A Note on Death Penalty Repeal

Governor Chris Sununu of New Hampshire has vetoed repeal of the state’s death penalty law. As I write, the House will vote on an override in just a few hours. Whether enough votes are there is anyone’s guess. It’s going to be close. The Governor is fighting hard to have his veto sustained.

He considers capital punishment to be a way of supporting law enforcement. As the granddaughter of a cop and the niece of two others, I don’t, but that’s not what this post is about.

It’s odd that in a year when the Governor has promised that he’ll be vetoing all kinds of bills, he’s putting such a high value on vetoing this one. It’s his first veto, and he’s facing a Democratic House and Senate. I have heard from Republican legislators about the pressure being brought to bear by party brass to back up the Governor’s determination to keep the death penalty on the books.

I got a faint whiff of the pressure myself this morning at an informal gathering of political acquaintances. I’m an undeclared voter (that’s Granitespeak for “independent”), but I was admonished by someone who should know better that I had to back the Governor on this one, and tell my reps to do likewise.

A conscience vote was fine when the bill first came through House and Senate, I was told, but that was then and this is now. Now, it’s not a conscience vote. It’s a matter of supporting the Governor. The Dems are doing this on purpose, timing this, trying to make him look bad.

The Governor, by the way, touted a 64% approval rating in April, making him the third-most-popular governor in the nation. He doesn’t need my pity.

I’ve been involved in politics all my adult life. I understand horse trading, whipping votes, and how arms need to be twisted now and then. But never, least of all now, have I had any patience for considering a life-issue bill to be a matter of conscience in March and a matter of saving face two months later.

This is the kind of thing that makes “undeclared” the largest bloc of voters in New Hampshire.

Opposition to the death penalty is something of a stumbling block to a lot of people who are pro-life in other respects. Some of those people are Republican legislators who voted against the repeal bill earlier this session and will vote to sustain the veto. They’re not giving the party whips any heartburn. They will be consistent.

The Republicans who voted in favor of death penalty repeal are the ones getting the lectures now. They’re the ones I’m thinking about as the vote nears. I hope they’ll be consistent, too.

On Party Unity: a Tale of Two Bills

The New Hampshire House voted a few minutes ago to kill a “right-to-work” bill. My Facebook and Twitter feeds are noisy with the cries of RTW advocates who are upset that SB 11 failed on the Republicans’ watch. Right-to-work is in the state GOP platform. Republican leadership in legislative and executive branches promoted the bill.  It failed anyway, by 23 votes.

*Yawn.*

No one who has seen pro-life bills fail in the New Hampshire House under Republican majorities can be shocked when “party unity” fails.

Many of today’s House members were in office last year when the House voted 167-116 to kill a bill (HB 1627) to protect children born alive after attempted abortion. There was a Republican majority in place then, too, under the same Speaker who holds the position today.

One difference between today’s vote and last year’s: protecting children born alive after attempted abortion was not a leadership priority. Unlike with RTW, there was no press conference by the state GOP calling on reps to pass HB 1627. Unlike with RTW, the Speaker didn’t hand over the gavel to another rep so he could go on record supporting HB 1627.

I happen to think RTW legislation is a good idea, and I’m sorry today’s bill lost. But surprised? Shocked?

Please. Without party unity on the fundamental right to life, party unity on anything else seems irrelevant.

I’m hanging on to what the state of New Hampshire insists on calling my “undeclared” voter registration. Any candidate who wants my vote knows how to earn it.


 

Staying home in November is not an option

Here’s a seemingly gratuitous notification, but humor me for a moment: I won’t be voting in November for either of the major nominees for President.

This comes to mind as I overhear a news channel’s talking head asking a pollster about the people who reject both the GOP and Democratic presumptive nominees – “what if they all stay home in November?”

Stupid question, Mr. Talking Head. A better one: What will those people do down-ballot?

#NeverHillary, #NeverTrump. I am a firm believer in the value of defensive elections – voting for mediocre Candidate A in order to block the election of awful Candidate B, if necessary – but that’s not the situation this year. Instead, to my aging pro-life eyes, there are two titanically, epically unsuitable people slugging it out for supremacy.

What’s left is damage control. And that’s why staying home in November is not an option.

What builds the political firewall against a president who wants to protect the abortion industry, or one who is indifferent to the right to life? A Senate that will say no to pro-abortion judicial nominees; a House that takes the power of the purse seriously; elected officials at state and local levels who promote policies that respect the right to life as something inherent in every human being and who allow life-affirming ministries to flourish.

