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Profanities fly as legislators debate decorum in N.H. House

  • Rep. Sherry Frost speaks to the legislative hearing Wednesday as her lawyer, Paul Twomey of Chichester, listens. Frost refused to be sworn in and just gave a statement. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Rep. Sherry Frost speaks to the legislative hearing Wednesday as her lawyer, Paul Twomey of Chichester, listens. Frost refused to be sworn in and just gave a statement. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff



Monitor staff
Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Profanity, finger-pointing and angry outbursts reigned Wednesday at a tense hearing looking into the behavior of Democratic Rep. Sherry Frost.

Though the two-hour House hearing was called to focus on the content of Frost’s tweets, it devolved into a debate about inconsistencies in enforcing decorum and a display of some of the very behavior lawmakers said they sought to stop.

As Republican Rep. Al Baldasaro criticized Frost’s online comments and defended his own past statement that Hillary Clinton should face a firing squad, House candidate Joshua Adjutant yelled at him from across the room to “shut the f--- up.”

Democratic Rep. Ellen Read questioned why a male lawmaker wasn’t admonished by GOP leaders after she said he refused to take down a Facebook post calling Frost a “c---.” Read’s utterance of the swear drew loud gasps from the crowd and a stern word from the committee chairman.

“I understand what you are trying to convey, but I would ask you to use a little bit of restraint with your speech,” said Republican Majority Leader Dick Hinch, who had to bang his gavel multiple times throughout the hearing to call for order.

The Legislative Administration Committee is digging into Frost’s conduct as part of an inquiry that includes Republican Rep. Robert Fisher, who is under review for his role in a misogynistic online forum known as “The Red Pill.”

The Republican-led House voted to add Frost to the probe last week, despite objections from Democrats calling it false equivalency. GOP leaders have criticized Frost over her tweets this year, which include profanity, characterizing terrorists as “usually white, Christian men” and saying that men “telling me to ‘calm down’ & ‘not take it hard’ are making me homicidal.”

A first-term representative from Dover, Frost brought a lawyer to the hearing and declined to take committee questions or be sworn in under oath. She read from a one-page statement saying her comments are hyperbole.

“To consider this a credible threat to anyone is, frankly, laughable,” she said, referencing the tweet about being homicidal. “My speech is not always pretty or polite, but I have the right to express myself in ways that I feel best relay what I witness and experience.”

The hearing drew testimony primarily from state representatives, who split along party lines in their opinions on Frost’s comments. Democrats argued Frost’s inclusion in the probe was a political ploy to give Fisher cover.

“Our hearing today isn’t about a few tweets, it’s about providing cover for a man who has tarnished the trust of the citizens of New Hampshire,” said Rep. Janice Schmidt, a Nashua Democrat.

But Republicans argued Frost’s tweets went too far and said her “homicidal” comment in mid-March raised red flags.

“Judging from her own words, should I be concerned that some random comment might provoke her to murder? Who knows,” said Republican Rep. Glen Dickey, who sits in front of Frost in Representatives Hall and said he requested a seat change but was denied.

Frost said she apologized in January, was “verbally reprimanded” by House Speaker Shawn Jasper and considered the matter settled. Hinch said only the House can vote to formally reprimand a member. The committee will decide next week whether to recommend Frost to face such action. No lawmakers argued for her to be expelled from the chamber. Some Republicans pushed for a formal reprimand while Democrats urged the matter be dismissed. Baldasaro said the committee might “look to get (Frost) mentally (evaluated) on why she used the word homicidal.” Any committee recommendation needs a majority vote of the full House to pass.

Some warned that action against Frost would set the House on a slippery path of constantly regulating lawmakers’ speech.

“You would have to do this every single week because the number of representatives that say something that somebody could (take) offense to goes on and on and on,” said Democratic Rep. Timothy Josephson of Canaan. Others said the probe shows inconsistencies in the way House decorum is policed because male lawmakers have made offensive statements in the past and did not face similar hearings.

The tensest moment of the hearing came when Democratic House Minority Leader Steve Shurtleff asked Baldasaro whether he faced formal complaints from other lawmakers following the firing squad comment last summer.

“No,” Baldasaro responded, saying that he was speaking as a veteran, which provoked anger from some members of the audience. “I’m a veteran and that is bulls---,” said one man who stood up and stormed out of the committee room as people started clapping. Moments later, Adjutant yelled at Baldasaro, prompting Shurtleff to withdraw the question as Hinch began banging his gavel.

“I am asking the audience to be respectful of everyone’s comments,” Hinch said.

State House security entered the room through a backdoor, but did not remove Adjutant. Later, he and Baldasaro shook hands and met privately in a neighboring committee room. A veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps, Adjutant said he is running for state representative as a Democrat in the special election for Grafton District 9.

“I did apologize to Rep. Baldasaro for the wording that I used,” he told reporters. “However, I will not apologize for my stern pushback on him trying to group the entire veteran community in those comments.”

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