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House votes to investigate degrading comments allegedly made by N.H. rep

  • Democratic state Rep. Pam Gordon of Portsmouth walks in front of the protest line outside the State House on Thursday. Geoff Forrester / Monitor staff

  • Melissa Hinebauch of Concord writes out placards Thursday at the State House during a protest against Rep. Robert Fisher. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • State Rep. Pam Gordon walks through the group of women protesting against Rep. Robert Fisher Thursday morning at the State House. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Andrea Polizos of Keene talks with State Rep. Kurt Wuelper, R-Stafford, as he gets ready to enter the State House on Thursday during a outdoor protest against Rep. Robert Fisher of Laconia. Wuelper “was respectful and listened to what I had to say,” Polizos said. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff



Monitor staff
Thursday, May 04, 2017

The House voted overwhelmingly Thursday to look into the conduct of embattled state Rep. Robert Fisher, recently accused of being the secret creator of a misogynistic online forum.

The decision came hours after more than two dozen people rallied outside the State House calling for the Laconia Republican’s resignation.

Top party leaders, including Gov. Chris Sununu, have called on Fisher to step down ever since the Daily Beast reported the second-term representative appears to have founded “The Red Pill” and made online comments degrading women’s intelligence. Fisher has said his words were taken out of context and has resisted calls to resign.

He voted in favor of the inquiry Thursday, saying he is confident the matter will be resolved quickly.

“I think the truth will be out at the hearing,” said Fisher, before referring all other questions to a written statement he released earlier.

Though Democrats proposed the inquiry to look at Fisher’s conduct, Republicans voted to add in Democratic Rep. Sherry Frost, who has faced criticism from the right over her tweeting. Democrats bemoaned her inclusion in the probe and questioned why it hadn’t come sooner if there was real concern.

“This is an absolute false equivalency,” said Rep. Jacalyn Cilley, a Barrington Democrat. “It seems to me that this is a bit of an eye for an eye.”

The Legislative Administration Committee will question the members in public next week and make a recommendation to the House by June 1. The suggested action could range from doing nothing to expelling the member, but any option would need a majority vote to pass.

Republican Speaker Shawn Jasper said the committee will only be able to look at the members’ conduct this session, which may bar most of Fisher’s comments from consideration because many were made years ago, according to the Daily Beast. The two-year legislative session began in January. According to the Daily Beast, Fisher is no longer moderator of “The Red Pill” forum and made his last comment on the site in October 2016.

While the House voted 307-56 in favor of the inquiry, some critics said the chamber shouldn’t regulate free speech.

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

The Republican-led House added Frost to the probe in a vote largely along party lines. Jasper barred discussion about the two representatives’ conduct during the floor debate, so members could not outline specific concerns with Fisher or Frost’s behavior. In February, the New Hampshire GOP criticized Frost for tweeting “we have a terrorist problem, all right, and they’re mostly white, Christian men.”

Republican Rep. Victoria Sullivan, who put forward the amendment to include Frost, said it’s about fairness. “All representatives should be held to the same standard,” said Sullivan, of Manchester. “This body cannot pick and choose who they support and who they do not.”

Frost questioned her inclusion in the inquiry with Fisher, but said she voted for it because she has nothing to hide. “Hyperbole is not the same as vicious misogyny,” she said.

More than two dozen people gathered outside the State House waving signs and calling for Fisher to step down Thursday morning. “His behavior and attitudes toward women is deplorable,” said Becky Cawley of Concord.

Last week, the Daily Beast reported Fisher appears to have founded “The Red Pill” in 2012 – two years before he was first voted into the New Hampshire House. The forum, on Reddit, quickly gained a following among men’s rights activists and now counts nearly 200,000 subscribers, the article said. The Daily Beast reported that Fisher made comments – through a number of online user names – that women have “sub-par intelligence” and that he video-taped sexual encounters to protect against fake allegations of rape.

Fisher denied involvement with the forum to the Daily Beast. In statements issued after the article’s release, Fisher didn’t directly address the forum but said his comments were taken out of context.

“I never taped a sexual encounter, though I have often considered that it may be the best, or only, form of protection for men to prevent false rape accusations,” he said in a letter to the Laconia Daily Sun. “I’m not interested in letting manufactured moral outrage over some out-of-context non-quotes dictate whether I’m going to do my job in Concord.”

So far, he’s resisted calls to resign, saying he will “stand strong for men’s rights and the rights of all.”

Several members of Fisher’s delegation said earlier this week they won’t be pushing for Fisher to resign, according to the Daily Sun. “He was freely elected and hasn’t broken any laws. I know him well and he’s a thoughtful guy,” Belknap County Delegation Chairman Herb Vadney told the Sun.

Cheri Falk, a member of Wilton Peace Action who organized the Thursday rally, said the group plans to submit a complaint to the Legislative Ethics Committee if Fisher doesn’t step down. “He must go,” she said. It’s not clear if the group will follow that path given the House action Thursday.

The inquiry will be heard before the Legislative Administration Committee because it deals with member conduct, not an explicit ethics violation, House leaders said. The Committee will meet May 9 to hear from Fisher and May 10 to hear from Frost, according to House Majority Leader Dick Hinch.

(Allie Morris can be reached at 369-3307 or amorris@cmonitor.com.)