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Victim Advocacy Group: ‘No Place’ in NH House for Dem Accused of Stalking

As New Hampshire Democrats remain silent about one of their own sitting in jail on stalking charges, the state’s leading victim advocacy group is speaking out.

State Rep. Stacie Laughton (D-Nashua) is currently being held without bail in Manchester’s Valley Street Jail on grounds she presents an ongoing danger to the public as well as the victim of her stalking and harassment. Laughton had already been found guilty of stalking the same Hudson woman named in the current complaint. The charges go back to at least 2019 before Laughton was elected as New Hampshire’s first transgender state representative.

Incoming House Democratic Caucus leader Rep. Matt Wilhelm and state party chair Ray Buckley have both refused to condemn Laughton’s behavior or respond to multiple requests for comment about her arrest.

But the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence (NHCADSV) is speaking out.

“We are extremely concerned by the numerous charges filed against Rep. Laughton. It is critical that individuals that hold positions of power be held accountable when they cause harm. There is no place in the New Hampshire legislature for those who perpetrate abuse,” said Amanda Grady Sexton, NHCADSV director of public affairs. “Stalking is rooted in a pattern of behavior intended to cause fear in the victim and can have long-term impacts on a survivor. Stalking is a very serious crime that has the potential to escalate to physical and even lethal violence,” Grady Sexton said.

One reason for the Democratic Party’s silence, critics said, was the GOP’s extremely narrow 198-201 majority in the House. As a result, every vote will count at Wednesday’s Organization Day session when representatives are sworn in and leadership positions are settled. Laughton’s vote could decide which party has a majority.

Democrats are also mounting a major campaign to oust current Secretary of State Dave Scanlan in favor of former State Sen. Melanie Levesque (D-Brookline).

Could Laughton leave jail to cast a vote on the floor of the State House? Under New Hampshire’s Constitution, state representatives cannot be stopped from attending House sessions and police are prohibited from arresting representatives en route to the legislature.

“Democrats could solve this problem by announcing in advance they will refuse to seat Laughton,” said Rep. Ross Berry (R-Manchester). “But they haven’t, which means they care more about politics than protecting women.”

Laughton is accused of repeatedly violating orders to leave a Hudson woman alone as well as charges of stalking, criminal defamation, and making false 911 calls. Laughton is already facing jail time after pleading no contest last summer to charges of making false 911 calls about the same victim. Prosecutors have told the court they plan to ask for the imposition of the suspended nine-month sentence brought in that case.

She is scheduled for a hearing in Nashua District Court on Dec. 22, during which she could enter into a plea agreement to resolve her case. Even if she misses Organization Day, Laughton would be free to serve in the House once she is released as she is not currently charged with any felonies.

Laughton won a seat for state representative in 2012 but was forced to resign soon after her 2008 credit card fraud arrest became public. Despite pressure from the Democratic Party, Laughton tried to run again to fill the seat in a special election after her resignation. 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.

Judge Orders NH House Dem Accused of Stalking to Remain Behind Bars

State Rep. Stacie Laughton (D-Nashua) will remain in jail as her attorney negotiates a plea agreement in the criminal case alleging she serially harassed a Hudson woman. 

Laughton, New Hampshire’s first elected transgender state representative, is not leaving Valley Street Jail in Manchester until at least Dec. 22, the date of her next hearing. Her attorney, Elliot Friedman, told Judge John Curran he hoped to have a resolution to the numerous criminal charges worked out with prosecutors in the coming weeks.

“We are negotiating a resolution,” Friedman said.

Laughton’s continued custody complicates Democratic hopes of wresting control of the House of Representatives from the GOP. With a razor-thin 201-198 GOP majority in the House, control of the body and the outcome of the secretary of state election on Organization Day (December 7) will come down to attendance.

Laughton is accused of repeatedly violating orders to leave a Hudson woman alone as well as charges of stalking, criminal defamation, and making false 911 calls. Laughton is already facing jail time after she pleaded no contest this summer to charges of making false 911 calls about the same victim. Prosecutors have told the court they plan to ask for the imposition of the suspended nine-month sentence brought in that case.

