Editorial: An arrest and rapid judgment

Published: 8/8/2018 12:04:46 AM

State Sen. Jeff Woodburn of Whitefield, a prominent New Hampshire Democrat, was arrested on several domestic abuse charges last week: four counts of simple assault, two counts of domestic violence, two counts of criminal mischief and one count of criminal trespassing. On Monday, he stepped down as Senate minority leader while opting to hold on to his District 1 seat.

Like just about everybody else, we don’t know for certain whether Woodburn committed the crimes of which he is accused. We do know that the details of the allegations are ugly. If Woodburn knows he is guilty of the charges, in whole or in part, he should vacate his seat in the Senate and do everything in his power to make sure he does not add to the harm he has already caused his accuser. A failure to do so will only add depth and concentric pain to his fall.

In the meantime, we find no solace in the way most of the state’s Democratic leaders have hastily scrambled to put distance between themselves and Woodburn. A good career politician needs to be skilled at risk assessment, and abandoning a party colleague during a very public descent is a no-brainer in their world. Silence or support carries a heavy price; condemnation, even without due process, is duty-free as long as it’s issued quickly and unambiguously. It’s not a complicated calculation, and it doesn’t involve even a little bit of moral rigor. If you’re looking for high character or courage in the frenzy of political scandal, you’re going to be disappointed.

For those who view American politics as a game between the good guys and the bad guys, our assessment here of a man accused of domestic abuse, who happens to be a state senator, is no doubt unsatisfying and possibly infuriating. We have condemned him too much or too little, revealing once again that we are either too far left or too far right. The truth is that we recognize, as many of you do, that the “R” or “D” following a public servant’s name might hint at policy preferences but it says nothing about character.

It’s a lesson learned and relearned with increasing regularity.

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