Our Turn: Double Standard: An amorality play starring Speaker Packard

  • Gov. Chris Sununu walks with House Speaker Sherm Packard, R-Londonderry, at his inauguration ceremony in the Executive Council Chamber at the State House in Concord on Thursday, Jan. 7. AP

Published: 2/6/2021 6:50:15 AM

This is a tale of twisted morality and backward leadership.

Act I: Republican state Rep. Jim Spillane posts on Facebook that it’s open season on any house with a Black Lives Matter sign posted on its lawn. If you see one, his post reads, you’re “free to loot and burn that house.” Another state representative, Republican Dawn Johnson, posts an article on her own social media from a known neo-Nazi site that includes a Jewish caricature and a racial slur. Spillane later posts another image of Jewish men as they are commonly depicted in anti-Semitic tropes, seated around a Monopoly board that rests on the backs of dark-skinned, oppressed workers. Spillane’s own caption reads, “Truth. Agree.”

Act II: Then-President Trump urges his supporters to converge on Washington, D.C., for a Jan. 6 “Stop the Steal” rally. The police chief of Troy, David Ellis, travels to attend this event that the president promises will be “wild.” Trump urges rally attendees to march on the Capitol building, and an armed, violent insurrection ensues. Democratic state Rep. Rosemarie Rung later calls out Ellis on Twitter for not acting to stop the attack and for standing by while other police officers were being injured. She refers to the insurrectionists as “terrorists.” The town of Troy temporarily closes its offices after town officials report receiving threats from persons unknown.

Act III: State Republican leadership responds to these events. The speaker of the House, Sherman Packard, punishes severely the representative who condemned the violent insurrection, and goes out of his way to excuse the representatives who perpetrated racist and anti-Semitic hate.

Rising Action: Speaker Packard continues to excuse Reps. Spillane and Johnson for their blatant anti-Semitism and racism, despite the very real and very familiar fear such actions cause. He accepts at face value their blithe professions of “I was joking” and “I didn’t know it was anti-Semitic,” and even, “But I know a Jewish person and he doesn’t think it’s anti-Semitic,” as if any of these excuses hasn’t been uttered thousands of times throughout history. Countless people try to explain how these words and images actually encourage threats and violence, and that they can be matched to images from, for example, Nazi propaganda. But the speaker nevertheless turns a deaf ear and a blind eye, in effect granting silent permission to any Republican who might wonder if they, too, can get away with such behavior.

Meanwhile, Speaker Packard strips Rep. Rung of her committee assignment and demands that she apologize for “acting beneath the dignity of the House” and for the threats received by the town of Troy, despite no one having presented any evidence that Rep. Rung is in any way responsible for these threats. Not having been removed from the committee roster, Rep. Rung reports to her committee meeting, believing she remains a member in good standing. Mid-hearing, Speaker Packard physically goes to the meeting and demands that Rep. Rung be removed. He then adds to his prerequisites for reinstatement that Rep. Rung apologize for all the “disruption he and his staff have experienced from the calls/emails his office has received as a result of the press coverage.” In other words, because Speaker Packard has been called out due to his inappropriate responses in all of these situations, he now insists that Rep. Rung apologize to him for the fallout from his own bad decisions. Packard further complains about the many emails he received accusing him of applying an unjust double-standard. Referring to Democrats, he says, “This is the kind of games they are playing.”

Finale: Anti-Semitism and racism ought to have no place in New Hampshire. It ought to be no more complicated than that, but the story’s conclusion remains to be seen. What should be a predictable plot – condemnation of anti-Semitic and racist behavior, support for those opposing insurrection against the United State government – instead has become a twisted narrative.

It is now up to the Speaker Packard to write a compelling and morally acceptable ending. This is a serious drama, not a comedic game.

The Kent Street Coalition urges the speaker to call on Reps. Spillane and Johnson to resign and failing this, we urge him to strip them of their committee assignments, instigate ethics investigations, and call on the New Hampshire GOP to withdraw financial and other electoral support. These actions will send a clear message that anti-Semitism, racism, and hate have no place at the State House and that disingenuous explanations and excuses do not undo the very real harm such hate speech engenders.

We further urge Speaker Packard to reinstate Rep. Rung to her committee assignment. Doing so will send a clear message that Republican House leadership disavows the lies and deceits about our elections that were used to incite the violent insurrection and attack on our democratic government.

Any other ending deserves nothing but five rotten tomatoes – online, at the ballot box, and anywhere in the state of New Hampshire.

(Tracy Hahn-Burkett of Bow and Stefan Mattlage and Louise Spencer, both of Concord, are members of the Kent Street Coalition.)

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