Laughton is being held without bail on the grounds she presents an ongoing danger to the community and the alleged victim. She was under court orders to leave the woman alone when she allegedly continued her campaign of harassment that stretches back to 2019.

Laughton’s status hearing, held in the Nashua District Court on Thursday, left the troubled state representative in jail pending the plea negotiations. Laughton appeared in court via video feed from Valley Street Jail. Laughton offered little comment during the brief hearing other than to object to the presence of media in the courtroom.

“I object to the press,” Laughton told Curran. “I will give interviews, but I figure right now this is a personal matter I need to deal with without the pressures of the press.”

Curran denied her objection, stating there is no reason to keep the press out of an open court proceeding.

Laughton could technically still travel to Concord for Organization Day, legislative sources said. New Hampshire’s Constitution bars police from stopping representatives from attending sessions at the State House. The question is, how badly do Democrats want her there?

Democratic Caucus leader, progressive Rep. Matt Wilhelm (D-Manchester), declined to respond to repeated requests for comment.

Laughton’s disturbed behavior has been apparent for years before she won office as a state representative in 2020. She was convicted in 2008 of credit card fraud for stealing from a person in Laconia. Laughton was then charged in 2015 for calling in a 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. Despite pressure from the Democratic Party, Laughton tried to run again to fill the seat in a special election after her resignation; 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.

Scanlan Reopens Manch 6 Recount, GOP Expects to Hold Seat

With control of the State House down to a razor-thin margin, Secretary of State Dave Scanlan announced Thursday he plans to look again at one of the already recounted races, potentially returning a seat to the GOP.

On Monday, Democratic hopes of winning control of the House of Representatives were boosted when a recount of Hillsborough District 16, Manchester’s Ward 6, appeared to show incumbent Republican Larry Gagne lost 22 votes, handing a one-vote victory to challenger Maxine Mosley.

Almost immediately, however, Republicans suspected an error had occurred. Vote changes of more than a handful of ballots are rare. Rarer still are candidates losing votes in a recount. Scanlan, a veteran of many recounts, also took note of the unusual numbers.

“It’s unusual if it changes by more than 10 or 11 votes,” he told NHJournal.

Thanks to an audit of the district, it became clear that some 20 to 25 ballots were missed during Monday’s recount, bringing into question the results. Scanlan released a letter Thursday explaining the situation.

“Ballot counting will be continued in Hillsborough County state representative District 16 recount. The routine reconciliation process indicated that reconciliation and recount number were not equivalent,” the statement read. “The total number of ballots cast and counted for the office of governor in this district is greater than the total accounted for so far for the [Gagne v. Mosley] race. This indicates some ballots have not yet been counted in the recount.

“As a result, the process of recounting the ballots cast in that race will now continue on Monday, November 21, at 4 p.m.”

Republican House members told NHJournal they are pleased, but not surprised, by the decision. And they are very confident Gagne will ultimately hold the seat based on his original 1,820 to 1,797 margin.

“Every vote matters and should be counted. Anyone afraid to finish the recount should be questioned as to what they are afraid of finding,” said Rep. Ross Berry (R-Manchester). “This is a direct result of Republicans demanding transparency in our elections, and I look forward to bringing more sunshine into our voting process. The voters I represent in Ward 6 have a right to know all of their votes will be counted.”

There have been 17 recounts thus far, with a total of 29 currently scheduled, in the wake of last week’s midterms. Scanlan said it was a difficult decision to reopen the recount given the heightened scrutiny of the election process. But his office has more data available this year than in past years thanks to increased efforts to make sure the election results are accurate.

“It’s important that we get everything right,” Scanlan said.

The secretary of state has also created the Special Committee on Voter Confidence to examine concerns about election integrity in the state. While the committee has not found any evidence of widespread voter fraud, its final report has yet to be released.

Republicans currently have a one-seat majority in the House. A race in Rochester is tied. As a result, a Gagne win would be a significant development in determining control of the lower chamber.

