Introduction of HB1415-2020-0052h to Election Law Cmte
10:30 am Wednesday Jan 14, 2020 in LOB 308
Thank you Chairman Cote, ViceChair Moynihan and fellow Representatives for the opportunity to speak before you today. I thank you in advance for your kind attention.
For the record, I am Rep. Ken Wells of Andover, and I am here to introduce House Bill 1415. As introduced, this bill was to establish a committee to study the Montana Disclose Act of 2015, which prohibits anonymous out-of-state expenditures, including, for example “in kind” attack ad mailings, during the period 90 days preceding elections in Montana. The aim of the committee would have been to see if this Montana provision could be incorporated into NH election law.
The amendment before you, 0052h changes both the title and the body of the bill, and calls for the enactment of such a protection for NH elections, not for the establishment of a study committee.
NH elections should be decided by NH voters, after they have had an appropriate opportunity to discuss, fact-check and deliberate upon the information available to them before they go to the polls. All of us who have mailboxes or a phone line know that the pace of political messaging by junk mail, robocalling and other advertising media, accelerates as election day nears. Not infrequently, late messaging turns negative and destructive to the deliberative democratic process. Unfortunately, some of those last-minute messages may contain sensational and misleading misinformation, are funded by “dark money” originating outside of NH and seeking to manipulate the outcome of our elections by misleading NH voters. If the origin of the misinformation is an anonymous out-of-state entity, there is currently insufficient accountability or recourse to seek civil damages. I think we all agree that this is bad, regardless of our political affiliation.
The amendment before you seeks to amend RSA 664:6 by adding a prohibition on all such anonymous independent expenditures, and provides civil penalties for each violation. The mechanism for doing this demands explicitly that political organizations operating from outside NH be properly registered with the NH Secretary of State, and therefore be not anonymous, if they engage in political advertising in the last 90 days before NH elections. Secondly, it prescribes a civil penalty of $5000 per occurrence, and awards double to triple damages to plaintiffs. (I believe these penalties are exactly the same penalties already existing in section 14a, as applied only to pre-recorded messaging.)
I’m proud to live in a state where there is such a high level of voter involvement and turnout, where there is reasoned political discourse about important topics perennially, and where so many voters profess their independence from either party’s ideologies and prefer to deliberate thoughtfully upon verifiable information, and carefully consider their own values, before heading to the polls.
Let’s help keep our local NH state politics local!
By the way, the Montana Law was upheld by the Ninth Circuit Court, and the Supreme Court declined to hear the appeal.
Notes for floor speech:
Anonymity creates a shield for wrongdoing. Wrongdoing (like lying and cheating) becomes profitable when there’s no consequence, because there’s no disincentive. With this in mind, I doubt there could be any opposition to a bill that creates a penalty for misleading NH voters.
Floor speech for SB124, Jan 9, 2020
Thank you Mr Speaker. And thank you colleagues for your kind attention.
Mr Speaker, I rise to speak about SB124, which is about the Renewable Portfolio Standard, or RPS. The aim of the RPS is to encourage an annual steady growth rate of the state’s production of electricity from renewable energy sources, such as wind, solar, hydro and landfill biogas (which are called Classes I - IV, respectively). Hopefully, many of these renewable energy generators will be in-state NH businesses.
The RPS schedule proposed by SB124 is exceedingly modest, and does not substantially alter the overall trajectory of the portfolio standard. It calls for annual minimum increases of only nine-tenths of one percent in Class I renewables, and 0.9% in Class II renewables. Class III and IV growth remains flat, because our rivers have hydro already, and because we don’t want to incentivize the growth of landfills.
What this bill does do, is update the yearly RPS schedule to eliminate some abrupt changes in the rate schedule over the next few years, and it extends the predictability of the RPS schedule to the year 2040. Abrupt changes are bad for business and for consumers. By eliminating abrupt changes, SB124 makes the future more predictable, which is good for businesses and households, to be able to more confidently predict their energy income and expenses into future decades.
I hope that the predictability proposed by SB124 will garner broad bipartisan support.
Caucus bullet points:
Floor speech for SB166
Thank you, Mr. Speaker
Mr. Speaker, Senate bill 166 is concerned with so-called “competitive suppliers” of electricity, and their so-called “customer-generator” clients. “Competitive suppliers” can be thought of as independent or third-party electricity companies, while “customer-generators” includes electricity consumers, such as NH manufacturers, who (for example) also have legacy hydropower electric generators associated with their mill buildings. They can produce electricity 24/7, even after their production shifts have ended. Shouldn’t they be allowed to sell their surplus electricity?
I believe this bill is very simple and uncontroversial. It corrects a flaw in the language of the existing statute, which requires competitive generation companies to credit customer-generators for the “full retail value” of the electricity returned to the grid. Because “full retail value” includes additional items (such as the Systems Benefits Charge and RPS compliance charges) on top of the billable energy price, competitive generation companies would always lose money, and thus be obliged to refuse such customers.
This bill simply changes the basis of crediting customer generation from a retail dollar amount, to crediting a kilowatt-hour amount of load reduction. SB166 thus solves the flaw, so that competitive suppliers and customer-generators are free to do business with each other.
Main points for caucus:
Ken Wells' Report from Concord
written November 12
published in the December issue of the Andover Beacon
When I was a teenager during the Cold War, I was amused by a comic strip called Spy vs. Spy. Two trenchcoated raven characters appeared only in silhouette, identical in every way yet polar opposites and mortal enemies. One was drawn black on white, and the other, white on black. They were adversaries engaged in an unending intrigue of cross, double-cross and revenge. It was a struggle which clearly aspired to no higher purpose, and never referenced any actual events playing out in the real world.
