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State Senate District 16 Candidates Clash: Who’s the ‘Real’ Republican?

While the GOP primary campaign for U.S. Senate is getting most of the attention, a hotly-contested Republican race for state Senate being is waged in District 16. Political observers say it is the most-watched legislative primary race of the year.

And a key debate between the two candidates is which one is the ‘real’ Republican.

Rep. Barbara Griffin (R-Goffstown) has been a GOP member of the legislature since 2014. Before getting involved in politics, however, she considered herself an independent, though she did vote in the 2008 and 2012 Democratic primaries.

Rep. Michael Yakubovich (R-Hooksett), a self-described Rand Paul Republican, said he quit the GOP in 2016 when the Kentucky senator dropped out of the presidential primary and pulled a Democratic ballot — casting his vote for Vermin Supreme. He also voted in the state Democratic primary that year, records show.

Griffin, who points to her work to create a winnable legislative district map for Republicans as chair of the redistricting committee says she has always been very conservative.

“I’ve been a gun owner for many years, and a member of the NRA for many years. When someone brings this up, I say to them, ‘Show me something I’ve done that makes you think I’m a liberal Democrat.’”

State Rep. Michael Yakubovich

Yakubovich, first elected to the House in 2018, told NH Journal he has been a solid Republican for nearly his entire life in America.

“I have voted for many Republicans since I escaped Communism and became a United States citizen in 1995,” Yakubovich said.

The dispute over their partisan standing comes because at one time both Griffin and Yakubovich were registered Democrats.

Griffin grew up in a Republican house, with parents who attended an inauguration party for President Richard Nixon. She registered as “undeclared,” but when she voted in a Democratic primary, she said she forgot to switch back to undeclared and did not think about it until she decided to get into state politics. That was when she made sure her party affiliation matched her true beliefs, she said.

Yakubovich admitted he voted in the Democratic primary in 2016, but said it was just a protest. “I did not ‘switch parties’ – my intention always was to remain as a Republican.”

Yakubovich has said that in the past he voted for Vermin Supreme, a performance artist known for wearing a rubber boot for a hat and promising to give away ponies if elected. Asked by NHJournal to confirm that vote, he declined to answer the question.

Whether or not either Griffin or Yakubovich were ever committed Democrats, the two current Republicans have very different voting records.

Griffin has put together a conservative, pro-life, pro-Second Amendment record in her time in the State House, according to Sen. Regina Birdsell (R-District 19). She is endorsing Griffin, as are other conservative stalwarts like Sen. Kevin Avard (R-District 12), Birdsell said.

“She’s what we need in the state Senate. I fully endorse her,” Birdsell said.

Birdsell said she is convinced of Griffin’s conservative bona fides based on her record as a lawmaker. She was not concerned about any Democratic past, as many prominent Republicans had been Democrats in their youth.

“A lot of us were Democrats before we were Republicans. Including myself, including Ronald Reagan, including Donald Trump,” Birdsell said.

While Griffin casts herself as a traditional conservative, Yakubovich tilts libertarian in his votes and has won the endorsement of the libertarian-leaning organization Americans for Prosperity. Greg Moore, AFP state director, said Yakubovich is exactly the right person for the Senate.

“Michael Yakubovich is an incredibly effective and important legislator who has, in his two terms in the House, shown that he has been one of the best leaders for delivering on low taxes, limited spending, reducing regulation, and growing the New Hampshire Advantage,” he said. “We’re thrilled to endorse him so that he can bring those same skills to the Senate and become a leader there.”

On the Second Amendment issue, Yakubovich supporters note that Griffin scored a B with the NRA’s Political Victory Fund this year, while Yakubovich scored an A. The group did not endorse in the race. Similarly, the New Hampshire Firearms Coalition graded Griffin with a B-, and gave Yakubovich an A.

Yakubovich’s libertarian approach has led him to cross the aisle and vote with Democrats on legalizing marijuana. And he voted against a bill to charge people who pay to have sex with children with a class A felony. More recently, Yakubovich voted against GOP-backed attempts to fix the recently passed bail reform law that some say has allowed too many repeat offenders back on the street.

Last week, Daniel Whitmore, 75, of Manchester was stabbed to death on a walking trail near Bradley Street. The suspect in the murder is homeless man Raymond Moore, 40. He was arrested twice this summer; once in July in Nashua for resisting arrest and disorderly conduct, and again in August in Manchester in another apparent stabbing incident. Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig took to Twitter to decry the lenient bail system in New Hampshire that let Moore out of jail.