Some candidates, mostly Republicans, requested recounts in races where they trailed by more than 100 votes, and it is extremely unlikely those outcomes will change during a recount. 

Manchester’s Ward 6 race isn’t the only one getting another look. Scanlan also announced 27 absentee ballots found in the Rockingham District 6 race could change the results. Democrat Eric Turer beat Republican Melissa Litchfield 1,213 to 1,198, a difference of 15 votes. However, an audit of that race found 27 absentee ballots were not counted on election night or during the recount this week.

Scanlan is asking the New Hampshire Ballot Law Commission to order the 27 absentee ballots be counted and made part of the total.

It is a situation that echoes the 2020 election fiasco in Bedford, where election officials failed to count 190 absentee ballots and then attempted to hide their mistake from the general public.

SCOTUS Rejects Dems Last-Gasp Attempt to Force COVID Restrictions on State House

The U.S. Supreme Court is refusing to take the appeal made by Democratic lawmakers suing state House Speaker Sherman Packard over the legislature’s COVID-19 restrictions. 

The high court rejected the petition for appeal this week as the Democratic lawmakers sought to overturn the First Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that held Packard (R-Londonderry) is protected by legislative immunity when making House rules, including rules about what COVID precautions to institute.’

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Granite State Democratic legislators have aggressively pushed restrictions, including mask mandates and a demand to allow remote voting. And Democrats have continued that push even after a vaccine became widely available and the data showed mitigation efforts did little to stop the spread of the novel virus and its variants.

After the First Circuit Court ruled against the Democrats earlier this year, their legal team filed the appeal before the U.S. Supreme Court and prepared a new complaint in the lawsuit at the federal court in Concord.

Packard’s office said Wednesday he is reviewing his options after the development with the U.S. Supreme Court noting, “Speaker Packard is reviewing the latest details of this ongoing litigation case with his legal team.”

Democrats have been trying, and failing, to get a court to impose COVID rules on the State House that would allow for remote access for legislators who live with serious health conditions. The new complaint filed this summer claimed former Minority Leader Rep. Robert “Renny” Cushing died as a result of COVID-19.

House Minority Leader Rep. David Cote (D-Nashua) has taken over as lead plaintiff on the lawsuit. Cote, 61, lives with cerebral palsy and has missed at least two years of votes in the House.

Two of the original plaintiffs in the lawsuit, Cushing and Rep. Katherine Rogers (D-Concord), have died since it was first filed. Both Cushing and Rogers were diagnosed with cancer.

The First Circuit’s ruling found Packard enjoys “legislative immunity” and is exempt from following the Americans with Disabilities Act, which was the original basis for the lawsuit.

The lawsuit stated Cushing contracted COVID-19 and that became a complicating factor that resulted in his death. At the time, Cushing was getting experimental treatment for stage-4 prostate cancer.

The lawsuit contended that since most of the legislators seeking remote access are Democrats, the Republican Speaker used the House rules to gain a partisan advantage.

“The refusal to provide any accommodations is for the purpose of gaining an unfair partisan advantage. Motions to explicitly allow remote attendance have repeatedly been decided on a partisan basis,” the lawsuit states. “In essence, the defendants have deliberately created an extraordinary dilemma for the disabled—they can either place themselves and their families at an extreme risk of death, or they can forego participation in democratic institutions, thus leaving their constituents unrepresented.

“This is really not fundamentally different from pointing a gun to the heads of the individual plaintiffs to block them from entering the House. Given the ready availability of measures to provide reasonable accommodations, the refusal to do so is not only of an extraordinary character but shocks the conscience,” Democrats wrote.

Packard has praised previous rulings that protected the prerogative of elected House leadership to govern the House and its rules.

“This opinion reaffirms the importance of the integrity of the legislature and the legislative process,” Packard said in March when the appeals court sided with the GOP. “Both the First Circuit and District Court evaluated the plaintiffs’ arguments and ruled against them. My next step is to continue working on legislation that will benefit the state of New Hampshire and keep pushing us forward.”