As I see a similar cartoon playing out in our nation’s partisan politics, I am not amused. There are grave problems before us today, as there were back during the Cold War. Spy vs. Spy was deliberately blind to the actual problems of the Cold War world, just to provide some dark humor as we faced an existential nuclear crisis. Today we face an existential climate emergency, and our Constitutional democracy is all but paralyzed by the greatest test of its checks and balances within living memory. Our democracy could become irreparably broken if we, as voters, allow ourselves to be so distracted and blinded by our current partisan Spy vs. Spy intrigue, that we do not pay attention to the erosion of our own power as informed, rational consumers and voters in this capitalist democracy. The only group in the country empowered by the Constitution to truly fix our damaged systems is YOU. Only we, the people can be trusted to use our dollars and our votes to properly restore what is wrong today. It’s complicated, but here’s what’s happening:
Our democratic freedoms and our economic freedoms are deeply intertwined. New Hampshire citizens’ participation and voting during Town Meeting might be as pure an example of democracy as you are likely to find in the US. When we envision our purest economic freedom, we might imagine a rosy picture of mid-20th century free enterprise, featuring small business, laissez-faire capitalism, and corporations responsible to (and paying dividends to) their shareholders. But capitalism has undergone subtle changes in the 21 century, and “good old free enterprise” is suffering from a terrible parasite. And it’s probably not what you think, or what they tell you on the news...
Nationally, our economy has moved away from being dominated by small-business free enterprise. Some would have us believe that immigrants threaten our way of life, or that we are being driven toward “economic socialism”, which the dictionary defines as a system in which the public collectively and equally owns the means of production. An astute observer will see that neither of those are true. The US is certainly not moving toward “state socialism” either, in which the state owns the means of production, as in China where the government unequivocally owns all factories, news agencies and power plants. In spite of much of the rhetoric you hear, clear evidence suggests we are headed toward a “plutocratic oligarchy”, in which the very wealthiest essentially own the state, as well as everything in it. Today, the top 1% has more wealth than 90% of the American population combined. (If you would like to study well-documented evidence of this, you can examine an extensive Wikipage entitled “Wealth Inequality in the United States” and follow the links back to the sources of the information presented there.)
In a recent radio interview I heard, Yancey Strickler and Andy Ballester, founders of the crowdfunding charity websites Kickstartr and GoFundMe, talked about the ongoing consolidation of our nation’s financial wealth into the hands of a few. Strickler spoke about our “mullet economy” (named for the ‘80s hairdo) that’s “all business out front”, for 90% of us who are struggling to make it in this economy, “and a party out back” for the 1% belonging to the billionaire CEO class. They are buying out stockholders, riding high on the booming economy, skimming profits through outsized CEO compensation and influencing policymakers in government to make even further consolidations of wealth possible. We live in an age where “the super-rich think that the only purpose of money is to make more money,” says Ballester, rather than to contribute to a “conscience economy”, where money is spent to help people and the communities we live in. This is the parasite that draws dragging us down.
How did we get into this situation, and how do we get out of it?
In the century from the Civil War to the Cold War, monopolistic companies (19th century railroads were a famous example) cleared the table of their competitive opposition and gained sole control of entire markets. Antitrust laws came into being to curtail these “horizontal” monopolies that could win the game because they were the only player left on the entire tabletop. Many of the captains of these industries and their heirs nevertheless felt they had an obligation to use their immense wealth and power to improve society in some way. Their old concept was called “noblesse oblige”. The Mellons, Rockefellers and Carnegies endowed universities, libraries and the arts. Two wealthy scions of only slightly less prominent families, Hamilton Fish and Gifford Pinchot, took it beyond sharing just their monetary wealth, by also sharing the wealth of their time and energy. They demonstrated their commitment to repaying society for their great good fortune by entering public service as young men. In their lives, they became modestly famous doing such beneficial things as serving their country in the military, serving as US Secretary of State, cabinet members and as popular state Governors, negotiating important treaties with foriegn powers, embarking on major domestic projects such as paving public roads for the first time, and creating the US Forestry Service. They believed that workers needed to earn a living wage, because helping workers would help all of society. Where are such public-spirited wealthy people today?
Since the Cold War, we have seen a different kind of monopolistic behavior unfold. Rather than eliminating all competitors “horizontally” to control the tabletop as the old-time railroad barons did, we have seen the recent emergence of “vertical” monopolies like today’s large petroleum and lumber corporations, who own every part of their retail chain, from mining or harvesting a raw resource, to supplying all the retailers within their territories with refined finished products, such as unleaded gas to competing gas stations, and plywood sheathing to all the building supply outlets. Once again, the vertical monopolist gains sole control of an entire market, but has done it in a way unrecognized by current antitrust laws.
Two modern developments make this especially problematic:
First, vertically integrated corporations contain their own internal trading departments that write contracts for future purchases and sales, which is a bit like betting in a card game where you always get to shuffle and stack the deck. This means a big vertically integrated company can predict or even create shortages and surpluses, thus influencing the price of their commodities, even if they are not the only supplier on the tabletop. (Remember OPEC? Saudi Arabia still controls the world’s crude oil prices, even though there are lots of other oil producing nations. This is a key part of the creepy US-Saudi alliance.)
Second, since the year 2003, many publicly traded stockholder corporations have been “taken private”. Controlling stock is now owned by an individual and his immediate family through “stock buybacks”. Some of these super-wealthy folks have demonstrated they feel no responsibility to the public good, nor to the remaining minor shareholders (to whom they pay little or no dividends) nor to any disempowered board of directors, nor even to their employees. Some deem their employees “subcontractors”, who then work for them without insurance or benefits. The private owners of these vertical monopolies do have a strong ability to influence government through hiring lawyers and lobbyists. If those efforts don’t succeed to shape government policy or avoid legal reprisals, they move themselves or their wealth to a different jurisdiction and declare bankruptcy. (Have you been following the story of the Sackler family, who owns opioid manufacturer Purdue Pharma? Or heard of the book “Kochland” by Christopher Leonard?) This behavior is not an example of what we used to hail as “American free enterprise”.
