Troy Merner was recently forced to resign from his position as the state representative in Coos District 1 when Speaker of the House Sherm Packard was officially told by the New Hampshire Department of Justice (DOJ) on September 18 that Merner was constitutionally unqualified to hold the seat because of having moved out of the district. What has since become clear, however, is that Merner moved out of the district even before the 2022 election.
After getting married and moving in with his new wife in another jurisdiction, he falsely reported to local election officials that he resided at a Lancaster address. After being questioned by a local election official, he lied on more than one occasion about his residence in order to continue serving as state representative and to get reelected. His fraudulent statements were formally reported to the attorney general in March 2023.
Despite that, no action was taken to dislodge him until mid-September. As a result, in the near-evenly split New Hampshire House, Troy Merner was allowed to impact the fate of important legislation, particularly the bill that had to be decided in a tie-breaker by the speaker that determined the future control of the school voucher program, which hands taxpayer money to a private entity to dispense to private schools with no real state oversight, arguably the most divisive issue in New Hampshire today.
Merner originally ran nearly a decade ago as a Democrat and lost big, then switched parties to run as a Republican in the same district and won big. He has shown ever since that he could be counted upon to vote party line whenever pressed to do so by GOP leadership, and he even did so on occasion after reporting to constituents that he would do otherwise.
I had lobbied him on an override issue the day before a vote, and he confirmed he would be voting my way. The next day, I read the roll call and learned he didn’t keep his word. It became clear to me then that Merner had no problem with misrepresentation. However, the brazen fraud of lying about one’s domicile in order to violate the New Hampshire Constitution and win reelection in one’s former district is beyond the pale. It is the epitome of corruption as it amounts to actually stealing an election.
The fact that the attorney general sat on this information for nearly a whole legislative year is almost as abominable. How long could it have actually taken to verify the whistleblower’s report? How difficult could it have been to send an investigator to the alleged residence he gave in Lancaster, knock on the door, and be told by the newlywed couple living there that, indeed, Merner did not live with them? Or to visit the easily discoverable address of his wife outside the district to find him there overnight? What sort of investigative dynamo is our DOJ? Where is the fervor to protect the voting rights of New Hampshire citizens under Republican John Formella?
The six months of alleged investigation smells. These DOJ investigators are in need of being investigated! The end result of this has been to defraud all the voters of New Hampshire and further erode confidence in state government as presently controlled by the GOP. Important questions must be answered: How much did the Republican leadership know about Merner’s unlawful conduct, and when did they learn it?
Did the attorney general’s staff, in fact, keep this knowledge to themselves for six months, knowing this active legislative fraud was in progress and having a real impact on lawmaking?
Did they at least inform the speaker that one of his caucus members was under investigation for having been elected fraudulently?
Did leadership know it was counting the vote of a person who was not lawfully elected to the position? And if so, why didn’t he act on it to protect the integrity of the House?
The answers to these questions will merely determine how pervasive the GOP corruption is, but the fact of it is now unquestionable. Moreover, there is no question that it has damaged the rights of all voters in the state and changed the course of legislation. That is unforgivable.
There is only one remedy that could possibly approach equitable justice in this case. The GOP must be denied a place on the ballot in that district for the remainder of Merner’s unserved term. Any other remedy would fall short of a just solution and would leave a permanent stain on the integrity of the legislature, tainting every legislative act for the remainder of the session.
As there is a special election set for this fall to replace Merner, I call upon the GOP to step up to restore some degree of respectability by refraining from running and backing a candidate in that special election. Whether they do or not will reveal just how much constitutional integrity matters to the New Hampshire Republican Party.