One presidential candidate is very free with the epithet “loser.” I’m not looking forward to the policies that will come from an executive branch led by such a man. Medically vulnerable people, people with disabilities, the preborn, the dying, the condemned, the refugees: where would they find an advocate in a White House occupied by someone who’s quick to label “losers”?

And then there’s the other major candidate, who thinks abortion is health care and who has no problem with compulsory public funding of abortion providers. She’s a fan of Obamacare’s contraceptive mandate, and she’s been unwilling to defend the rights of dissenting women like the Little Sisters of the Poor. In her world, no human being has any right to live until someone else grants that right. No one has ever asked her to explain the difference between human rights and humanly-granted rights.  Come to think of it, let her opponent ponder that one.

In my lower moments, I’ve thought that these two candidates ought to run on a single ticket, perhaps with the slogan “what difference at this point does it make?”

Neither of these presumptive nominees has earned my vote. It’s for precisely that reason that I refuse to be a bystander next November. The down-ballot races – all those contests below the “President” line – will affect the extent of the damage a President can wreak.

I’m mindful that apart from any defensive effect, the down-ballot races are important in themselves. I’ve spent enough time at the State House to know that.

I’ve already had some lively offline exchanges with people of good will whose views of the presidential race differ from mine. I’ll say this much to everyone who asks me “but what about the Supreme Court?!”: (a) while I know one candidate is sure to pack the Court with abortion advocates, I have no confidence that the other candidate won’t; and (b) the U.S. Senate can be a firewall, unless it decides to be a rubber stamp. So by the way, this year’s Senate race bears close attention.

To all those who are as repelled as I by the presumptive presidential nominees of the major parties, I say be of good cheer. Vote in November. Skip the top line, and then vote with gusto in all the other races, having done your homework about your choices.

But don’t stay home. Discouragement is for losers, if you’ll pardon the expression.


 

A retiring NH rep reflects on life in Concord

Lenette Peterson on being a state rep: "the experience was phenomenal."
Lenette Peterson on being a state rep: “the experience was phenomenal.”

Lenette Peterson was elected in 2010 to represent Merrimack in the New Hampshire legislature. She served two terms, and then retired. She’s a friend and neighbor and hiking buddy, firmly pro-life. We sat down for coffee just before Christmas so I could ask her to look back on her time in office.

Why she’s leaving 

She’s been a sponsor of some important pro-life bills. As constituent, I supported her in two elections. I had to know: why is she leaving office?

“I two-termed myself.” Along with her husband, she prayed and thought about running back in 2010. “I asked [husband Erik] if he’d give me two terms. First term would be a learning experience. Second term is when I’d actually hopefully be doing something good.” She laughed as she added, “And I said only two terms, because we now have two children in college. State rep salary really doesn’t help pay for even a lunch card.”

That salary is $100 a year, plus mileage. New Hampshire in effect has a volunteer legislature. That hundred dollars a year is fixed. It doesn’t vary if session days run long or if a representative’s committee assignments are especially time-consuming. I hate seeing good, conscientious representatives choose not to run for re-election, but I can understand it – even if we’re losing a solid rep from my own town.


 

Why she ran 

Is the life issue one reason why she ran? “Yes.” No apologies for the social issues here.

She recounted a story from her early days in office in 2011. “I remember my freshman year, before we met for the first session. The majority leader at the time was meeting with groups of freshman [legislators]. Someone mentioned social issues, and the majority leader said ‘You guys can put all your social issues aside. We’re not going to deal with anything social this year.’ When he got to me, I said ‘first and foremost, I ran on social issues. That was on every piece of literature I passed out. Parental notification came up. Repeal of same-sex marriage came up. I ran on social issues so don’t tell me they don’t matter. I got elected by talking about social issues and Second Amendment issues. Social issues will be dealt with.'”

She hadn’t intended to run before 2010 – but she was asked, or more-or-less drafted, by a conservative legislator who had her eye out for likely candidates.

“If you had told me in April [2010] that I was going to put my name on the ballot, I would have told you you were nuts. That May, my oldest daughter and I were in Kohls. Lo & behold, we run into the Honorable Nancy Elliott.” At that time, Nancy was a Merrimack state representative in her third term, and Lenette had worked on her campaigns. “I said ‘I’m ready for your next campaign’ and she said ‘I’m not running again.'” At that point, Lenette walked right into trouble by asking, “So if you’re not running, who is?” Nancy Elliott was ready for that question: “Well, I’m praying about you running.”