By last March, two years after the pandemic began, most Republican and independent voters had moved past the COVID dread Democrats still embraced, said Spencer Kimball, Emerson College’s Director of Polling.

“I have been looking at COVID restrictions and see a big difference nationally between Democratic voters where 38 percent see COVID as a major health threat, while that number is about 17 percent among independents and 14 percent among Republicans,” Kimball said at the time.

In October 2020, the response to the coronavirus was one of the top three issues on voters’ minds, according to polls. In September of 2022, as the House Democrats continued their appeal, it was tied for 14th on the list of voter concerns.

“Everyday Granite Staters are moving on with their lives, but New Hampshire House Democrats are still supporting mandates, still wearing masks, and apparently still trying to strong-arm the legislature in the court system,” said Rep. Ross Berry (R-Manchester). “Today is a big win for everyone living in 2022, and not trying to litigate 2019.”

National GOP Group Backing NH State House Women

Women in New Hampshire’s GOP are getting a boost from the Republican State Leadership Committee, a national organization throwing its support behind women candidates in State House races up and down the ballot. 

“The RSLC is encouraged to see so many women candidates running in state legislative races who will effectively represent their communities in Concord and advance commonsense policies to counteract Joe Biden’s failed agenda,” said RSLC National Press Secretary Stephanie Rivera.

The RSLC has so far spent $500,000 to help send women and others to Concord this election cycle. According to Rivera, 27 percent of the Republicans running for the House this year are women, as are 26 percent of the GOP Senate candidates. Betting on Republican women is a safe wager, she said.

“In the State House, 51 percent of Republican women who ran in 2020 won their campaigns. In the Senate, Republican women had a 55 percent success rate,” she said.

According to Rivera, the RSLC’s Right Leaders Network is leading the effort to grow the Republican Party through the RSLC’s Right Women Right Now and Future Majority Project initiatives. The committee is focused on recruiting, training, supporting, and electing thousands of diverse state Republicans across the country.

New Hampshire is a key state for both Republicans and Democrats, as the national parties are looking to gain a foothold in state legislature races. The Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee (DLCC) is targeting legislatures in New Hampshire, Michigan, and Minnesota, pumping money and resources in an effort to turn all three state legislatures blue.

“We know what we’re up against, but we are making a play to undercut GOP power in the Michigan House and Senate, the Minnesota Senate, and the New Hampshire House and Senate,” DLCC President Jessica Post said on a conference call with reporters Tuesday.

It makes sense for the national GOP to invest in New Hampshire races, according to Rivera, as the GOP leadership in Concord has proven successful in handling the economy and the COVID-19 pandemic, and voters are looking to continue that success.

“New Hampshire has the best economy in the New England region and the second lowest unemployment rate in the country because the Republican-controlled Legislature has made the economy a top priority by passing a historic state budget that includes $171 million in tax relief for working families and small businesses, cuts taxes for retirees, and reduces property taxes by $100 million to provide relief. This diverse slate of candidates will help Republicans hold both chambers in the Granite State to continue this record of success,” Rivera said.

Democrats have been leaning heavily on abortion as an issue to motivate their base. They’re spending big money on ads attacking GOP Gov. Chris Sununu for signing a law that bans abortion after 24 weeks, or six months, of pregnancy. Sununu’s challenger, Sen. Tom Sherman, D-Rye, is using abortion as a major campaign plank, arguing against any restrictions on abortion.

“I would want to put in place Roe v. Wade in the state of New Hampshire,” Sherman said. “New Hampshire does not want the state in between a doctor and a patient, especially on such an intensely private issue.”

The issue may play with well Democratic donors, but not even New Hampshire Democrats support unrestricted abortion through all nine months of pregnancy. A St. Anslem College poll taken in August found about a quarter of Granite State Democrats support some limits on abortion, as do about 70 percent of the general population.

Rivera said New Hampshire voters, especially women voters, see the GOP as having the answer to issues like out-of-control inflation, soaring energy costs, and the price of food.

