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NH Dem State Rep Still in Jail On Stalking Charge as Organization Day Approaches

With control of the state House of Representatives down to a handful of votes, New Hampshire Democrats continue to count on every vote from their caucus — including one member currently sitting in a Manchester jail cell. And while Rep. Stacie Laughton (D-Nashua) is a repeat offender accused of stalking a Hudson woman for years, Granite State Democrats have declined to denounce her or call for her removal from the caucus.

Laughton is currently being held without bail after 9th District Court Judge Kimberly Chabot found clear and convincing evidence that the incumbent state representative is currently a danger to the alleged victim and the community at large. According to court documents reviewed by NHJournal, Laughton’s harassment of her alleged victim extends back to at least 2019.

Laughton is facing dozens of misdemeanor charges ranging from making false 911 calls to stalking to criminal defamation, all related to her harassment of the alleged victim. NH Journal is not identifying the woman named as Laughton’s target.

Prosecutors are also asking the court to impose the suspended nine-month jail sentence from a prior case involving the same victim. According to court records, Laughton pleaded no contest to three misdemeanor counts in August alleging she called 911 to make false reports about the victim.

Laughton is due to appear in the Nashua courthouse this week for a status conference hearing. It is not known if her public defender, Elliot Friedman, plans to argue for her release. Friedman was not available for comment on Tuesday.

Laughton’s next big date is Organization Day at the State House on Dec. 7, when House leadership positions will be decided and the secretary of state will be elected. With the GOP’s majority a slim 201 to 198 (with one tie outstanding), it is possible Democrats could hold the majority, depending on attendance. Every vote will count, including one cast by an accused criminal.

Rep. Matt Wilhelm (D-Manchester), the progressive recently elected leader of the Democratic Caucus, did not respond to a request for comment. Would Democrats allow Laughton to participate as part of the caucus if she is still behind bars?

Under the New Hampshire Constitution, state representatives cannot be stopped from attending a House session for any reason, including arrest. If Laughton gets a ride from Valley Street Jail in Manchester to Concord on Dec. 7,  will she be sworn in?

House Clerk Paul Smith said that while he is not a lawyer, he does not think Laughton can get out of jail for the day to get sworn in and vote on leadership.

“I can’t imagine that a member-elect (who could theoretically be sworn any time) would be released for the purposes of being sworn in,” Smith said.

Anna Fay with the New Hampshire Secretary of State’s Office said the protocol for a member who is being held on bail is not clear. However, members who are convicted of felonies are ineligible to serve, she said.

Former House Speaker Bill O’Brien said New Hampshire’s Constitution protects House members from being arrested while performing their duties, but he does not think that protection extends to cases like Laughton’s.

“When the framers of the New Hampshire Constitution in 1784 included Article 21, they were seeking to avoid the experience of about a hundred years prior in England when Charles I was seizing members of Parliament on their way to London to vote against him or while they were attending Parliament,” O’Brien said. “While seeking to avoid that, the framers surely weren’t intending to allow legislators to violate anti-stalking protective orders without consequence.”

Laughton has a long history of illegal behavior. She was convicted in 2008 of credit card fraud for stealing from a person in Laconia. In 2015, Laughton was charged with a crime after calling in a bogus bomb threat at the Southern New Hampshire Medical Center hospital in Nashua. Those charges were later dropped as Laughton claimed she was suffering from a mental health crisis at the time.

Laughton won a seat for state representative in 2012 but was forced to resign soon after her 2008 credit card fraud arrest became public. Laughton tried to run again to fill the seat in a special election after her resignation, but that bid was cut short when it was deemed, she was legally ineligible for office at the time since she was still technically serving her suspended sentence for the felony credit card fraud case.

Laughton has been engaged in harassing the woman and her parents for years, according to court records. She used her radio show and social media accounts to stalk and harass the woman and repeatedly called 911 to falsely report the woman was suicidal, according to court records. Alarming to the victim, at one point, Laughton referred to the woman as her “wife.”

Laughton, New Hampshire’s first transgender state representative, is already married to a different woman.

None of this stopped state Democratic Party chair, Ray Buckley, from giving Laughton a shout-out as part of the “backbone of the Granite State” in a June 2022 op ed celebrating Pride Month.

With the House so closely split, it’s possible the vote to pick the next Speaker could come down to a single vote. If that vote belongs to Stacie Laughton, will Democrats take it?

Forget Partisanship. This Week’s House Session Is All About Attendance

New Hampshire Republicans tell New Hampshire Journal they believe this week’s House session will hinge on which party’s members best heed the advice of Woody Allen: “Eighty percent of success is just showing up.”

