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House Votes to Review Controversial Online Comments From Fisher, Frost

In an unusual move, the New Hampshire House of Representatives voted to review controversial comments made online by two lawmakers. Yet, Republican leaders aren’t expecting the committee to find that they violated any House ethics codes.

It started as an inquiry into Rep. Robert Fisher, R-Laconia, and comments he made in an online forum that were construed as misogynistic, but Republicans successfully added Rep. Sherry Frost, D-Dover, in the inquiry for tweets she wrote earlier this year that some found “offensive.”

Before the House met in their regularly scheduled session on Thursday, it was anticipated that House Democratic Leader Steve Shurtleff would bring up a motion for a House committee to investigate Fisher’s comments.

“At any time any member says anything or does anything that holds this body in disrespect, it affects each and every one of us,” he said on the House floor.

Fisher was identified as the creator of a a Reddit forum called “The Red Pill” in a report from The Daily Beast last week. His posts on the message board garnered criticism for being disrespectful toward women and normalizing rape culture. He admitted to the comments, which were made as far back as 2008, but said they were taken out of context.

Republican Gov. Chris Sununu and New Hampshire Republican Party Chair Jeanie Forrester have called for his resignation, but Fisher insists he will not step down.

Frost posted tweets earlier this year that said more terrorism is perpetrated by “white men who claim Christianity than by Muslims in the USA.” She also tweeted, “The people (read; men) telling me to ‘calm down’ & ‘not take it so hard’ are making me homicidal.”

The NHGOP criticized her for the tweets, calling her a “radical” and “a threat to her colleagues.”

“All representatives should be held to the same standard,” said Rep. Victoria Sullivan, R-Manchester, who put forward the amendment to include Frost. “This body cannot pick and choose who they support and who they do not.”

The House voted 182-180 to include Frost in the inquiry and then approved of the investigation of both lawmakers by a 307-56 vote, with Fisher and Frost voting in favor of the review.

“I think the truth will be out at the hearing,” Fisher told the Concord Monitor. Frost said she has nothing to hide.

The Legislative Administration Committee’s reviews will be limited to comments made by the two lawmakers during the current legislative session, which means Fisher’s previous posts will not be included, but Frost’s tweets will be reviewed.

After that, the committee will make a recommendation to the full House for each lawmaker. The committee could recommend that no action should take place, or that the representatives should be reprimanded, censured, or expelled. The House will then vote on the recommendations.

“Referring this matter to the Legislative Administration Committee will allow for an investigation into Representative Fisher’s involvement with this forum since his election to the New Hampshire House,” Shurtleff said in a statement. “As elected officials it is our duty to act with honor both inside the State House and out, and I am confident that the Legislative Administration Committee will give this serious matter the consideration it deserves.”

His statement didn’t include any comments about Frost, though.

Some lawmakers criticized Republicans for including Frost in the inquiry, saying the two lawmaker’s comments do not equate to equal treatment. New Hampshire Democratic Party Chairman Ray Buckley took to Twitter to criticize the decision.

Yet, House Speaker Shawn Jasper admitted that he doesn’t believe the committee will find that the lawmakers violated any ethics codes.

“I don’t think we’ve ever done anything quite like this,” he told the New Hampshire Union Leader. “Normally there would be something that falls under the ethics guidelines, and there’d be a complaint made by somebody and it would go to the ethics committee.”

Some lawmakers questioned why they spent time debating the issue.

Rep. Keith Ammon, R-New Boston, motioned to table the matter, but it overwhelmingly failed.

“This is being used as a political football,” he said. “We need to have some more harmony in this body.”

Protesters lined the hallways of the State House and gathered outside on the plaza to protest Fisher’s comments. A protester’s sign said, “Rep. Fisher: This feminist says resign!” Another read, “Rape culture: He isn’t a symptom, he is a disease. Fisher must go.”

Fisher’s review hearing will begin on Tuesday, with Frost’s review to follow on Wednesday.

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What Options Can House Leadership Take in Fisher Scandal?

The news story that has made the rounds this past week involved accusations that a New Hampshire lawmaker created a misogynistic online message board, making derogatory and inappropriate comments about women. Gov. Chris Sununu and the New Hampshire Republican Party have called for Rep. Robert Fisher, R-Laconia, to resign, but he refuses to do so. This leaves House leaders with only a few choices on how to handle the situation.