“Just like all voters in New Hampshire, women are pleased with the job being done by the Republican trifecta in Concord to push back against Joe Biden’s inflation with tax cuts that put more money in the pockets of working families,” Rivera said.

New Net Metering Bill Could Mean Headaches for NH Electric Grid

Subsidizing green energy is easy. Subsidizing it using the electric grid is hard.

That was the message from Eversource and some state officials regarding SB 321, which came before the House Science, Technology and Energy Committee on Tuesday. The bill would allow local electricity producers generating between 1 and 5 megawatts– mostly solar power plants — to use the existing power grid to sell and distribute power within the state directly to users and not via the existing utilities.

Under the pilot program, small generators could enter direct intrastate contracts with users and, because it is premised on the claim those transactions avoid any use of transmission infrastructure, it would create savings that would be returned to the generator. Those savings would help make the renewable power price competitive.

“The proposal allows pilot projects to test the feasibility of electricity sales between two parties that do not involve the current market managed by the independent system operator (ISO-NE),” committee chairman Rep. Michael Vose (R-Epping) told NHJournal. “Such sales would use utility-owned distribution facilities and would pay distribution costs. The final legislation will limit such sales for 15 years until their value has been determined.”

The problem, critics say, is that the theory just isn’t true.

According to energy experts who spoke to NHJournal, the proposal runs afoul of existing agreements between the utilities and the ISO. And most energy transactions will still use the transmission infrastructure, cutting into projected savings.

“Eversource covers large portions of New Hampshire, and some of their areas are only interconnected via transmission lines, like Nashua and Coos County,” said state Rep. Michael Harrington (R-Stafford), a former member of the Public Utility Commission who now serves on the energy committee. “This means even if the transaction was limited to players in a single utilities area, it could still involve transmitting the power over transmission lines where FERC has jurisdiction.

“It is a very complicated issue and is only made more complicated by jurisdictional issues,” Harrington added.

And the premise of a pilot program that lasts 15 years flies in the face of the meaning of the word. “Fifteen years isn’t a ‘pilot,'” one energy utility source said. “That’s a full season.”

Advocates like Lebanon Assistant Mayor Clifton Below say the proposal brings market-priced solutions to the renewable energy sector.

The City of Lebanon could potentially become an energy producer. The Lebanon Solid Waste Facility is in the process of building a power plant to burn greenhouse gasses created by decomposing trash in order to power microturbines. The current plan is to use that power for city properties.

“It’s a baby step. It’s something that could prove to be more economically and technologically efficient,” Below said during Tuesday’s hearing.

The problem, said Eversource Director of Governmental Affairs Donna Gamache, is the proposal both violates agreements regulating the utility’s transmission lines and would force one group of customers to subsidize another.

“We want to make sure everyone using the transition system pays their fair share, and that Eversource can maintain reliability,” Gamache said. “We fear this would violate ISO New England agreements.”

In her testimony to the committee, Gamache said, “These types of transactions are not permissible under the ISO-NE Open Access Transmission Tariff or the Transmission Owners Operators Agreement Changing this would require ISO-NE to file for and FERC to approve a new tariff provision that would allow intrastate sales as the transmission system would need to be used to move the power.”

Director of Legislative & Regulatory Affairs for Clean Energy NH, Kelly Buchanan, said the state’s PUC can regulate the pilot program. Bringing in a new way to sell renewable energy would help the industry grow while it shifts to cleaner power.

“This bill expands the marketplace for renewable energy in the 1-to-5-megawatt range,” she said.

Griffin Roberge with the New Hampshire Department of Energy said the state is not taking a position on the bill, citing many of Gamache’s concerns about potentially running afoul of the ISO New England agreements. The matter was subject to a state study, which cautioned about proceeding with selling power.

“The report found this was a complex issue, and warned of unintended consequences,” Roberge said.

Harrington agreed. “My recommendation would be to give the issue more study.”