So, in today’s world, that’s what economic corruption looks like. What does political corruption of our democracy look like? As far as I’ve seen, there are no thick envelopes of cash being passed to legislators in State House hallways before votes. There are however too-cozy relations between lobbying organizations and office holders’ campaigns, which you can investigate yourself on the NH Secretary of State’s “Campaign Finance System” and “lobbyist’s income reports” websites. Corruption of our democracy can even look like legislators who take a hiatus from office to lobby for a commercial interest (in exchange for a huge salary), only return to office just six months later - this is the proverbial “revolving door” cycle. For this scam to succeed, voters have to be duped into voting for these “double agents”.
This is where “dis-information” enters the picture. Corruption also takes the form of privately-financed “educational” institutes, out-of-state-financed bulk mail political ads, and broadcast or internet news feeds that decry all other channels as “fake news”. You should be skeptical of information provided to you “for free”, and find out who advertises or sponsors the political and news reporting you see. It costs money to produce all this stuff. (This is a perfect place for a plug: Be sure to support the independence of your community newspaper by making your contribution to support your Andover Beacon today!)
Who pays money to make sure you see a story from their angle, and why? For example, did anyone else notice the announcement at the top of the program that big pharma sponsored the Democratic candidate debates, and that the first question from the moderator every time was always about health care issues, not the environment, not foreign policy, nor any other front-burner issue? The harder it is for you to find out who is actually paying to produce published information, the more suspicious you should be of that information. That’s why I cite verifiable sources in my columns, so you can check up on it yourself if you wish. In upcoming Report from Concord columns, I will describe the bills I’ve proposed that aim to reduce the types of corruption I’ve described here.
Through years of exposure to clever advertising, we consumers know how to be skeptical of repeated saturation ads that make “New! and Improved!” claims advertising the same old products. We should be equally wary of political and prejudicial opinions being pre-packaged and drummed into us through print, broadcast and internet media. No matter how often they say it, we know a lie will never really become the truth, but they can get some folks to think it, the same way we catch ourselves humming an advertising jingle.
How do we get out of our current political logjam and restore an economy that works as well for regular folks like us, as well as it does the super-wealthy? Let’s start by listening to information carefully and considering its source. If I feel that I’m getting mad or emotional, I realize that somebody is probably trying to manipulate me. As a teacher, coach, dorm parent and “professional adult”, I navigated a turbulent world full of teenage people (and their parents) for nearly four decades. I think I’ve experienced nearly every nuance of manipulation from every angle in human imagination! My advice is to just stop, cool down and think about our common goals rationally and fairly. Will it still look fair if I put myself in the other guy’s shoes? When I apply this way of thinking to our local communities, I always vote to preserve local small-business capitalism, our supportive community, our most personal freedoms and our democracy. I hope you think local small-business capitalism, our supportive community, our most personal freedoms and our democracy are worth your best effort, too.
Pay attention to who is feeding you (dis)information in this upcoming election year, and discuss “who said what” with other citizens. Then be sure to vote!
Ken Wells' Report from Concord
written Oct 18, 2019
published in the November issue of the Andover Beacon
It looks like the fall foliage in Andover reached its moment of maximum variety, its fullest spectrum this week. I could see young maples whose lower and interior leaves held stubbornly onto their green, while yellow leaves stood out along their longest side branches, with splashes of brilliant orange and red around the treetops.
Stormy clouds have been rolling in dramatically around Kearsarge’s peak, but so far have left quickly without much consequence. There has been a lovely run of clear, bright fall mornings that have been perfect for taking long walks, chatting with friends and neighbors. The evenings have been full of opportunities to share potluck suppers featuring our garden’s harvest, or for taking a meal to dine with old friends that don’t get out as much as they used to.
This makes me think ahead to Thanksgiving. I am nearly overcome by gratitude for the wealth of beauty here, and the wealth of good, old-fashioned community among us, the people of these very special New England towns.
Since my “Report from Concord” last month, the Governor finally signed the compromise budget proposed by the Legislature, and a shutdown of all state services was avoided. Hallelujah! The new budget includes funding for many worthy programs, but one stands out as wonderfully beneficial for our towns: increased state spending for education and local property tax relief. Over the next two years, Andover, Danbury and Salisbury can each expect more than $100,000 in state revenue sharing dollars to spend on our town’s school and town budget items.
Passage of this state budget stopped our tax dollars from being increasingly diverted to tax breaks for out-of-state corporations (such as the natural gas industry), taking state money away from things we need. We need safe roads and bridges, we need good public schools, we need state-wide efforts to combat the opioid epidemic. These are all things that we, as individuals, are unable to do by ourselves, but can accomplish if we unify our efforts through community and state leadership that takes our best interests to heart.
In the House Committee on which I serve, we have been examining the huge amount of money NH citizens spend on energy. We don’t produce petroleum or natural gas in NH, but we have more carbon-free energy available than nearly any other state in the US, including hydropower, biomass, solar and wind. NH is about the windiest place on the planet, and 10 to 50 miles offshore has more energy potential than 160 Seabrook nuclear power plants. Consider what NH’s independent energy future could possibly look like in 20 or 30 years if we tapped this!
Why do we, year after year, annually send $2 to $6 Billion NH dollars out of our state to purchase filthy fossil fuels from places like PA and TX, when we have cleaner sources of energy in NH that are underdeveloped? Just think of the economic growth if those NH dollars stayed in NH, with NH families and businesses. The money leaving the state today is equivalent to between two and six thousand dollars for every NH citizen. What would the money be able to do if it stays in NH? It would turbocharge the growth of NH energy businesses, some large, well-established ones (like hydropower), and some brand new ones (like solar and wind) who would start building brand new NH energy infrastructure. Those businesses would hire NH workers for construction, engineering, plus office and support staff, who would spend their NH paychecks in their own NH communities - like, paying a babysitter and going out to dinner. Keeping local money in our community is a benefit multiplier. Every time NH dollars are earned and re-spent in NH, commerce increases and the benefit multiplies.
