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Chuck Douglas: A big win for state’s taxpayers



For the Monitor
Sunday, December 02, 2018

On Nov. 6, more than 400,000 New Hampshire voters approved Constitutional Amendment No. 1, restoring the right of an average taxpayer to challenge illegal governmental spending in court.

For 150 years this had been the law until our Supreme Court decided the case of Duncan v. State of New Hampshire in 2014. At that point, the court adopted the restrictive federal standing requirements claiming they are the same under both constitutions.

An overwhelming response by the Legislature to amend the constitution was forthcoming because the decision made no sense. Our constitution was in effect for several years before there even was a federal Constitution, so the idea that the two documents are identical is wrong.

The challenge for both conservatives and liberals was to figure out how to gain support from the voters for an amendment that is hard to explain and contains 213 words. An analysis of the amendment revealed it would take almost a full minute just to read it and the ballot question was rated by linguists at a grade 13 level of readability, meaning that one would have to have high school plus one year of college education to read it and understand it.

A bipartisan coalition chaired by me, with Bill Duncan as the vice chairman, was created to raise money to provide information to the voters. The “Yes on NH #1” political action committee included a former Republican mayor of Manchester, Ray Wieczorek, and a former Democratic mayor of Manchester, Sylvio Dupuis. Representatives in the Legislature included Bob Backus from Manchester, who is a well known liberal and progressive voice, as well as Dan McGuire, a libertarian and conservative from the Republican side of the aisle.

Both political parties and both candidates for governor supported Amendment 1, making it truly bipartisan in an era of warring tribes.

The Yes on NH 1 committee was able to raise about $16,000, which resulted in an internet presence with 35,440 Facebook users, three Sunday newspaper ads and 30,000 palm cards. In addition, ads on WMUR, radio stations and 500 yard signs urging a “yes” vote were part of the mix.

In the end, Yes on NH 1 worked hard in getting the word out, especially since Massachusetts TV was confusing us with Yes on 1 in Massachusetts, which had to do with nurse staffing levels. It failed.

The end result is an amendment to our Bill of Rights that restored government accountability to the taxpayers. The 83 percent approval was 406,685 yes and 84,337 no votes.

(Chuck Douglas of Bow is a former New Hampshire congressman, and superior court and Supreme Court judge.)