Responding to reports that Russia meddled in the recent presidential election, a Democratic state senator has proposed that New Hampshire consider pulling Russian vodka from its liquor stores.
Sen. Jeff Woodburn said Monday the state shouldn’t continue “business as usual” with Russia. He suggested that state-owned liquor stores could stop selling the country’s products and the state’s retirement system could divest from its Russian-based investment assets.
“The uncontested conclusion by the U.S. intelligence community of Russian interference in our elections requires a response at the local, state, and federal levels,” Woodburn, a Whitefield Democrat, wrote in a statement.
But Russian vodka brands won’t be disappearing from shelves anytime soon. Under Woodburn’s proposed bill, a committee would be formed to study and report back before Nov. 1 about potential actions the state could take and their anticipated effects.
American intelligence officials last week briefed President-elect Donald Trump on their conclusions that Russia interfered in the 2016 election to help him win the White House, explicitly tying Russian President Vladimir Putin to election meddling and saying that Moscow had a “clear preference” for Trump over Hillary Clinton.
Trump has repeatedly sought to downplay the allegations.
Woodburn, however, called for action.
“When our freedoms are threatened, Granite Staters expect us to respond,” he said. He invited a bipartisan group of legislative leaders to co-sponsor his bill.
In his justification, Woodburn invoked legendary New Hampshire General John Stark, who proclaimed in a famous letter that all foreign influence is “tyranny.”
In the 1809 letter, which Stark signed with the phrase that later became the state’s motto – “Live Free or Die” – the general declared himself a friend of equal rights and representative democracy.
Then Stark punctuated the paragraph with a different sentiment: “I am the enemy of all foreign influence, for all foreign influence is the influence of tyranny,” which Woodburn quoted in his proposal.
Foreign interference in American elections undermines the country’s sovereignty, Woodburn wrote.
“It is more than reasonable for New Hampshire to establish a bipartisan commission to at least evaluate whether and how to respond to Russian interference in our democracy,” he said.
The effect on liquor drinkers would be mostly symbolic. Only a few of the 198 imported vodka products the liquor stores carry are from Russia, and the first one to pop into many consumers’ minds may not count.
Although Stolichnaya’s roots are unquestionably Russian, the brand’s vodka is produced in Latvia using some Russian ingredients. The alcohol is distilled from Russian grain in Russia, according to the company’s website, but Woodburn tweeted Monday: “Stoli is not made in Russia.”
Similarly, the inherent diversity of investment portfolios would likely exempt the retirement system’s investments, too, if treated with the same scrutiny.
It was unclear Monday what Russian assets – if any – are owned by the New Hampshire Retirement System, said Marty Karlon, the spokesman for the retirement system.
“NHRS doesn’t directly invest in specific companies, however, we use a number of investment managers and we are reaching out to them now to see if they currently have any Russian holdings in their portfolios,” Karlon wrote in an email.
(Nick Reid can be reached at 369-3325, email@example.com or on Twitter at