Wealth is not merely the cash in your pocket and the balance in your checkbook, but all of the value you create through your efforts. Sometimes we may be paid directly for the work we do, and we think of that as our “job”. But many people’s effort creates value and wealth without a regular paycheck. For example, the work that women have traditionally done at home for their families is not a paid “job”, but their efforts unquestionably add great value and wealth to their households. You and your neighbors may have been out splitting and stacking firewood to get ready for the heating season. You may have made an effort to repair or repaint your house, or spent your time to help a child learn to read, or to do fractions. Sometimes your work adds to your own property’s value and your personal wealth, and other times your work might contribute to the wealth of the children in your community. You could perhaps convert this wealth into money, by selling the firewood you split, or you might choose to enjoy the benefit of the wealth you created by enjoying the smart appearance of your freshly-painted house, or the satisfaction of having helped a child in their educational journey toward a more prosperous future.
The natural beauty of the forests, mountains and lakes in our region are also a type of wealth that I think we would be foolish to convert into McMansions or commercial / industrial properties. The wealth of products we can sustainably harvest from our beautiful forests helps prevent them from being “cashed out” to make mini-malls or suburban housing.
Unfortunately, there are ways that our wealth can be taken from us against our wishes. You may have read news reports that Governor Sununu, bending to the will of the New England Ratepayers Association (NERA), killed biomass in NH. There were six biomass plants in NH, and all the plants within driving distance of us have stopped buying wood chips and laid off their workers, effectively killing the industry. How did the Governor and his backers do this and why?
We don’t often think about how “wealth” is different from “money”, or how so-called “dark money” flows in NH politics. This “dark money” comes from anonymous out-of-state corporate sources. It’s anonymous because federal law prevents us from knowing where it comes from (since the 2010 “Citizens United” US Supreme Court decision), but in NH, we can see where some of the money goes. It pays lobbyists like NERA whose lawyer’s effort directly caused the collapse of the woodchip-fired biomass generators that help support our area’s working economy. It pays lobbyists like Michael Sununu, who is not an elected official, but has worked as a lobbyist for the natural gas industry.
Jason Stock of the New Hampshire Timberland Owners Association says that closure of the Springfield woodchip-fired plant (north of New London near I-89) will put their 20 employees out of work. In all, the statewide biomass closures will affect 931 workers who run the plants. These layoffs are very bad news - that beneficial multiplier effect I described above works in reverse as well. Due to these job losses, a far greater number of people that those laid off, will not see that money spent and re-spent in their shops and businesses within our communities. It is disappointing that the Sununus' actions seek to tear us down, rather than build us up.
Ken Wells' Report from Concord
written September 23, 2019
published in the October issue of the Andover Beacon
The Legislature has supposedly been on recess since June, but I have actually been extremely busy in Concord since then. Undoubtedly you will have read that during the recess, the Governor vetoed 55 bills that had passed with majorities in both the House and Senate, many of them with overwhelming bipartisan support. Depending on your ideology, you might think vetoes are great, or you might think they are undemocratic. In this article, I will explain some of the possible consequences and follow-up to the vetoes.
To understand how we got to the place we are today, a vital piece of information is that Democrats have been elected by the NH people to occupy 58% of the seats in both House and Senate, so they have been able to win the simple majority on bills passed during the regular session. However, to override a gubernatorial veto, a vote of ⅔ of those present is required, so Republicans need to also support the bills if an override is to be achieved. So far, enough House Republicans crossed over to override the Governor on only three issues, resulting in abolition of the death penalty in NH, an elimination of a three-month waiting period before a doctor can prescribe medical marijuana to a new qualified patient, and a law allowing qualified medical marijuana patients to grow their own plants. This last bill did not get sufficient Republican votes in the Senate however, and the Governor’s veto of it was sustained. An additional 22 bills vetoes were sustained, so they are now dead. By the time you read this, another special House session will have decided the fate of the rest of the 55 vetoed bills.
In the past week, I have received dozens of requests from constituents, imploring me to vote to override one or another of the Governor’s 55 vetoes. I still think of myself as a teacher and active community member more than as a politician, but I do believe this is what politics is about: listening to the voices of you, the people in our district, and presenting your case in Concord. I do not merely follow party lines, but I have tried to vote with the wishes expressed to me by people who have reached out to me in the Andover, Danbury & Salisbury district. As your Representatives, David Karrick and I have worked very hard toward supporting our schools, getting property tax relief and supporting biomass for renewable energy and local jobs. Unfortunately Governor Sununu used his veto and tough political tactics within his own party to derail these efforts.
“Politician” has become a pejorative term for manipulative and devious people. Regrettably, I have encountered too many examples of that type of politician / lobbyist around the State House, but that’s a story for another article.
I have heard directly from Representatives who are my friends on the other side of the aisle that the Governor called them personally and harangued them, not to vote for the best interests of their constituents, but to support him and his vetoes. They were told flat out that if they do not vote to sustain his vetoes, they could expect a primary re-election challenge from their own party in 2020. The Governor is an accomplished politician, and his undemocratic arm-twisting seemed to work. Good-sense bills that breezed through the House with fewer than 100 votes in opposition suddenly had more than 150 votes in opposition to a veto, and were quashed by veto. The biomass bill HB183 was one of these. As a result, all of the biomass generation plants will remain shut and timberland owners will probably shift from sustainable harvests, to “cashing out” and clearing land for house lots, or to a cessation of forestry activity until conditions are more favorable. These outcomes will not be good for the livelihoods of many of our families, friends and neighbors.
There was insufficient Republican support to override the Governor’s vetoes of many other good bills, and they also fell short of the ⅔ majority to override the vetoes. Some important vetoes sustained include the entire state budget, a bill to establish an independent commission to address gerrymandering of voting districts, and a bill that would reopen the wood chip fired electric generation plants that underpin the forestry industry in our district. The vetoed budget would have ensured, among dozens of items, family medical leave insurance. The vetoed budget would have put the brakes on the Governor’s scheme for year-after-year tax reductions for out-of-state corporations. Governor Sununu’s veto means your property taxes will have to increase to pay for the lost revenue due to his corporate tax breaks. The vetoed budget had proposed a revenue-sharing program that would have added a total of $318,000 of state money to the combined elementary and middle school budgets for the towns of Andover, Danbury and Salisbury. This was also vetoed. It appears the Governor has won, but also clear that we, the people of NH, have lost. One might ask, where is that money going to go instead? The answer is, “away”.
