Commentary: New Hampshire isn’t as purple as you think it is
House members met Thursday at a site in Bedford rather than the State House in Concord. (Dave Cummings | New Hampshire Bulletin)
When I talk about New Hampshire politics with outsiders, one of the things I always mention is the gravity with which people here consider their politics. “People in New Hampshire take their politics – and their votes – very seriously. They understand the impact. People like to look a presidential candidate in the eye and shake her hand a few times before they’ll vote for her.” More so than in other states I’ve lived, ordinary Granite Staters are willing to spend a significant portion of their time walking and talking politics.
This careful parsing of politics may be what has earned us the status of purple state – one where we vote neither overwhelmingly red (Republican) nor blue (Democrat), but a mixture of the two. At the moment, all of our elected federal officeholders are Democrats, while at the state level, Republicans dominate.
The result is a purple state, reflecting the apparent will of the people in the fall of 2020. So you could be forgiven if you expect that the legislation moving through the state Legislature this session also would be generally purple in nature: some conservative, some progressive, a lot centrist.
I assure you that this is not the case. Much of the legislation working its way through the Legislature this year lies far to the right of any genuine conservative principles, and any or all of these extremist measures may soon be on their way to Gov. Chris Sununu – who likes to call himself a moderate – to sign.
Here are a few of the bills that may well become law by the end of the year:
- Many people are aware that the Legislature is considering an education voucher bill. A fuller picture reveals that this bill may well be the most sweeping voucher program in the country, designed to transfer vast public school funds to private, religious, and home school coffers. When considered together with substantial proposed budget cuts and other measures, the voucher legislation would dismantle public K-12 education in New Hampshire as we know it while raising taxes for New Hampshire property owners as towns desperately attempt to make up for even a small portion of the gaps left by the reductions in state education funding.
- A cruel bill disguised as anti-abortion legislation, the deceptively named “Born Alive” bill claims to protect infants by requiring medical personnel to provide lifesaving medical care under any circumstances to infants born alive, as though doctors and nurses simply choosing to let babies die were an actual thing that happens. The real-life effects of this bill would be to rip infants born with devastating terminal conditions from their grieving parents’ arms for the few hours or days they get to spend with their babies before they die. Instead, the bill insists on consigning terminal infants to incubators and webs of tubes for artificial treatments even though these babies have no hope of recovery. The bill would take advantage of parents at their most vulnerable and sorrowful moments, solely to give the right-wing base something to rally around. Opponents of abortion might find legitimate legislation for their efforts, but this bill is based on a lie.
- A bill that purports to protect religious liberty actually creates a wide avenue allowing for public and private discrimination. HB 542 began as an effort to place houses of worship on equal footing with other entities considered “essential” during emergencies such as the 2020 lockdown caused by COVID. It has morphed, however, into legislation that would allow virtually any individual or business to claim exemption from even secular anti-discrimination laws due to the broad wording of several provisions added to the bill. Remember the notorious case of the baker who wouldn’t bake a cake for a gay couple who were getting married? What about a landlord who doesn’t want to rent to an unmarried couple, or a trans person, or an interracial couple? That’s the kind of discrimination we’re talking about here. Cloaking secular and corporate discrimination as religion is rather cynical, but that’s what’s on the agenda in this legislation.
- That the present GOP-led Legislature is pushing for expanded gun rights even in the face of a mounting death toll is no surprise anymore. The sheer volume of legislation making it easier to own and use a gun in any circumstance is breathtaking, however, and readers may raise an eyebrow upon learning that if the GOP gets its way, New Hampshire will become a rare “Second Amendment sanctuary” in all but the name. (And I would guess the name will quickly follow.) That would mean that any restriction at any level on the ownership or use of guns would be prohibited on the grounds that it would be considered a violation of the Second Amendment, and even cooperation with the federal government on gun-related matters would be banned. Guns 1, Preservation of lives and safety 0.
- HB 544, the prohibition of “divisive concepts” bill, has gotten a lot of attention – much of it misleading. Media discussions have revolved around Critical Race Theory, but it’s important to note that that term appears nowhere in the bill. This legislation would, as the title suggests, prohibit discussion of concepts that some people find controversial, such as the history and current context for racism, sexism, and other societal currents that make up the country we live in. Pretending a thing doesn’t exist won’t end it, and saying a bill doesn’t do something that it does won’t change its result. If we want to make progress against the realities that are systemic racism, sexism, homophobia, etc., we need to be able to talk about them – even, and perhaps especially, if those conversations make us uncomfortable.
The legislation outlined above does not constitute a purple agenda. That list, which is not complete, doesn’t reflect the desires of a citizenry that voted for a mix of Democrats and Republicans. Instead, it’s an extremist wish list, bolstered by lies and deceptions and pushed by a party whose anti-government, anti-democratic (small d) wing is dominating its more reasonable members, just like you see at the national level where a principled GOP congresswoman was just expelled from leadership for telling the truth about an election.
As New Hampshire citizens, we pride ourselves on our independent way of thinking, and that often shows in our politics. We like to meet candidates in person, look them in the eye. We consider no one above answering our questions personally. Our community matters, and so do our common standards. So ask yourself this question: Is a legislative agenda driven by falsehoods, exclusion, and far-right extremism what I want in my state? Because if your answer is no, the time to do something about it is now.
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