Subverting democracy in New Hampshire
By Guest Blogger Susan Bruce
Note: Susan Bruce is a New Hampshire columnist, respected blog editor and radio commentator.
New Hampshire has always enjoyed a reputation for being a state filled with thrifty Yankees having libertarian leanings. The 400-member House of Representatives is the third-largest governing body in the English-speaking world. All New Hampshire legislators serve two-year terms, for which they receive an annual gratuity of $100. They’re citizens. They’re volunteers. They are not professional politicians.
This year, the New Hampshire Senate enacted a new rule that requires a two-thirds majority vote to introduce or hear certain resolutions. This kind of action has never been taken before in the Live Free or Die state, where everything gets a hearing. The senators claimed that too much time is wasted on silly resolutions that serve no purpose.
House resolutions come in three varieties: House Concurrent Resolutions (HCRs), House Joint Resolutions (HJRs) and House Resolutions. (HRs)
It is worth noting that this year, the number of resolutions is significantly smaller than it has been in the past few years. There are only three HCRs, two HJRs and eight HRs. Most of the HRs are housekeeping matters, such as adopting rules for the biennium, and never reach the Senate.
In 2012, there were 16 HCRs, four HJRs and 11 HRs. They included a resolution declaring that New Hampshire supports the Arizona immigration law, one calling on the U.S. to withdraw from the United Nations, one urging Congress to privatize all aspects of Social Security and (my favorite), a resolution urging New Hampshire lawmakers to declare brainpower a state resource.
In 2011, there were a whopping 27 HCRs, four HJRs, and 13 HRs. Included were resolutions in support of the Arizona immigration law, urging the UK to return the Elgin marbles to Greece and urging the Park Service to allow the exhumation of Meriwether Lewis to determine his cause of death. There was also a resolution that requested Congress to begin the process of overturning the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which gave corporations the green light to spend unlimited sums to influence elections.
Some of these must sound strange and obscure. They are!
Yet the previous New Hampshire Senate didn’t feel compelled to complain or refuse to hear any of them, no matter how little relevance they had to New Hampshire. That’s why it is so surprising that the New Hampshire Senate decided to refuse to hear them this year.
This year, they do not want to hear HCR 1, a resolution urging Congress to fund a comprehensive health care delivery system to enhance specialty care for New Hampshire veterans. New Hampshire is the only state in the union that has no VA hospital.
The Senate does not want to hear HCR 2, requesting Congress to begin the process of overturning Citizens United.
The Senate also does not want to hear HJR 1, directing the joint legislative historical committee to acquire and display a portrait of suffragist Marilla Marks Ricker. Marilla Ricker was left a wealthy widow before she was 30 and spent the next 50 years trying to ensure that women got the right to vote. She was the first woman who tried to vote, and later ran for governor, because she was so incensed that she had to pay property taxes but was not allowed to vote. Apparently this story is too coarse for the dainty ears of the current New Hampshire Senate, as they are refusing to hear it.
Politics is our life’s blood in New Hampshire, home of the first in the nation presidential primary. Many of us live in small towns and serve in a variety of offices throughout our lives. With a 400-person legislature, many of us run for the New Hampshire House at some point, as I did, in 2002. It’s inexpensive entertainment in a state where many of us can’t get cable television.
That’s why this Senate rule change is so disheartening. We don’t run away from a discussion or a fight in New Hampshire, and that’s exactly what the Senate is doing. Lawmakers passed this rule without making it public, to avoid working on things they don’t like. That’s not the behavior of statesmen. That’s subverting the democratic process. It’s running away, and running away doesn’t bode well for them in the next election.
As the story of Marilla Ricker illustrates, we’ve been blessed with some strong women to lead the way in New Hampshire. Doris Haddock, known to the world as Granny D, walked from California to Washington, D.C., when she was 90, to call attention to the need for campaign finance reform. On April 21, 2000, Granny D was arrested for reading the Declaration of Independence in the Capitol building. In the statement she read in court, she said: “I was reading from the Declaration of Independence to make the point that we must declare our independence from the corrupting bonds of big money in our election campaigns.” If Doris was willing to risk arrest at age 90, surely we can all take some less risky action.
Public Citizen’s New Hampshire page on the Democracy Is For People website has a great picture of Doris wearing her famous hat. There also are helpful resources listed on the site, so that you can take action by reading the fact sheet about Citizens United and then call your state senator.