It would be reasonable to expect that after the Governor’s veto, budget negotiations would proceed somewhat similarly to the way you or I might bargain over the price of a used car: One side makes an offer, the other says “no” and makes a compromise counter-offer, and then the parties repeat this back-and-forth until an agreement is reached, or the prospective buyer walks away. Through his veto of the budget, the Governor has merely said, “no”, but has not followed up with a serious compromise counter-offer. It seems he is taking a page from Washington’s brinksmanship playbook, “walking away” and maneuvering our state toward a government shut-down. At the end of the month the state will be without an operating budget, so our towns will be unable to write their town budgets and set reasonable tax rates that would have include monies from the state. A shutdown will also hurt state workers and others who depend on the state for their paychecks. I can only guess that Governor Sununu is willing to insist on his tax breaks for out-of-state corporations because he is less concerned about the people of NH - those state workers, our Andover forestry workers and those on family medical leave, whose paychecks are going to take the hit - than he is about currying favor out-of-state.
As always, if you would like to share your thoughts or tell me about something you think I ought to know, please call me at home at 735-5756 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ken Wells' Report from Concord
Since the 2019 Legislative session closed at the end of July, the Governor has been making almost daily headlines with his vetoes of bills that have passed with a majority in both legislative bodies. At this moment, there have been an unprecedented 53 bills vetoed. Most remarkable to me is roughly half of the Governor’s vetoes were of bills co-sponsored by both Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate. Since these legislators are duly elected representatives of the majority of the people in their districts, it would appear that the Governor is setting himself against the will of the majority of the people. You could ask whose interests then does he serve?
During the first session I have made many friends among members of both parties in the legislature. Some of those friends’ ideologies are as closely held and diverse as religious beliefs might be, and their views may be different from my own. Such differences do not devalue them in my eyes as human beings or justify vilification. I’m pleased that the NH Legislature, with very few lapses, does not stoop to the distortion and slander we see played out daily in national hyper-partisan politics. As NH legislators, we have sworn that our first responsibility is to uphold our state Constitution and to faithfully represent the interests of the people who elected us, not to uphold the various institutions and enterprises who try incessantly to influence us to become their instruments, not the people’s.
Unfortunately, the Governor’s myriad vetoes, accompanied by rhetoric and inaccuracies in his short “veto messages”, seem to run counter to the wishes of most NH people. Among those 53 vetoed bills, there are a few I would like to take this opportunity to explain.
HB706 would have established an “independent redistricting commission” with the purpose of ending gerrymandering in New Hampshire. (“Gerrymandering” is the deliberate manipulation of district boundaries to give one’s political party an advantage. It was invented in NH by Elbridge Gerry during the early 1800’s and continues to be used in NH and indeed all around the USA to this day.) Members of the independent commision created by HB706 would have been selected by the NH Secretary of State from a pool of applicants who would not include elected officers or lobbyists. The Secretary of State’s sworn Constitutional responsibility is to maintain free and fair elections in NH. The fact that the bill had both Democratic and Republucan sponsors (authors), was reviewed and recommended by the House Election Law standing committee, and then passed with a 218-123 vote indicates to me that the majority of NH people are in favor of this type of election reform. Yet the Governor vetoed HB706. Why?
The Governor also vetoed a bill (HB105) that would have removed a virtual “poll tax” enacted by the previous legislature to take effect in the next election. HB105 specifically makes it illegal to claim domicile or to vote both in NH and also in another state. I think you’d agree that all Americans should cast a ballot, but should do so only once in each election. But to say that voter fraud will be prevented by instituting a poll tax is disingenuous. Poll taxes are an undemocratic scheme for discouraging people without a certain amount of money from voting. But due to the Governor’s veto of HB105, you might find yourself prevented from voting in the next election if you are unable to show you have paid money for a utility bill, paid money for rent, or paid money for a NH driver’s license or motor vehicle registration in your name in NH. The NH Bill of Rights states “The right to vote shall not be denied to any person because of the non-payment of any tax”. In spite of this, the Governor vetoed HB105, opening the door for this poll tax. Critics say his action could prevent or intimidate NH students and poor people from voting.
Perhaps most controversial among the Governor’s recent vetoes are those bills meant to curb the spread of gun violence to NH. Gun violence is a terrible and growing problem that demands that cool heads work together to find effective and fair solutions. However, the role of guns in too-frequent mass shootings throughout the United States has stoked unhelpful inflammatory speech from both sides. Rather than sticking to their own well thought-out proposal to prevent this type of violence, some spokespersons spend most of their words describing their opponent’s supposed extreme points of view. This is called a “straw man argument” which paints an exaggerated picture of their opponent’s position in the hopes of whipping up an emotional reaction that will favor their own political aims. These “straw men” do nothing to help solve the problem of violence, but actually amplify and widen our disagreements over this “wedge issue” for political gain.
The US Constitution’s second amendment is only 27 words in length: "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed." Equally succinct, the NH State Constitution’s amendment 2a says: “All persons have the right to keep and bear arms in defense of themselves, their families, their property and the state.” There are no more constitutional words, nor should more words be inferred. As a gun owner and ocaissional hunter since I was 13 years old, I recognize and uphold the unique liberty and responsibility that we Americans, and especially we New Hampshirites, enjoy when it comes to the privilege of hunting and the right to defend our “castles”.
HB564 was one of three so-called common sense gun bills vetoed by the Governor. These days, unauthorized persons understandably may not carry firearms into courtrooms, onto airplanes or into nuclear facilities. Why should we allow unauthorized persons to bring firearms into a place like our elementary schools? HB564 would have made it illegal for any unauthorized person to bring a gun into a school building. Violation of the law proposed by this bill would give the authorized personnel inside the school clear authority to take decisive action against the lawbreaker. (Such authorization would extend to police officers, active duty military and those specific persons authorized in writing by the local school board.) In my conversations with local law enforcement officers, school resource officers and even a Secret Service risk assessment expert on the issue of gun violence in schools, all expressed their reservations about existing policies. The existing policy prevents them from having unambiguous latitude to take protective action until after shooting actually begins. It is an unenviable position to be required to shoot second in a gun fight.
