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Eugenics lawmaker resigns



Last modified: Tuesday, March 15, 2011
State Rep. Martin Harty resigned yesterday, facing outrage from constituents, colleagues and strangers over comments he made endorsing eugenics for what he called 'defective people.'

Harty, a 91-year-old Republican from Barrington and first-term representative, submitted a hand-written letter of resignation to House Speaker William O'Brien.

'I was just getting the hang of it some, but with all the slightly unfavorable publicity I've been getting the last few days I'll never be an effective lawmaker,' Harty wrote. 'Sorry my big mouth caused this furor.'

O'Brien said Harty came to his office to personally offer his resignation. The resignation will become official today, and a special election will be held to fill his seat.

'We both agreed that this is what is best for the House to move forward and focus on critical issues, like balancing our budget without raising taxes and giving the voters an opportunity to pass a school funding amendment to ensure local control,' O'Brien said.

Harty made headlines last week after he told Sharon Omand, a Strafford resident who manages a community mental health program, that 'the world is too populated' and there are 'too many defective people,' according to Omand. Asked what he meant, Omand said Harty replied, 'You know the mentally ill, the retarded, people with physical disabilities and drug addictions - the defective people society would be better off without.'

She said Harty added, 'I wish we had a Siberia so we could ship them all off to freeze to death and die and clean up the population.'

Harty later confirmed the comments about eugenics but said he was joking about Siberia.

Several of Harty's colleagues have described him as confused and unfocused in committee sessions. Harty himself wrote a letter to Foster's Daily Democrat, the Dover-area newspaper, stating that he did not know what he was doing as a representative and did not know what he was voting for or against.

A board member of the Disability Rights Center read Omand's account of the conversation to House Finance Committee members at a budget hearing Thursday. As soon as the remarks were printed, they were picked up by blogs and news sites throughout the country and widely condemned. By yesterday, two newspaper editorial boards, the Concord Monitor and Foster's, had called for Harty's resignation. An online petition urging Harty to resign had gathered more than 1,700 signatures.

Disabilities Rights Center Executive Director Richard Cohen wrote to O'Brien on Friday urging him to take steps to remove Harty from the House.

'Harty's remarks were repugnant to fundamental human values,' Cohen wrote in excerpts from his letter, which he gave the Monitor. 'They . . . reflect back to a dark and repudiated chapter in world history, which in Germany formed in part the basis of the Holocaust and in this country the basis for rounding up, segregating, abusing, mistreating, experimenting with, and sterilizing countless children and adults with mental and physical disabilities in much of the 20th century.'

Cohen said yesterday that he was happy Harty resigned.

'We shouldn't have policy makers who hold archaic and outdated beliefs,' Cohen said.

Party leaders from both sides of the aisle cheered the announcement.

'I am pleased Mr. Harty acknowledged his comments were not appropriate for a legislator and I am satisfied with his decision to resign,' said Republican State Committee Chairman Jack Kimball. 'He failed to represent the sentiments of his constituents and the core values and principles of the Republican Party.'

Rep. James MacKay, a Concord Democrat and longtime advocate for people with mental illness, said it was wise of Harty to resign.

'His comments were harmful to families who do the best they can with seriously mental ill members,' MacKay said. 'His unfortunate message was heard by many people who recognized that mental illness can be cured.'

House Democratic Leader Terie Norelli took the chance to criticize O'Brien. 'The remarks made by Rep. Harty last week hurt thousands of New Hampshire families across the state, and Speaker Bill O'Brien has been silent on this issue,' Norelli said. 'What is even more troubling is that the speaker and Republicans in the House are putting these words into action by proposing cuts that will be damaging to the mentally ill, disabled and children.'

O'Brien on Thursday said he did not endorse Harty's remarks and hoped Harty would choose his comments more carefully in the future, but O'Brien said he respected Harty's contributions to the country as a World War II veteran.

(Shira Schoenberg can be reached at 369-3319 or sschoenberg@cmonitor.com.)