Despite Court Ruling, House Dems to Keep Fighting For COVID Exceptions

Democrats are vowing to keep up the fight over COVID-19 restrictions at the State House even as more voters are ready for an end to pandemic living.

On Monday, the First Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston denied New Hampshire Democrats an injunction against House Speaker Sherman Packard (R-Londonderry). Democrats have been pushing for Packard to allow for remote attendance for legislators. House Minority Leader Rep. David Cote (D-Nashua) responded by saying he would continue the remote legislation lawsuit.

“While we are disappointed that the First Circuit denied our request for a preliminary injunction, it is important to note that the court did not rule that disabled people must risk death to serve in the legislature and represent their constituents. The court’s decision only related to a preliminary injunction, not the Speaker’s denial of minimal accommodations for representatives with disabilities,” Cote said in a statement.

Cote, 61, lives with cerebral palsy and has not been to Concord for a vote in more than two years. He did not respond to a request for comment on Monday.

Packard successfully argued that as Speaker he enjoys “legislative immunity” and is exempt from following the Americans with Disabilities Act, and therefore the injunction fails.

“This opinion reaffirms the importance of the integrity of the legislature and the legislative process. Both the First Circuit and District Court evaluated the plaintiffs’ arguments and ruled against them. My next step is to continue working on legislation that will benefit the state of New Hampshire and keep pushing us forward,” Packard said in a statement.

Spencer Kimball, an associate professor at Emerson College and the director of the school’s polling center, said the politics of the pandemic have shifted away from favoring Democrats as the virus has become less threatening.

“I have been looking at COVID restrictions and see a big difference nationally between Democratic voters where 38 percent see COVID as a major health threat, while that number is about 17 percent among independents and 14 percent among Republicans,” Kimball said.

The COVID-19 virus seems to be in retreat, with cases and hospitalizations dropping drastically in recent weeks across the country and in New Hampshire.

Earlier this week, state Sen. Tom Sherman, (D-Rye) who is running to unseat Gov. Chris Sununu, was asked if he would impose a mask mandate “on day one” after taking office. “It really depends on the numbers,” Sherman said. “You have to look at what’s called the epidemiology, which is how pervasive is it in the community.

“If the numbers say it is [necessary], then we may need to do that, but that would not be my first response, Sherman added.

Kimball said, with the threat perception changing, COVID restrictions could be a loser for Democrats heading into the midterms.

“Democrats may be overplaying their COVID hand, but if COVID was to increase they may find themselves in a stronger position. Time will tell,” Kimball said.

In New Hampshire, most adults have some level of protection against COVID-19, according to recent UNH Survey Center data.

Currently, one-quarter (of adults) say they have tested positive for COVID since the pandemic began. Six in 10 adults say they are vaccinated and boosted, another 17 percent are vaccinated but not boosted, and 22 percent are not vaccinated at all. Overall, seven in eight Granite Staters likely have some protection against COVID-19 through vaccination or recent infection,” The UNH data report states. 

David Paleologos, director of Suffolk University Political Research Center, said Democrats need to be alert to parents who are tired of mask mandates and school lockdowns harming their children.

“It’s hard to say whether or not mask advocacy on its own will be a cutting issue in November. More likely is a scenario where Democrats will say mask policies and required vaccinations ultimately saved lives and Republicans will say that mask mandates were an overreach, setting back education a couple of years,” Paleologos said. 

Democrats who align with teachers unions, which have backed stricter COVID restrictions like remote learning and masking, have had a rough time at the ballot box.

“Traditionally, education and healthcare are wheelhouse issues for the Democratic Party. If Republicans chip away at these two pillar issues (like they did in Virginia and New Jersey last fall), Democrats may face some dark November days,” Paleologos said.

Glenn Youngkin took the Virginia governor’s race, in part, because parents were upset with COVID lockdowns. In New Jersey, incumbent Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy barely beat a challenge from Republican Jack Ciattarelli.

Cote took over the leadership after the death of state Rep. Robert “Renny” Cushing (D-Hampton.) Cushing died this month following a two-year battle with prostate cancer. His family told The New York Times Cushing’s death was partially brought on by complications from COVID-19.