I was a classroom teacher for 37 years, and in recent decades have observed firsthand the traumatic fallout of having to lie on the floor with my students during a school lock-down, active-shooter drill. Even though everyone knows it is a drill, it is excruciating to listen and watch under the classroom door at the shadows of someone outside trying the door to see if it is locked. For both students and faculty, this real life experience of institutionalized fear and helplessness is harmful in a way that is hard to describe. It is upsetting and outrageous in a way so totally differently from observing heroic dramatic violence vicariously on TV. We must defend our community’s children from this outrage, so HB564 should have been signed into law by the Governor. Instead, he vetoed it.
The Governor's veto message stated ““From the school safety task force, to rebuilding our state’s mental health system, including the largest investment of resources in decades, to establishing the Governor’s Advisory Council on Diversity and Inclusion, and to establish the State’s first Civil Rights Unit to step up prosecution of hate crimes, we are taking major steps to ensure the safety of our citizens is paramount.” Are you as voters satisfied that these actions the Governor describes will be as effective to keep our children unharmed and untraumatized, than the direct measures of HB564, that he vetoed?
Andover, Danbury and Salisbury are in the heart of the most productive forests in the state of NH. I have described in previous Reports from Concord my efforts to defend the many families in our towns whose livelihoods have been threatened by the Governor’s continued blockage and vetoes of biomass or wood chip energy bills, and I continue to work on their behalf.
All these vetoes will be put to the test on September 18 and 19, when the House reconvenes to vote on whether to override each of the 53 vetoes. A two-thirds majority of those Representatives in attendance is required to override a veto by the Governor. You can be sure I will be there to represent the interests of the people of our towns!
As always,you can talk to me at 735-5756 or by email at email@example.com
Report from Concord July 21, 2019
A dear friend who is a chaplain introduced me to this poem:
“Out of a great need we are all holding hands and climbing.
Not loving is a letting go.
Listen, the terrain around here is far too dangerous for that.”
Since I became your sworn representative in the NH House, I have been impressed with the intelligence and the dedication of all 390 or so representatives who attend every session. That’s not to say I agree with all of them. Some are dedicated to shrewdly representing their ideologies, and some are dedicated to representing their constituents. I hope to remain in the latter group.
We can be proud that the largest industry in NH after tourism is forestry, and that Andover, Danbury and Salisbury are the number one producers of high-value forestry products and biomass wood chips in the entire state. I have worked conscientiously to represent the interests of the many people in our towns for whom forestry helps put food on their families’ tables. “Dollars here” and “dollars there” are not of equal value to us. Money earned by selling local wood chips to generate electricity locally has much greater benefit than an equal dollar amount spent to buy goods and services, fuels and energy produced out-of-state, because local money can continue to cycle through our local economy several times. Forestry and wood chip money pays local loggers, landowners and equipment operators who can spend those dollars in local businesses, maintaining their equipment, improving their homes and supporting their families. When that money is spent locally a second or third time, it enriches our communities by building our community’s wealth. Once money leaves the state, it is wealth that is lost to us.
Unavoidably, a portion of our money goes to taxes paid to our town and to our state. But in my vision of the proper role of government, all that money is spent to benefit the people and small businesses of our towns and state, building and improving our roads and schools, and protecting all of us from outside threats like the opioid crisis. Ideally, none of our wealth should leave our state in the pockets of out-of-state industries and corporations. There are those whose ideology says that we should hope that exported business wealth will “trickle down” to us, but let me ask you this: In the last twenty years, the stock market’s Dow average has doubled, even tripled since the Great Recession. Has your income doubled or tripled over that same time period? Mine sure hasn’t! Yet over the past few decades income inequality has grown, and a thriving class of billionaires and CEOs has grown with it. They spend huge sums on political organizations, producing TV shows and movies with embedded overt and subtle messaging, and buying up news media outlets. The next time you see or hear something that makes you mad, think for a moment. Do I do my clearest thinking when I am enraged? Why is someone trying to manipulate my opinion? Am I so worked up by this that I will repeat it without thinking it through?
Following a long-standing tradition, the NH House is in recess from the end of June until mid-August. The last order of business in the House was to grant a 30 day continuation of the current budget, so that all current state functions will continue to be funded until August. After that, state employees might be furloughed or required to work without pay.
At the beginning of July, the Governor vetoed several bills, including the total state budget passed by the House and Senate. Importantly, the vetoed budget included significant increases in state funding for our schools and more that $60,000 of relief for Andover property taxpayers.
As to what happens next, there are two distinct possibilities. One, there could be compromise among the several factions and a good faith effort to find common ground. Two, there could be a bitter partisan battle in which no ground is given, resulting in a shutdown of the state government in August or September. Note that it is a complicated landscape, divided vertically along Democrat, Republican and libertarian lines, and horizontally though the House, Senate, Executive Council and Governor.
As time goes on, I certainly hope that our NH Representatives do not ape the partisan feuding that we see played out every day in Washington DC, which resembles nothing more dignified than a cafeteria food fight. The national fight has featured the use of name-calling and sound-bite labels that attempt to paint all people and all parties as black or white, pushing us people into corrals that don’t fit well with how we would choose to define ourselves.
I have made friends on both sides of the aisle, and it is disheartening to hear from some of them how the Governor and his party have been threatening members of their own caucus to toe the Governor’s line, without regard to the interests of their constituents. That is not the way government of the people, for the people and by the people should operate.
For the remainder of the summer, I continue to work in your favor on retained bills about state energy policy, and to work on new legislation supporting industry-funded apprenticeships and workforce education. As ever, I would like to hear from you about matters that are important to you. My number is 735-5756 and my email is firstname.lastname@example.org
Thank you Mr Speaker, and “Thank you!” to you my colleagues in the House for your continued attention and patience during a long legislative day. I will be brief. Let me tell you an entertaining story about electricity in New England, and why passing SB168 is a good idea for the people and the industries of New Hampshire.