Vital issues like vaccine mandates, bail reform, and abortion are all on the docket as the legislature gets to work on Wednesday.

The question is, will Democrats show up to vote?

Despite moving this week’s House session to the exposition center in the DoubleTree by Hilton in Manchester, many Democrats have expressed concerns about having an in-person session during the Omicron COVID-19 wave.

Democratic leaders like Hampton’s Rep. Renny Cushing and Nashua’s Rep. David Cote did not respond to requests for comment, but many in the rank and file have expressed concerns about the session.

Rep. Jeffrey Salloway, D-Lee, an epidemiologist, told InDepth NH the House session has the potential to be a “super-spreader event.” Rep. Bill Marsh, D-Wolfeboro, a physician, said he will only go to the session while wearing an N95 medical-grade mask.

“I don’t believe we are taking sufficient precautions to keep everybody safe,” Marsh told InDepth.

Cushing, who is dealing with a terminal cancer diagnosis, tried to force the Republican-controlled House to meet remotely, even filing a federal lawsuit. But GOP House Speaker Sherman Packard is going with the in-person session. Meeting in the 30,000 square-foot convention center will allow for people to safely socially distance themselves. Facemasks will be optional, Packard said.

“With hospitalizations at record levels and community transmission still high, the responsible thing to do is to maintain health and safety protocols for our legislators and hold off on returning to the House chamber, at least for now,” he said in a statement about the move.

House Majority Leader Rep. Jason Osborne, R-Auburn, expects his party to be in the building.

“I cannot speak for the other caucus, but I do know with only a couple exceptions Republicans will be present and ready to do the people’s business,” he said.

The House has met at various times during the pandemic at the University of New Hampshire’s Whittemore Center ice arena, outside on an athletic field, and inside a Bedford athletic complex.

During one of last year’s sessions, Democrats staged a walk-out in an attempt to deny Republicans a quorum. Instead of shutting down the session, Packard had the doors locked during the ensuing chaos to keep the quorum and keep out the Democrats who walked out first. The Republican House then easily passed two controversial abortion bans.

Osborne said Democrats are unlikely to make the same mistake twice.

“I am pretty sure House members now realize that a frenzied stampede is neither an appropriate nor effective parliamentary tactic. These are the kind of lessons that need to be relearned from time to time given the high turnover of membership biennially,” Osborne said.

If Democrats fail to show up it could backfire again. For example, Sen. Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro is sponsoring a bill to roll back part of the recently-passed bail reforms. SB 92 would require people charged with serious crimes like murder, kidnapping, and domestic violence to be required to spend up to 72 hours in jail awaiting arraignment.

Bradley’s bill is opposed by Black Lives Matter and the New Hampshire ACLU, as well as the libertarian Americans for Prosperity.

The House is also expected to vote on a measure that would push back the ultrasound provision of the state’s 24-week abortion ban. The ultrasound provision is opposed by Gov. Chris Sununu and Democrats. Sources tell NHJournal to expect a GOP-engineered compromise to clarify the mandate only applies in cases when there’s a legitimate question as to whether the pregnancy has extended beyond the six-month time period.

If Democrats stay home, they would also be helping anti-vaccine extremists who want to ban private businesses from setting their own vaccine policies. A proposed amendment to HB 255 would make it illegal for New Hampshire employers to require employees to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

Republicans are split on this, with the New Hampshire Liberty Alliance opposing the measure along with Democrats.

If any of the votes end up being close, MIA Democrats could come to regret not being in the building.

What’s Happening With the N.H. House Democratic Caucus?

For the third time this legislative session, a House Democrat switched party affiliation in New Hampshire, highlighting that Democrats are also struggling to remain unified in Concord. It’s been well-documented that House Republicans still have deep wounds from the 2016 election, with two conservative caucuses that have caused trouble for GOP leadership. However, with three lawmakers jumping ship from the party, there are some internal conflicts happening within the Democratic caucus.

Rep. Joseph Stallcop, L-Keene (Credit: N.H. House website)

In total, four lawmakers have changed their party affiliation since the November election. Two Democrats left the party to join the Republican Party and a third left for the Libertarian Party of New Hampshire (LPNH). The fourth representative left the Republican Party for the LPNH.

Rep. Joseph Stallcop of Keene was the latest House members on Wednesday to switch his party affiliation. He switched from the Democratic Party to the LPNH.

“Personally witnessing the situation at Standing Rock showed me the danger of relinquishing power and authority into an institution, while my time in Concord reinforced the ineptitude that can exist by those in charge,” he said. “I originally joined the Democratic Party in hopes of making a difference through critical thinking and my classical liberal viewpoint, yet with the lack of unbiased data in caucuses as well as backlash on votes I’ve independently made, it seems there is no longer a place for me here.”