The Daily Beast first reported Tuesday a link between Fisher and the online Reddit forum “The Red Pill.” The Red Pill currently claims 200,000 subscribers as a “discussion of sexual strategy in a culture increasingly lacking a positive identity for men.”

In 2012, Fisher, under the alias “pk_atheist,” created the The Red Pill forum near the end of his first campaign for the N.H. House of Representatives, in which he ran as a Democrat. In 2014, he switched to the Republican Party and is now serving his second term in office. He currently doesn’t sit on any committees, at his own request, and out of the 114 votes so far during the 2017 session, Fisher has cast votes in about half of them.

Fisher is under fire for openly questioning whether “rape is bad.” He wrote, “I’m going to say it — Rape isn’t an absolute bad, because the rapist I think probably likes it a lot. I think he’d say it’s quite good, really.”

Rep. Robert Fisher

N.H. State Rep. Robert Fisher, R-Laconia (Photo Credit: N.H. House of Representatives)

He also wrote that women’s personalities are “lackluster and boring, serving little purpose in day to day life.” And once commenting that, “it is literally the [female] body that makes enduring these things worth it.”

At first, Fisher denied the allegations. In response to journalist inquiries, he said he would “stand strong for men’s rights.” On Thursday night, he admitted to writing the posts but said most of his comments were taken out of context.

“It was a debate about absolute truth that was recurring on my forums back in [2008],” he wrote in an official statement published by The Laconia Daily Sun. “The default position for most on the aptly dubbed ‘gripe corner’ was devil’s advocate, which made for lively debate. As it turns out, context is very important when quoting somebody. I suspect they teach it in journalism courses, but it seems like it should be basic common sense.”

Sununu, House Speaker Shawn Jasper, NHGOP Chair Jeanie Forrester, and House Democratic Leader Steve Shurtleff called on Fisher to resign, but he is refusing.

“I’m going to continue fighting for what I believe in. Smaller government, lower taxes, more liberty, gay, straight, and transgender rights, (yes, for all my supposed small mindedness and misogyny, I’m firmly pro LGBT) and family court reform,” Fisher said. “For those of you who read this entire thing to see my resignation, sorry to disappoint.”

Jasper said Fisher’s statement lacked an apology.

“I read his letter twice and really viewed it as just going around and around the barn,” he told WMUR. “I didn’t see it as an apology or walking anything back. I thought it was a very circular argument that didn’t change anything.”

The story about Fisher’s involvement with the online forum sparked a firestorm on Twitter, with many national media outlets reporting on the controversy. Several state legislators are also calling on him to resign.

“Lately though, it has been hard to find things to be proud of in the State House,” wrote Rep. Debra Altschiller, D-Stratham, in a Saturday op-ed on the Concord Monitor. “I am not proud, in fact I am devastated and sad to say that rape culture is pervasive at the State House.”

Expect to see lawmakers take to the House floor in its executive session on Thursday to discuss the scandal and call on him to resign. However, House leaders are limited in what they can do.

While most people agree that Fisher’s comments are inappropriate, they don’t technically go against House standards since they are just words and not actions. There are steps the House could take to remove Fisher from office. The state constitution gives the House the power to expel, censure, or reprimand a member for disrespect to the body, but historical precedent makes it unlikely that anything will be done.

The last time a state representative was expelled was in 1913 and that was for taking bribes. There have been many lawmakers over the years, though, who have faced possible removal, but they have usually stepped down on their own.

For example, in 2016 former Rep. Kyle Tasker stepped down after an arrest on drug charges and accusations that he used a computer to lure a teenage girl for sex. Also, Rep. Al Baldasaro, R-Londonderry, said Hillary Clinton should be shot by a firing squad for treason. Many called for his resignation, but he still currently serves as a representative.

In Fisher’s case, there are three ways the House could “punish” him. The Legislative Ethics Committee could recommend expulsion, censure, or reprimand after they look into it in a mostly closed-door procedure.

The second way he could be punished is for a House member to make a motion from the floor, where there would then be a debate, and then a vote. This could be a possible method some lawmakers take during Thursday’s session, but it’s still unlikely anything would happen in a Republican-controlled House.

The third option would be to appoint a special committee to investigate the matter in a nonpublic session and then release the findings to public. Jasper indicated he prefers this method if it came up.

Yet, it’s increasingly likely that the voters in his district will ultimately decide what to do. If Fisher decides to run for reelection next year, the voters could kick him out of office. Only time will tell if the legislature or the voters will decide Fisher’s fate.

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