“Our criminal justice system cannot continue releasing violent offenders back onto our streets. I, once again, urge our legislators to act quickly and address this issue. The safety of our residents is at stake,” Craig said.

Griffin, who supports bail reform, said law and order is part of the New Hampshire Advantage and that GOP politicians need to support getting tough on crime.

“I know the chaos it creates in the city of Manchester and our communities,” she said. “This murder could have been avoided.”

Close the Domicile Loophole in New Hampshire

Editor’s Note: This op-ed submission was co-authored by Rep. Barbara Griffin (R-Goffstown), Rep. Betty Gay (R-Salem), Rep. Greg Hill (R-Northfield), Rep. Kathy Sousza (R-Manchester), Rep. Lisa Freeman (R-Manchester), Rep. Norman Silber (R-Gilford), Rep. Steve Hellwig (R-Hudson), Rep. Steve Negron (R-Nashua), Rep. Yvonne Dean-Bailey (R-Northwood), Rep. Natalie Wells (R-Warner), and Rep. Michael Harrington (R-Strafford).

For the past three election cycles, New Hampshire voters and activists have been calling for substantive election law reform that points our state in the direction of stronger ballot integrity. For too long, many people voting in our state elections have been able to register to vote and vote without proving their domicile and showing that they live in their city or ward before voting.

This is ludicrous. The majority of Granite Staters, when registering to vote, show proof of domicile. Something that shows we live where we say we live: a driver’s license, an electric bill, a rental agreement or a motor vehicle registration or another commonsense piece of evidence that proves you live where you say you do.

But many people neglect this important step and refuse to show they are domiciled here and leave, on election day, with their vote counted regardless of whether or not they actually consider the state their domicile. They sign the state domicile affidavit without showing any proof of where they live and continue on their way.

This is called the domicile loophole. This loophole leaves our elections in New Hampshire vulnerable to fraud and abuse. It might not be thousands or even hundreds of improperly cast ballots – it could just be a handful. But as we all know, dozens of New Hampshire elections are decided by just one or two votes. That’s why we must ensure that everyone who votes in our elections is domiciled in New Hampshire in the ward or town they are voting.

Now the New Hampshire legislature has a bill that will tackle the domicile loophole and will finally close this kink in our election laws. This bill is Senate Bill 3 and it is coming up for a vote in the House of Representatives on June 1st

Under Senate Bill 3, if someone registers to vote on the same day of the election without proof of their domicile they are then required to return to the Town Clerk’s office within a period of 10 or 30 days (depending on the town clerk hours) to return with their proof of domicile. Currently, we let those who do not show proof of domicile slide by the wayside by signing an affidavit. The state never follows up and voters are able to cast their ballot without proving that they live here. That is unacceptable – and conservatives, moderates and even liberals should agree.  Election integrity is important and our elections should always be taken seriously.

Under Senate Bill 3, those who do not return to the clerk’s office with the proper proof of domicile will have their domicile verified through a series of municipal level inquiries and rising to investigations through the Attorney General’s office if the issue is not resolved at a lower level. After passing SB3, illegal voters will think twice before voting in New Hampshire.

This shift of responsibility in proving one’s domicile back onto the voter is powerful. When Senate Bill 3 passes, the Attorney General’s will no longer be bogged down by the thousands of letters being returned to their office. Instead, they’ll be able focus on only the serious cases and investigations that could not be resolved by the supervisors of the checklist, municipal designees or the Secretary of State’s office. With the coordination of municipal and state officials, we will finally have a system of dealing with improper voting and registration concerns.

Conservative opposition says this legislation doesn’t go far enough. We’ll be the first to admit – there are other areas in which we can improve our election laws. Whether it’s the voter registration process or the identification used to obtain a ballot – we can make some changes.

But Senate Bill 3 is a unique piece of legislation with a specific goal: to close the domicile loophole.

If you care about election integrity and closing the domicile loophole, please reach out to your State Representatives. The vote on June 1st will be close and the liberal opposition to this bill will have a strong grassroots showing. We need to ensure our message is conveyed with an equal fortitude.

Senate Bill 3 as a good and important first step. I hope we can count on our legislators to put politics and personalities aside to support ballot integrity and close the domicile loophole.