Briefly, SB168 increases the Class 2, or solar portion of the Renewable Portfolio Standard from 0.7% to 5.4% by 2025. The motive for increasing the Class 2 RPS is not merely environmentally appealing, it is vitally important to head off a steep increase to NH electricity customers, as our neighboring states develop their own renewable generation, and become less dependent on ISO. The three-tiered system through which electricity is (first) generated, (second) purchased in the wholesale market and transmitted across the New England region by the “Independent System Operator”, known as ISO-New England, then (third) distributed and metered by your local utility is a complicated network of monopolies regulated by the Public Utilities Commision, who protects the ratepayers from monopolistic price gouging.
Here’s an analogy to where electricity comes from, and how we are charged for it:
Let’s pretend that electricity is pizza. THIS “energy pie” is plain “tomato pie”, but it’s served in an unusual restaurant called “The Deregulated Electricity Pizzeria”. It’s the best electricity pizzeria around; in fact, it is the only pizzeria in New England! The restaurant is run by three brothers, and a sharp-eyed codger (the PUC) who sits beside the cash register and makes sure the brothers figure the bill out according to the following rules, so their customers pay the lowest possible amount for their energy-tomato pie. This restaurant only has six enormous tables, and each table is occupied by one of the six New England states. It’s hard to imagine, but there is a chair at each state’s table for every home or business owner in the state. The States have a voracious appetite for pizza. They consume and pay for each slice of energy pizza as it is served to them.
The first brother is called “the Generator”, and he grows the “energy-tomatoes” by a variety of different methods. He writes the agreed-upon auction price for the generation of ingredients on the bill. The second brother seems to be the brains of the operation and he is called “ISO-New England”. He selects and collects the best energy-tomatoes from the field and transforms them into “energy pie”. He charges a flat rate because it doesn’t matter to him if it’s a large or small pie, it’s a fixed cost to drive around to the fields to collect tomatoes, to mix up a batch of dough and to fire up the ovens to bake the crust. He adds his flat rate to the bill (and it is a considerable amount - billions of dollars!), and that flat rate is divided proportionally among the six tables. The third brother is called “the Utility”. His job is to cut the pizza into uniform slices, bring the slices to the table and collect the money. He charges by the kWh slice, and adds his charge to the bill and presents separate checks to individual customers in their chairs (under the watchful eye of the PUC) and collects the end users’ money.
So that’s how our electricity grid operates: Since deregulation, generators “grow the groceries” by converting some form of energy into electricity, ISO-NE makes it into a uniform product while precisely matching interstate demands, and the local utility completes final delivery of the product to our homes and businesses. The PUC ensures they don’t collude to the disadvantage of the end users. SB168 focuses on ISO-New England’s flat-rate part of the process, and instructs the sharp-eyed PUC to pay attention to solving a problem that is currently outside its scope.
Here’s the problem that SB168 addresses. The “Deregulated Electricity Pizzeria” is no longer the only place in town to eat. NH took 9.6% of ISO’s pie last year. Over the past couple years, our percentage seems to be increasing far faster than NH’s appetite! How can that be? We have noticed that other states at the table are “cheating on their diets”, stepping outside of the pizzeria and getting energy from sources other than ISO’s energy pie. Where are they getting it? From in-state renewable energy! Those states are pushing away from ISO’s table, their demand has dropped, so ISO makes next year’s pie smaller. If New Hampshire goes ahead and buys the same number of slices next year, it will be an even bigger portion of a shrinking pie, so NH will be on the hook for a bigger portion of ISO’s fixed costs. It is projected that by 2025, on our present course, New Hampshire ratepayers will be on the hook for a $300 million dollar increase!
The biggest electricity market in New England is Massachusetts, of course. As of 2018, Massachusetts had 2000 MW of solar installed, compared to NH’s 85 MW. By 2021, just two years from today, Massachusetts’ goal is to have 3500 MW online. There is already a solar installation in virtually every town in Massachusetts. Like the solar arrays in New Hampshire, these facilities are privately or municipally owned, not utility owned. (In fact, regulated utilities like Eversource, Unitil and Liberty may not own generation facilities, under the current rules.) The cost of building these arrays has been shouldered by private investors or by municipal energy groups, not by ratepayers. The cost of electricity generated by solar amortized over the 25 year warranties on solar panels and inverters, is only 1.8¢ per kilowatt hour. Compare that to 2.5¢/kWh for nuclear and 3.5¢/kWh for fossil. Only hydro is cheaper at 1¢/kWh, but we can’t build more rivers! Our hydro capability is essentially fully developed. Solar is nowhere close to fully developed!
To meet the goals of SB168, to grow solar to 5.4% of the energy consumed in our state in five years, NH needs to add about 680 MW of solar by 2025. So how big an array would that require? Solar technology is rapidly improving. Using the technology that is for sale today, we need about 900 acres of rooftop solar, or roughly twice that space for a ground-based solar park. Solar generation doesn’t need to be concentrated in one place, like a nuclear reactor or natural gas-fired turbine power plant. In fact, there are great advantages for grid operations and energy security offered by distributing solar generators over rooftops and vacant lots like closed landfills across the state. For comparison, the rooftop acreage required will be smaller than the total acreage of rooftops found on mobile homes sprinkled across the state. The solar field space is comparable to the acreage devoted to high school ball fields scattered across the state.
This 5.4% is an attainable goal, and a goal we should meet to avoid increasing electricity costs for all NH ratepayers. I could go on and on about the environmental benefits solar offers, about the economic advantages of providing good NH jobs in the solar installation industry, and the economic advantage of NOT spending NH dollars out of state year after year to import fossil fuels into our state. But I won’t go on & on. I hope I have helped you understand, as I do, how supporting SB168 will help NH develop its energy future.
