How NH’s Secretary of State Could Affect Abortion Statistics

Former Executive Councilor Colin “I Stand With Planned Parenthood” Van Ostern is campaigning to replace New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner. The vote will be taken on December 5 by the newly-elected House and Senate in Concord. The result will have implications for an important pro-life policy goal.

[Update, 12/6/18: Secretary of State Gardner narrowly won re-election over Mr. Van Ostern.]

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From June 2016: then-Executive Councilors Chris Sununu and Colin Van Ostern before voting Yes on contracts with abortion providers.

New Hampshire is one of very few states that does not report abortion statistics to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) as a public health measure. If – excuse me, when – New Hampshire finally puts women’s health ahead of lesser concerns, two state departments will be involved in any statistics program: the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), which oversees public health issues, and the Department of State, which oversees the Division of Vital Records.

That’s why it matters who holds the position of New Hampshire Secretary of State. The administrative framework for carrying out any statistics-collection program will be handled by the team in the vital records office. If that office answers to a pro-abortion Secretary of State, I don’t believe cooperation with an abortion statistics law will be forthcoming.

In past discussions to which I’ve been a party regarding proposed abortion-statistics legislation, a representative of the vital records office has been present. At every point, that representative has been scrupulously neutral on abortion, assuring policymakers that the division can find and implement any necessary software and procedures to collect abortion statistics in a manner that respects the privacy of all individuals.

Whenever a legislative policy committee has had a hearing on abortion and has requested input from the vital records office, that has been the essence of the office’s message: you tell us what you want collected – and since this is information other states are already collecting and reporting to the CDC, we’re not talking rocket science here – and we’ll get the job done.

That’s been the policy under Bill Gardner. Mr. Gardner is a Democrat, but at no point in his tenure as Secretary of State has that made a difference to him. He has carried out every aspect of his job in a nonpartisan manner. Andrew Cline of the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy summed it up:

…Gardner gave his loyalty to the office, never to a party or person. Being his friend, as many legislators have been, was no help if your race was close. Being a member of his political party was no help, either. And everyone knew it.

Gardner always understood that the survival of a democratic republic requires trust in its institutions. If the state’s top election official showed even hints of favoritism, trust in the system would erode. And that would undermine our whole experiment in republican government.

Newly-elected Democrats in the New Hampshire House held a straw poll not long ago. Van Ostern won in a landslide. Since then, many New Hampshire officials – including Democrats former Gov. John Lynch and current Sen. Lou D’Allesandro – have spoken up about why they support Gardner for Secretary of State. Will their endorsements make a difference? We’ll find out on December 5.

That’s when the New Hampshire House and Senate will meet in joint session. First order of business will be swearing in the victors of November’s election. Democrats will be in the majority. Then comes the vote for Secretary of State.

The result is going to matter.

Three, not two, on the ballot for Governor

The ads on television and online might leave you thinking there are only two people running for New Hampshire Governor: Democrat Colin Van Ostern and Republican Chris Sununu.

Rep. Max Abramson (nh.gov photo)
Rep. Max Abramson (nh.gov photo)

There is a third candidate on the ballot: Rep. Max Abramson of Seabrook, running as a Libertarian.  The Big Two aren’t worried about him. Still, there he is. I have not interviewed him. He has a voting record from his term as state rep, though. Rep. Abramson:

  • supported repeal of the buffer zone law (HB 1570, 3/9/16)
  • voted against “inexpedient to legislate” motions on bills to restrict post-20-week abortions (HB 1328, 3/9/16), to make abortion facilities meet the same standards as ambulatory care facilities (HB 1399, 3/9/16), to prohibit abortions on the grounds of genetic abnormalities (HB 1623, 3/9/16), and to keep taxpayer money away from abortion providers (HB 677, 2015)
  • supported a ban on post-viability abortions (HB 1625, 3/9/16)

Incumbent Executive Councilors Van Ostern and Sununu deal in contracts, not bills, so their voting records can’t be compared to Abramson’s. We know that Planned Parenthood has endorsed Mr. Van Ostern, and that both he and Mr. Sununu have voted to send our money to PP and other abortion providers.

(You DID know that, right?)


 

UL: “unofficial sources” say ethics complaint dismissed

Update: Reporter Dave Solomon reports in the New Hampshire Sunday News that New Hampshire’s Executive Branch Ethics Committee has dismissed Darlene Pawlik’s complaint against Governor Maggie Hassan and Executive Councilor Colin Van Ostern. Solomon reports in the State House Dome column that he got the news from “unofficial sources, since all complaints are considered behind closed doors, unless the committee decides to conduct an investigation.”

Pawlik’s complaint was formally submitted for consideration at the ethics committee’s August 3 meeting. She told me a day before the scheduled meeting that she would not be allowed to listen in.

Pawlik alleged that Hassan and Van Ostern should have recused themselves from proceedings involving state contracts with Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, since both officials have received campaign donations from PP.

Business as usual will continue.

See Leaven for the Loaf’s earlier report on Pawlik’s complaint here

Ethics in theory and practice

Gov. Maggie Hassan (nh.gov photo)
Gov. Maggie Hassan (nh.gov photo)

(See update, August 7.)

The front page of the New Hampshire Union Leader today carries a welcome headline – below the fold, but front page nonetheless: “Planned Parenthood votes cited.” The kicker beneath: “Ethics complaint: Campaign contributions called a factor in Right to Life member’s complaint against [Governor Maggie] Hassan, [Executive Councilor Colin] Van Ostern”.

