Capital Beat: Who showed up to vote this year – and who didn’t

Monitor staff
Published: 6/23/2018 9:14:44 PM

In politics, attendance matters.

“If you can’t show up, you shouldn’t run. That’s the bottom line.”

That was Speaker Gene Chandler’s response to rising concerns that members of the New Hampshire Legislature are showing up less and less to take their seats and cast their votes. And it wasn’t unwarranted: A 10-year Monitor review revealed that 2018 was the second worst year for attendance since 2009, with average attendance of 339 out of a total possible 400 members in the House.

But who were the worst offenders? To follow up, we dove back into the 2018 attendance records to look for trends.

First off, they’re mostly Republican. Fifty-four percent of the Republican caucus had an above-average rate of unexcused absences, compared with 44 percent of the Democrats, the numbers reveal. That’s 113 red representatives compared to 76 in blue.

When it came to those with spotless records, though, the totals were more even: 27 Democrats managed to never miss a vote at all, compared with 26 Republicans.

Second, the offenders are highly concentrated. Just like with incomes, absenteeism tends to collect at the top; the worst 15 lawmakers accounted for 42 percent of the unexcused absences – in a body nominally of 400.

Third: Geography, apparently, had little to do with it. Though the far flung North Country towns might seem prime candidates for absenteeism, particularly with a string of heavy-hitting blizzards this year, the data says otherwise.

Of the 47 legislators who missed 20 or more votes, only two hailed from Coos County. Fourteen, meanwhile, came from Hillsborough, and 13 from Rockingham. Merrimack county only counted two.

So who were the worst? Missing every vote this year with no excuse given was Nick Zaricki, R-Goffstown, with 167 absences. Ryan Smith, R-Northfield, missed 154 votes; Armand Forest, D-Manchester, missed 149.

In total, seven lawmakers missed over 100 of this year’s 167 roll call votes without giving reason. The average for the House: nine unexcused absences missed per member.

Altogether, it’s something that might give voters – and candidates – pause this year. But eight of the top 20 worst-attending representatives are nonetheless running again, filing records show. That includes Francis Gauthier, R-Claremont, with 121 absences, and John O’Connor, R-Claremont, with 104. (Note: This column was originally published naming the wrong John O’Connor for his attendance record. The legislature has two representatives with the same name, one serving Derry, the other serving Claremont.)

Clearly, for some, Speaker’s Chandler’s words weren’t enough to get them in their seats at the beginning of the year, and they weren’t enough to stop them from running at the end.

To see everyone’s attendance record, and who has filed to run again, view the web version of this story, at concordmonitor.com.

Deadly veto

On Thursday Gov. Chris Sununu vetoed Senate Bill 593, keeping the option open, for now, of an execution for New Hampshire’s only death row inmate. But the state is still no closer to figuring out it might carry out a lethal injection on that inmate, Michael Addison, whose appeals are still ongoing.

As this column has reported previously, the state has neither a chamber to carry out an execution, the drugs necessary to do so, nor even the protocol in place for how it might be done. A $1.77 million plan drafted by a consultant to build a lethal injection chamber within the men’s prison was floated but never acted on by legislators in 2008.

Speaking to reporters after his veto Wednesday, Sununu dismissed the concern.

“We’re years away from that,” he said. “So we’ll continue to work with the Attorney General’s office to figure out those logistics, but that’s years away.”

Should Addison’s appeals finally exhaust, state statute mandates a 12 month waiting period before an execution can be carried out. Between now and then, what the landscape looks like – both logistically, with the necessary drugs becoming ever scarce, and politically, with potentially shifting winds on capital punishment in the state – remains an open question.

New venue for suit

The Senate Bill 3 lawsuit is getting a new home. Two weeks after Judge Charles Temple of Hillsborough County Superior Court South in Nashua declared that he was recusing himself from the case, the suit has been moved to the Hillsborough North court in Manchester. Temple had earlier declared a conflict of interest due to a pre-existing friendship with Bryan Gould, an attorney for the state’s side.

The suit, brought by the state Democratic party and others against 2017 law to tighten the voting process, could have an impact on preparations for this year’s mid-term elections; if upheld, the law carries new paperwork requirements for voters and financial penalties.

Up in the air, as of now, is how the relocation might impact the Sept. 11 state primaries. The previous court had set a hearing date of Aug. 20 – giving just three weeks for town election officials to prepare to implement the new rules under SB3 should the court uphold the law.

With a new location, that date must be rescheduled. A status conference for Monday ay 11 a.m. in Manchester Superior Court has been set up to answer that question. Attorneys on both sides are preparing briefs for that determination.

Names on ballots

With Wednesday’s town filing deadline concluded, Democrats took claim to what they called a record: 383 state House seats this year will have at least one Democratic candidate. Republicans, meanwhile, fielded candidates in 333 seats.

Sununu, speaking to reporters, brushed it off.

“If the Democrats’ big headline is that they filed in a lot of races, our headline is ‘getting the job done in New Hampshire,’” he said, running through his chosen selling points, from tax cuts to regulatory reform, that he says will make a difference to voters.

But pressed on the possibility of retaking control with a Democratic majority, the governor shrugged.

“I take great pride in my method in knowing that both myself, my team, my commissioners, we’ll work with anybody who provides good solutions for the state of New Hampshire,” he said.

(Ethan DeWitt can be reached at edewitt@cmonitor.com, or on Twitter at @edewittNH.)




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