Editorial: This year, local House races are among the most important
In interviewing the candidates for Merrimack County commissioner recently, we heard a story we had missed earlier: Local Republican state representatives had apparently caused a kerfuffle over the proposed county government budget (over which they have approval) because, it seems, they don’t think the county charges enough when the old women who live at the county nursing home request a perm at the in-house salon.
Can you imagine, incumbent commissioner Peter Spaulding marveled. They spent a good, long time arguing over the cost of hairdos for indigent, elderly women just looking for a little dignity. In the context of a $75 million annual budget, the debate seemed preposterous.
It’s hard for voters – and journalists – to pay close attention to the 400 individual members of New Hampshire’s House of Representatives, but in the two weeks between now and Election Day it’s imperative that voters learn all they can about the men and women they sent to the House in 2010 and the candidates now running to replace them.
The last election brought us a House like none other recent memory. Decorum and civility were tossed aside. Proposed legislation – some of which made it into law – took aim at public schools, the separation between church and state, women’s rights, labor unions, gay families, the state university system and more. The newly revived Redress of Grievances Committee quickly became a kangaroo court, recommending that the l House consider impeaching multiple judges after one-sided hearings from bitter litigants.
House lawmakers voted to lower the high-school dropout age. They approved a scheme to divert public money to help students attend religious schools. They voted to eliminate the minimum wage. They invited guns into the State House – and onto college campuses. With no evidence of significant fraud, they put new hurdles in front of voters. With no evidence of trouble, they sought to seize control of rule-making authority for the courts. With no evidence that patients were being mistreated, they attempted to insert government between pregnant women and their doctors.
How did your own state representatives vote? If they’re running for reelection, how would their challengers compare? Given the recent redistricting of the House, which race (or races) do you actually get to vote in?
First things first: Between now and the election the Monitor will publish the results of issue surveys sent out to all local House candidates, providing a good summary of the candidates’ priorities. For further information about the voting record of incumbents, go to gencourt.state.nh.us, where you can learn the names of your current representatives, check out their attendance record for 2011-12 and see how they voted on key roll-call votes.
Also of note on the House website: a list of legislative services requests, where you can see the titles of some of the proposed bills filed by incumbents hoping to be re-elected for the 2013-14 term.
Among the things you’ll learn there: House Speaker Bill O’Brien will try, once again, to pass an anti-union right-to-work bill. He will encourage lawmakers to vote against expanding Medicaid eligibility. He wants to raise the bar for raising any state taxes, requiring a three-fifth vote of the Legislature.
Rep. Jennifer Coffey, a Republican from Andover would reduce the out-of-state fee for pistol and revolver licenses. Robert Kingsbury, a Republican from Laconia, has revived his proposal to mention links to the Magna Carta in relevant House bills. More curious: He would also require the state to somehow reconstruct the Old Man of the Mountain.
Many voters will find themselves in new voting districts when they go to the polls. You can find a complete list of the new House districts at the secretary of state’s website, sos.nh.gov/Voting_Districts.aspx.
In Concord Wards 1, 2, 3, 4, 6 and 7, for instance, voters will now choose a single representative for their own wards and then two more representatives for their combined floterial district.
Voters in Concord Ward 5 will now be voting with residents of Hopkinton. Together they will choose three state representatives for the combined area.
Voters in Concord Wards 8, 9 and 10 will all vote in two separate races: one contest for a single representative for their own ward, and one contest for a single representative for the combination of Wards 8, 9 and 10.
There are similar peculiarities across the region. When you get your ballot, therefore, it is imperative that you read the instructions in House races carefully. In some races voters will be told to pick the best candidate. But in others they will be asked to choose two, three or more.
It seems unlikely that the voters of 2010 had a clear idea what they were bargaining for when they chose the current crowd of state lawmakers. On Nov. 6, voters have a chance to set the House back on track – but only if they choose wisely.