Darlene Pawlik
Darlene Pawlik

The complainant is Darlene Pawlik, who as the article notes is a Right to Life member. Left unspecified is her work as vice-president of Save the 1. She doesn’t waste time feeling intimidated.

Pawlik’s complaint is about donations to Hassan’s and Van Ostern’s campaigns as well as expenditures not coordinated with the candidates during the 2012 and 2014 campaign cycles. Was it ethical for Hassan to support and Van Ostern to vote on subsequent PP business, including the recent do-over?

Is it ethical under New Hampshire law and regulation for elected officials to participate in votes involving groups that have given campaign contributions to those officials?

Moot point, in the view of PP of Northern New England’s vice-president of public policy, as quoted in the Union Leader. She “declined to comment”, but was moved to note that PPNNE and its Political Action Fund (note the possessive) are “separate and distinct organizations with different funding, different activities and different tax status.”

A year ago this month, I looked at some of the PPNNE donations – more like investments – in the 2014 Executive Council races. It was clear at that time that investments in candidates yielded significant dividends for the regions’s largest abortion provider.

So who’s going to hear this ethics complaint? An agency of which I’ve been hitherto unaware: the Executive Branch Ethics Committee, whose next meeting may or may not be held on August 3. Its last three scheduled monthly meetings were cancelled. No complaints to consider? I don’t know, but they sure have one now.

Van Ostern and Hassan’s spokesman have responded to Pawlik’s complaint as one might expect, using words like “baseless,” “false,” “frivolous,” and – my personal favorite – “purely motivated by politics.”

And when Hassan and Van Ostern say something’s motivated by politics, they know whereof they speak.

Stay tuned. Let’s find out if ethics in New Hampshire’s executive branch is simply a theory.


 

Notes on Executive Council, PP, & retroactive funding (again)

New Hampshire Executive Council chamber (nh.gov photo)
New Hampshire Executive Council chamber (nh.gov photo)

Pro-life New Hampshire readers have probably already seen the recent alert from New Hampshire Right to Life, warning of an upcoming vote by the Executive Council that might send funds to Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, retroactive to what would have been the starting date of the contract that the Council rejected last August. Call your Councilor, says NHRTL, and I second that.

A few thoughts, in no particular order, with links to relevant posts:


The next Executive Council meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, June 29 at 10 a.m. at the State House. The agenda for the meeting won’t be posted publicly until just a few days in advance, at which time we’ll find out if the retroactive funding is indeed coming up for a vote. Here is a link to the web page where the agenda will be posted; when you see “June 29” listed as a meeting date, there will be a link to the agenda.

Look up your district here and your Councilor’s contact information here.

This threatens to be a dreary re-run of bygone days. From 2013: PPNNE to get retroactive $$ from state? and Retroactivity, or how not to de-fund an abortion provider.

Abortion isn’t health care, but embedding abortion within authentic health care for women has proven to be a lucrative business model. The Executive Councilors are in a good position to disrupt that model.

Did the Council “de-fund” PP last August? Only if you think a $20 million organization can be de-funded by denying it a $638,000 two-year contract. 

Recall that Councilors Joe Kenney, Chris Sununu, and Dave Wheeler voted to reject the PP contract last August. At that meeting, Kenney and Sununu both cited the Center for Medical Progress videos as a factor in their vote. Those videos feature PP employees discussing trafficking in body parts, with a PP medical professional describing her willingness to alter abortion procedures not to provide the best care to women but to extract the most lucrative intact fetal organs. 

I was at the August 2015 meeting and heard the discussion that preceded the vote. Sununu said something that got short shrift from some of his colleagues and Governor Hassan: “I’m pro-choice and I support Planned Parenthood, but in my district, women have no [other] choice.” From my report on the meeting: “He unsuccessfully urged Hassan and his fellow Councilors to ‘take a step back’ and support a study of health care options in Sununu’s southeastern New Hampshire district. He said he got calls from constituents who wanted family planning services but not at Planned Parenthood.

Those constituents need to get on the phone again. Sununu voted in favor of a PPNNE contract in 2011, and against one in 2015. A swing vote, for sure. 

Oh, the (in)humanity: In August, Councilor Chris Pappas said it would be inhumane to deny PP its contract. He then expressed reservations about the CMP videos. It was unclear whether he had watched the videos or whether he might flag any part of the content “inhumane.”

Dismissing his colleagues’ concerns about the CMP videos, Councilor Colin Van Ostern (now seeking the Democratic nomination for Governor) called opposition to the August contract “ideology” and the CMP videos “heavily edited.” He has had ten months since then to view the unedited videos, still available online.

Governor Hassan, in an unguarded (but on-the-record) moment at the August meeting, said before the PP contract vote, “I’m sure Planned Parenthood would review its operations if this was voted down.” When the contract was voted down a few minutes later, Hassan’s team was ready with a blistering press release: “It is clear that today’s vote is the result of an ideological and political attack against Planned Parenthood and a woman’s right to make her own healthcare decisions …The council’s vote to defund Planned Parenthood will hurt the health and economic well-being of thousands of Granite Staters.” No mention there of PP reviewing its operations. Likewise, there was no mention of how the health and economic well-being of thousands of Granite Staters could be hurt by removing only $319,000 from PPNNE’s $20 million annual budget. (Remember, the denied contract was for $638,000 over two years.)

Note that no one on the Council intends to retire from public office this year.

Councilor Colin Van Ostern, a Democrat, is running for Governor. So is Chris Sununu, a Republican.

Councilors Joe Kenney (R), Chris Pappas (D), and Dave Wheeler (R) are running to keep their Council seats.

As for Governor Maggie Hassan (D), she is running for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Kelly Ayotte.