Cushing first brought the lawsuit to the federal court and pushed for a ruling on the appeal for the injunction ahead of the current legislative session. Even as he was dealing with cancer treatments, Cushing remained active throughout the pandemic, missing few votes over the last two years. 

House Speaker Dick Hinch (R-Merrimack) died from COVID-19 in 2020 shortly after the first socially distanced House session of the biennium at UNH’s athletic complex.

House Dem Says Cops a Danger to Black Men, Now Sits on Criminal Justice Committee

Democrats have replaced the representative who used the “N-Word” on the state House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee with the representative who said police are a danger to Black men.

It is yet another fiasco from the fallout of the Rep. Nicole Klein Knight (D-Manchester) incident, which continues to wreak havoc within the House Democratic Caucus.

Klein Knight was called out by Black and Latino progressives after she (allegedly) used the “N-Word” more than 20 times during a State House confrontation with 18-year-old Democratic activist Jonah Wheeler. During the encounter, Klein Knight also called security on Wheeler, who is Black.

Klein Knight, who has remained silent since NHJournal broke the story, was booted from her position on the Criminal Justice committee — which handles issues of policing and law enforcement — at the request of Democratic leaders. In a surprise — advocates for law enforcement call it shocking — move, Democrats replaced her with Rep. Manny Espitia (D-Nashua).

Espitia created a controversy of his own when he said Klein Knight’s decision to call State House security officers to confront Wheeler put the young man in danger because he is Black.

“Rep. Klein Knight represents one of the most racially diverse districts in the state and should therefore feel an even greater responsibility to uplift Black, Brown and Indigenous voices,” Espitia said last week. “Instead, she engaged in degrading, bigoted behavior against a young Black man, eventually calling security on him, despite being fully cognizant of the heightened dangers Black men face in this country in the presence of law enforcement.” [Emphasis added.]

Espitia issued a partial apology in response to widespread criticism.

“A statement I recently made in which I referenced the ‘heightened dangers Black men face in this country in the presence of law enforcement’ has been misrepresented in a news article to imply that I was calling the integrity of our Protective Services personnel into question,” Espitia wrote to his House colleagues. “I apologize for not choosing my words more carefully, and I appreciate you providing me the opportunity to make this important clarification.”

Espitia’s view, that systemic racism among law enforcement makes them a danger to people of color, is the basis of the #DefundThePolice movement supported by New Hampshire progressives. While it is embraced by the New Hampshire Black Lives Matter organization and the NH ACLU, polls show it is not a popular view among voters.

Espitia did not respond to a request for comment.

Now, Espitia sits on the committee that oversees law enforcement policy in the state, though his appointment was news to members of the committee contacted by New Hampshire Journal. Rep. Laura Pantelakos (D-Portsmouth) was surprised to learn of Espitia’s placement on the committee and she is not thrilled with his comment about police.

“I think that’s a stupid statement,” she said. 

Rep. John Burt (R-Goffstown), who also serves on the committee, was likewise surprised to learn Espitia was Klein Knight’s replacement.

“I personally think it’s the wrong pick. We deal strictly with law enforcement issues, if he’s already against law enforcement how can he be impartial on votes?” Burt said.

Hollis Police Chief Joseph Hoebeke, speaking as president of the New Hampshire Association of Chiefs of Police, said Espitia’s comments are disheartening and frustrating. 

“You need to be very careful when you make assertions like that. I don’t think it’s appropriate for public officials to say things like that,” Hoebeke said.

Hoebeke said there is simply no data to prove New Hampshire police present a danger to Black men, and there has been a years-long movement in law enforcement to address community concerns. Instead of repeating the #DefundthePolice rhetoric, Espitia should reach out to law enforcement and engage in a conversation, Hoebeke said.

“We need to focus on relationships rather than make more divisions,” Hoebeke said. “Comments like that don’t help.”

Assistant Department of Safety Commissioner Eddie Edwards, said the state works hard to make sure all people are treated fairly. Edwards is Black and a former New Hampshire police chief.

