for all as well.

            Thanks Gail Barry; thanks Rep Bill Belvin, R-Amherst, for pointing out on the floor the value of people being able to choose every two years.  Thanks to 192 Reps who actually showed the courage to overturn an out-and-out terrible committee recommendation.

            There’s hope for us after all.