Ken Wells and David Karrick Report from Concord
With the end of June comes the end of the regular legislative schedule. The House and Senate have read each other’s bills and made their decisions to concur or reject each one of them. A huge pile of bills are sitting on Governor Sununu’s desk, awaiting his signature. If he signs a bill, it becomes law. If he decides to veto a bill, he writes a “veto message” to the Legislature explaining his reasons. The House and Senate may decide to try to override a veto, if they can. To succeed, they need a ⅔ majority in both chambers. (An example of an override is what happened last month with the bill repealing the death penalty in New Hampshire. The Governor’s veto was overridden by both Republicans and Democrats, in both the House and Senate.) As a third option, the Governor might do nothing with a bill. In that case, in accordance with our state Constitution, the bill becomes law after five days without the Governor’s signature. There is no “vest pocket veto” in our state.
Most important among those bills is the state budget. In this case, “budget” refers to a massive thousand-page financial plan for collecting and spending taxpayer’s money for public projects and services that we, the people of New Hampshire, want. The trouble is that the people of New Hampshire don’t all agree. Likewise, the Governor, the House and the Senate disagree on what their constituents want, so they have crafted three different budget plans that reflect their different interpretations of what the people want.
The Governor proposed his budget first, the House rejected it and wrote another budget, then the Senate modified that. Now it’s time for all three parties to “negotiate a compromise”, which means, as the cynical old joke goes, “that they talk it over until they ALL AGREE on a budget that NOBODY is happy with.”
There is an additional serious complication to this picture of the budget: not all “the people of New Hampshire” being represented are NH voters. In fact, some “people” being represented are not even human, but are corporate entities. We are in a conflict where champions of public versus corporate philosophies are vying to turn their interests into policy. Consider the large amounts of “dark money” being spent to hire lawyers and lobbyists to influence legislation, to organize “political action committees” and “associations” that contribute to various election campaigns, and even to fund “studies” by bogus institutes that publish disinformation and misleading data. The playing field is being tipped away from NH voters, the actual people of New Hampshire and of our towns. For years, dark money and lobbyists have been pushing to reduce the amount of tax companies pay to support state expenses such as highways and schools, shifting the burden onto local property tax payers. I’m keeping my promise to do my very best to represent the interests of actual people and families in Andover, Danbury and Salisbury.
I admit I don’t enjoy paying taxes any more than anyone else, but I enjoy using state infrastructure that is well-maintained. I really like the newly repaved sections of Route 4!
Our public schools are supposed to be supported by state monies so they can provide our town’s children the “adequate public education” mandated by the NH Constitution. And those taxes we pay are supposed to be “fair and proportionate” across the state, but they are not! In mid-June, a NH superior court judge hearing the Con-Val case reiterated, for the third time in about 25 years, that funding public schools from local property taxes is unconstitutional. Yet the battle to right this wrong in the Legislature rages on. Fixing our schools and taxes is the top legislative priority for your representatives Karrick and Wells. As voters, you should ask, who is against funding our public schools and lowering our local property taxes, and why? Don’t vote for those people!
The Governor’s budget does almost nothing to address our school’s funding or to reduce property taxes, but lowers business taxes even further than last year. He pledges to “cut spending”, but that really means even less state support for our schools and towns, which will force higher town taxes (of which the state takes a cut!)
The House budget does the most to increase education funding, restoring public schools’ “stabilization grants” immediately. It also freezes business taxes this year and instates a slight increase in them next year. But the House plan to reduce local property taxes included a new source of revenue - it proposed a 5% capital gains tax on sales of stocks netting more than $7000 profit per year. This would collect about $160 million from the very wealthiest segment of NH residents. This idea is very unpopular among - guess who?
The Senate version of the budget is a more modest version of the House proposal for education and property tax relief, but it finds money from sectors of the state government that have been running budget surpluses. (That is, for several years more state tax has been collected from towns than the state has spent for the people of NH!) Those surpluses would be refunded to towns through “revenue sharing”. Under the Senate’s budget proposal, it is estimated that Andover might expect about $64000 in Municipal Aid Distributions.
How will the budget compromise finally emerge? As I write this, nobody knows. The House and Senate “Committees of Concurrence” are still trying to hammer out final agreements on the budget and several other contentious bills before the end of June. When they do, and as the whole mountain of bills are reviewed and filed by staff lawyers and clerks, the five day clock for the Governor’s signature starts.
Representative for Andover, Danbury and Salisbury
P.O. Box 181
Andover, NH 03216
Learn Everywhere originated with Senate Bill 435 passed by the Republican Majority Senate in 2018. The current NH School Board appointed by Governor Sununu approved this program on June 13, 2019. The program, designed by NH Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut, has the potential to remove our children’s education from local control as well as from supervision by the Legislature. It would give a license and the ability to any for profit or non profit group to issue academic credits that would have to be accepted by any NH High School. Local school boards potentially would no longer be responsible for the quality of their diplomas. Potential employers and institutions of higher learning would no longer have assurance of the quality of diplomas granted by our high schools since they could include credits from any private institution in New Hampshire. Like a charter school there would be limited supervision or monitoring of the private institution issuing credits. There would also be unanticipated expenses such as transportation to be paid by parents or students as well as an “opportunity gap” since the special programs would often not be available to students living in the more remote areas of New Hampshire. There is nothing written into the program requiring the public schools or the State to pay any of the program costs. Essentially Learn Everywhere is one more tool to hollow out and cripple our public schools while benefiting the private and religious schools.
Since the Learn Everywhere program has now been approved by the NH School Board the rules are now sent to the Joint Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules (JLCAR, of which I am an alternate member) to see if the rules pass legal muster. It was anticipated that this hearing, open to the public and all interested parties, would take place on Friday June 21 but it has been rescheduled for Thursday July 18 at 9AM in Room 306/308 in the Legislative Office Building behind the State House in Concord.
Representative for Andover, Danbury,
Salisbury, Warner, and Webster
PO Box 328,
Warner NH 03278
Ken Wells represents Andover, Danbury and Salisbury in the New Hampshire House of Representatives.