Rep. Caleb Dyer, L-Pelham (Credit: N.H House website)

LPNH is having a banner year since the November elections. Another lawmaker, Rep. Caleb Dwyer of Pelham switched from the Republican Party to the LPNH in February. The party also garnered enough of the votes in the gubernatorial race to give them official ballot access in 2018.

Max Abramson ran as the Libertarian candidate in 2016, against now-Gov. Chris Sununu and Democratic nominee Colin Van Ostern. He received 4 percent of the vote, the required amount to gain ballot access.

It’s the first time in 20 years that the LPNH had ballot access. When they last had it in the 1990s, the party had four members in the Legislature. Then in 1997, ballot access laws changed to increase the vote threshold needed for a party to retain ballot access from 3 percent to 4 percent.

LPNH Chairman Darryl W. Perry called Stallcop’s switch a “historic day” since it’s the first time in two decades that they have a Libertarian caucus.

Rep. Mariellen MacKay of Nashua changed her Democratic affiliation to Republican in April and Rep. Robert Theberge of Berlin also changed from Democrat to Republican right after the November election.

(L-R) Reps. Mariellen MacKay, R-Nashua, and Robert Theberge, R-Berlin (Credit: N.H. House website)

So now, the House membership is 221 Republicans, 170 Democrats, and two Libertarians. There are six vacancies due to death, resignation, or appointment to a position in Sununu’s administration. One representative has not been officially sworn in yet.

In a House with 400 members, one would think that party changes are pretty common. That’s actually not the case in New Hampshire, or even nationally. According to Ballotpedia, there have only been 79 current legislators in State Houses across the United States who have switched parties since 2007. One of the last people to switch parties in New Hampshire was Sen. Lou D’Allesandro of Manchester. After serving two years as a Republican in the House, in 1998 he ran as a Democrat for the Senate where he still holds a seat and is still a Democrat.

Jumping on the chance to criticize the Democratic Party for losing members, NHGOP Chair Jeanie Forrester blasted out a statement once the news came out on Wednesday that Stallcop was leaving the party.

“Would the last one in the New Hampshire Democrat Party please turn out the lights? Yet another former Democrat has concluded that the party of big government and obstruction is no longer worth being a member of,” she said. “Meanwhile, a significant majority of Granite Staters approve of the job Republican Gov. Chris Sununu is doing in the Corner Office. That’s because working families know that from improving education to investing in infrastructure to strengthening the economy, Republicans are working hard to improve the quality of life for Granite Staters every day.”

House Minority Leader Steve Shurtleff said people shouldn’t read much into three people leaving his caucus.

“It’s just kind of a shakeout,” he told the New Hampshire Union Leader.

However, other Democratic representatives are saying there is a lot of “dissatisfaction” in the caucus.

“Most Democrats would think with the controversy around Trump, we might gain some Republicans, more moderates, and yet we are losing Democrats,” said Rep. Peter Leishman, D-Peterborough.

The current dynamics of the New Hampshire Democratic Party often mirror the national party on what its role should be in GOP-led politics. For the first time in nearly a decade, Democrats are fully the minority party. The U.S. Congress is Republican-run and the White House has a Republican president. The same is true in New Hampshire where Democrats are in the minority of a GOP-legislature and the first Republican governor in 12 years.

The problem is that there are differences of opinion between Democratic lawmakers on what their role is in the New Hampshire House. They’re trying to figure out how to navigate their position and get their legislative priorities passed.

At the national level, many Democrats have been adopting the “resistance” mindset by voting against any GOP bill or watching Republicans fight amongst themselves, as exhibited during the health care debate.

So far, New Hampshire House Democrats have been largely sitting back and watching Republican Party infighting derail the GOP’s own political agenda. Yet, some Democrats want the party to push back more against the Republicans.

This conflict was on full display during the chaotic budget debate in April. After the House failed to pass a budget on the first day due to conservatives voting against it, some Democrats were willing to work with Republican leadership to get something passed. Two Democrats took to the House floor to encourage its caucus to vote for the state budget rider, which was in direct opposition to what Shurtleff told them to do. In the end, 14 Democrats voted in favor of the bill to get a budget passed, but it failed 169-177.

While their party disagreements aren’t as noticeable as the Republicans, its crucial that there is unity within the caucus if they want to block future GOP bills, like they did with right-to-work earlier this year. It’s also important when it comes time to craft a message for elections next year.

One of their next big tests will be in June when the final state spending plan comes back to the House. If conservatives still vote against the budget, House Speaker Shawn Jasper might need to ask them for support. What they do in that moment could set the tone for 2018.

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