Lenette shook her head as she recalled hearing that. “I said ‘are you nuts?’ My daughter said, ‘Mom, it’d be great!’ Nancy said to me ‘At least pray about it.'” L

enette was teaching at the time, at Milford Christian Academy. Being a legislator would put a crimp in that. Her husband realized what a commitment she’d be making if she went to Concord. It took a lot of prayer and thought. When filing period came in June, Lenette took the plunge and ran. She was elected that fall. She won again easily in 2012, a year that saw a lot of other Republicans lose.

What got done, and what didn’t – and why

What is she happiest about, in terms of legislation from the last two terms? “We kept [expanded] gambling out. That was huge. Parental notification [for abortion] was huge.”

And what’s been left undone? “Oh, my word – so many life bills. The life things, for sure. Statistics from abortion clinics: facts are facts, and it makes no sense that we don’t collect these. Why should [abortion facilities] get to stay in the dark? We didn’t get a 24-hour notice [waiting period before abortion]. Also, right to work needs to be passed here in New Hampshire. Those three in particular. And we’ve got to get rid of the Unaffordable Care Act. Medicaid expansion is going to bankrupt the country; we failed in getting rid of that.”

She credits Bill O’Brien, Speaker of the House in the 2011-12 session, for helping to get parental notification passed, over Governor Lynch’s veto. “I don’t think it would have happened without Bill.” Noting that the House elected in 2010 had the largest number of freshman legislators in recent memory, she compared the group to “a huge litter of Labrador puppies. I thought [O’Brien] did a phenomenal job.”

One disappointment was the failure of a bill to repeal same-sex marriage. “I said from day one, put it on the ballot. Let New Hampshire voters decide.” Instead a repeal bill was introduced. “Repeal of same-sex marriage was killed by Republicans, or people who ran as Republicans.” She said it was “unfortunate” that the leading Republican advocate in the House for restoration of traditional marriage tried to go it alone. “He wanted no help. He had it under control, he had it organized. And they ate him alive. So ignorance and ego killed that one.”


On being Republican

“I’m a Republican,” says Lenette. “Take away the social issues and a Republican is nothing but a Democrat.”

She’s a Republican. I’m an independent, or as I think of it, a recovering Republican. She is not going to follow me onto the Undeclared column. “I am definitely staying Republican, first and foremost because sometimes when you say ‘I’m an independent,’ no offense to the blogger, but are you that wishy-washy? You can’t decide?”

Lenette is an inveterate bestower of nicknames. (I am “Mother Hubbard,” a hiking reference whose origins I will save for my Granite State Walker blog.) Among her more stinging references: “Demo-rat,” instead of Democrat. Harsh, is it not?

“Sometimes I say Demo-rat and hear ‘that’s offensive.’ I say not really, and I explain why I use the word Demo-rat. What do rats do? They’re in back alleys eating out of dumpsters. They don’t do anything for themselves. They take what everyone else has. At least the rats take the leftovers. I say, what do you people [Democrats] do? You raid people’s pockets, you add tax after tax and fee after fee and call it revenue, but you’re just raiding someone’s wallet. You’re nothing better than a rat. Most Republicans agree with me. Dems just kind of look at me and shake their heads.” She hastens to add, “I give nicknames to Republicans, too.”

The recent vote for Speaker of the House

A recent power play in Concord saw the Democratic House caucus join with a minority of Republicans to elect Rep. Shawn Jasper as Speaker of the House, after O’Brien on the first ballot fell four votes short of regaining the Speakership. I asked Lenette for her comments.

The recent Speaker vote was “a total embarrassment. Jasper let his ego take over the House. There was a [Republican] majority choice for Speaker already.”  Lenette was in the gallery that day and witnessed the goings-on. On the second ballot, Rep. David Bates – an O’Brien supporter – made a motion to make subsequent votes for Speaker public, as opposed to the secret ballot normally used. Lenette said, “As soon as he went up there, I knew nothing good was going to come of this.”

She knows about the anger of O’Brien supporters who have vowed not to support a Speaker who has effectively been chosen by the minority party. Some of those supporters have also indicated reluctance to work with committee chairs appointed by Jasper. “It’s tough. There are some good reps who are pulling back. They’re frustrated, they’re furious. And I can see their point to a certain degree.” She said the situation will be very challenging for members of the House Republican Alliance, an informal conservative caucus that has been influential in policy discussions in Concord. “Whose allegiance are those HRA members [going to be with]? They’re going to disagree with leadership on more than [a few] things.” Lenette believes the Speaker vote will lead to bitterness at the polls. “This is not good, and it’s really going to hurt us in 2016.”