“As someone with firsthand experience and accountability responsibilities, I believe no state is working harder to make certain all residents and visitors are treated with respect and dignity while interacting with law enforcement,” Edwards said.

Pantelakos would not say if Espitia’s views of law enforcement made him a good pick for the committee. Instead, she deferred to the judgment of House Minority Leader Renny Cushing (D-Hampton), who made the choice.

“I would assume that Minority Leader Cushing felt that (Espitia) could do the job. It’s not always easy to say who should be on the committee and who shouldn’t be on the committee,” she said.

Neither Cushing nor his deputy Rep. David Cote (D-Nashua), responded to a request for comment.

Sununu’s Inaugural Speech: Getting Laughs, Going Long and Drawing Lines

The most memorable thing about Gov. John Chris Sununu’s second inaugural address (other than Speaker Shurtleff’s gaffe) was how much fun the governor had giving it.  It’s the defining aspect of the Sununu style of governance:  In a time of seemingly non-stop political anger and partisan anguish, Chris Sununu is having a great time.

A little too great, based on the 60+ minutes run time. (“This was 20 minutes when I read it at home last night,” Sununu assured the assembled). Still, by peppering the speech with personal stories and anecdotes– along with classic Sununu self-deprecation–the governor kept things moving. And any speech that can work in quotes from Harry Potter and Adam Sandler can’t be all bad.

 

Most of the speech was spent cheerleading–another Sununu staple. He celebrated the state’s economy, the previous work of the legislature, the efforts of healthcare and public safety employees, the life of George H. W. Bush, his wife’s charity work with Bridges House, etc.

If Gov. Sununu’s speech had a soundtrack, it would have been “Everything Is Awesome” from The Lego Movie.

But everything isn’t quite awesome, as the governor acknowledged, as he spoke about suicide rates in a way that echoed the discussion of opioid addiction a few years ago. He also talked about the ongoing drug abuse issue, the “hub and spoke” approach, and lingering concerns about the performance of DCYF, etc.

Not surprisingly for a Republican governor who must work with a Democratic-controlled legislature, Sununu avoided partisanship. In fact, the words “Republican” and “Democrat” appear but once in his prepared remarks:

“Whether you are a Republican or Democrat, Independent or Libertarian — we all share a passion for making our communities the strongest they can be.”

But that doesn’t mean Sununu avoided partisan politics. New Hampshire Democrats haven’t been shy talking about the tax increases that are part of their “Granite State Opportunity Plan.”  Though the Democrats in the House and Senate haven’t come together on a single approach, they all involve at a minimum taking away tax reductions scheduled for the future, if not raising tax rates on businesses outright.

Gov Sununu didn’t pick any fights from the podium, but he was very clear:

“Look at the data. Revenues are rising. Costly regulations have been eliminated, and we are investing surplus funds into smart one-time investments.
 
I implore this legislature to learn from the mistakes of the past.  The last thing we should be doing is raising taxes or pushing a budget that does not live within our means.  And it should go without saying -There will be no sales or income tax of any kind on my watch.”

Sununu also used that rarely-heard word in energy-policy debates: “ratepayer.”

“I have always said we should view energy policy through the lens of the ratepayer.  And I hear a lot of talk from legislators that say YES, they will fight for lower electric rates, but then vote for legislation that raises rates and burden our citizens.  You can’t have it both ways.”

The irony is that Sununu has his own “both ways” policy on energy, calling for continued subsides of inefficient/expensive wind/solar, but targeted to benefit low-income residents.

“The Office of Strategic Initiatives and Public Utility Commission are currently working out a plan for the multi-million-dollar Clean Energy Fund which is being made available this year.  I want to see renewable energy projects for low income families and communities to be a priority for those investment dollars.”

Not exactly the policy of a full-throated free marketer, but a politically-smart position for a Republican who just survived a #BlueWave in a purple state and doesn’t want to lose a job he loves.

[To read Gov. Sununu’s entire prepared text, click here.]