She wrapped up the subject with a blunt observation. “Jasper sold his soul to the devil, meaning Ray Buckley [chairman of the New Hampshire Democratic Party], and Ray Buckley is going to collect. Anyone who sells his soul to Ray Buckley is just deplorable.”

How to testify

Lenette served on the Judiciary Committee – a plum assignment for a first-term rep who’s not a lawyer. Judiciary has a heavy workload, including most of the life-issue bills. I asked her how a citizen coming to testify before the committee could get a point across.

“Keep it short, and keep it to the facts of the bill. Tears and sob stories are wasting time, in my book. Stick to the facts, and keep it short. That made more of a difference with me than anything else.”

And what would she tell her replacement on the committee? “No matter where they stand, pro-choice or pro-life, I’d advise them to go in and just listen. Facts are facts.”

She counsels brevity to House members as well as citizens coming to Concord to testify. “If you can’t make your point in three to five minutes, forget it. You’ve noticed that when certain representatives walk to the well [to make a speech about a bill], the place clears.”

“I’d encourage anyone to run …the experience was phenomenal.”

So a hundred bucks year, intraparty bickering, and six months a year of hearings and votes. Would Lenette recommend this to anyone else?

Certainly.

“I’d encourage anyone to run. If you have the time, and don’t need the money, run for office. The experience was phenomenal. The opportunities are just phenomenal. And with New Hampshire being First in the Nation, you get a chance to meet every candidate running for office. I was on a first name basis with some of them.”

As a Merrimack voter, I’m certain that had Lenette run for state rep again, she’d have won. In fact, she did win an election this year as a delegate to the state GOP convention, which she proudly attended with her daughter Sheila who was elected delegate along with her. Any second thoughts about that state rep seat?

“I could have run for a third term, not put as much time into things, maybe asked for a less crazy committee, but I would hate it. If I couldn’t do it 110%, I didn’t want to do it.”

Life and Liberty, in that order

 

memory.loc.gov, printed by Mary Katharine Goddard c. 1777
Declaration of Independence, memory.loc.gov, printed by Mary Katharine Goddard c. 1777

Karen Testerman’s recent Facebook post, in reply to supporters who are reluctant to follow her into Bob Smith’s camp, includes this: “Friends, it is about life, liberty and property and adherence to the Constitution. Without life, we cannot have liberty or property. Neither of the other two candidates will promote a culture of life. Life is not an issue. It is a fundamental principle that is foundational to America.”

That’s a good point that becomes more important as self-identified libertarians or liberty Republicans step up to run for office. There will be primaries this year in New Hampshire, several of them against Republican state senate incumbents who cast ill-advised votes on taxation, education and Medicaid expansion. Fair enough. I love primaries. They tend to discourage complacency.

But for the sake of all I hold dear, I don’t assume that every challenger is pro-life, particularly at the state representative and state senate level where so many important decisions are made. I want to ask the candidates some questions, read their literature, and look at how they’ve voted in other offices. What would they do if there were an attempt to repeal parental notification? Ask what they’ll do about the state’s buffer zone law. If the Supreme Court OKs the 35-foot zone in Massachusetts, will they support extending New Hampshire’s “up to 25 feet” provision? Are they favorably disposed to regulating the abortion industry, even in the limited manner currently acceptable to the Supreme Court? Do they know who Kermit Gosnell is?

Beware of candidates who put liberty ahead of life. As the campaign season goes forward, we’ll learn if such candidates are out there.

More on primaries: 

Senator David Boutin is on the hot seat for his Medicaid expansion vote. He’s being primaried by an impeccably pro-life state rep, Jane Cormier. Good – but it would be grossly unfair to forget that Boutin was the one and only Manchester senator who stood fast against the buffer zone. Voters in District 16, including the ones who will vote for Cormier, ought to thank him face-to-face for that. He was under a lot of pressure to cave in, and he did the right thing. He and Cormier were on the same side in that battle. He voted for effective language in Griffin’s Law, too, before voting to table the bill. You don’t hear much about that nowadays, as his district is being flooded with mailers pointing out his more egregious votes.

Two other state senators who opposed the buffer zone (although one of them took his time about it) and supported Griffin’s Law are being primaried as well. Where do the challengers stand on the right to life? I’ll be asking them, and until I hear their answers, I won’t be leading any cheers for change.