Ken Wells' Report from Concord
written Feb 13, 2020
published in the March issue of the Andover Beacon
Exciting things have been happening in New Hampshire in 2020, and Andover is right in the middle of it all!
New Hampshire held the First In The Nation Primary, and our state did itself proud in contributing a meaningful start to the important national process of selecting our presidential candidates for November. (Sorry you made a mess of it, Iowa.) Two important factors in the past election speak very well of all of you: voter turnout was very high, and NH voters are clearly better informed and engaged than in many other states.
Another first in the nation initiative is the call from New Hampshire citizens like you to pass warrant articles in every NH town, calling upon our elected officials to grow the political backbone to take strong action on our global climate emergency. Moreover, people like you are demanding that we stop allowing “free” pollution. If pollution is free, we get too much of it.
I’m proud to be a co-author of the “carbon cash-back” plan, that will put money in the pocket of every NH citizen over 18, to make them whole for the damage we are all experiencing due to carbon dioxide pollution. This forceful plan is the most effective, and least expensive, plan for turning away from dirty imported fuels, and developing our own vibrant, home-grown, clean energy economy. Our state is sending four billion of our dollars out of state annually for these fuels, and we would be better off if some of those dollars stayed in NH to build our own energy businesses. If this legislation is enacted here, there is a good chance that NH will be the first in the nation again in this regard. We will show other states and the entire nation how we make a course correction together, towards a brighter future. (I would have liked to have included “the world” in the previous sentence, but 46 countries are already doing this successfully.)
Your role in strongly voicing your demand for climate action is incredibly important, because many legislators seem a little “hard of hearing” when it comes to listening to the voice of the people. On the local, state and federal levels, make sure your voice is heard ,loud and clear! I think that any elected official should expect to be voted out of office, if they refuse to heed the will of their constituents, voiced loudly and clearly through the legal democratic process of warrant articles, passed by towns all across our state.
Aside from my extensive work on the House Science, Technology and Energy committee, there are a number of other important issues I have been fighting to advance in Concord. I have introduced two bills to get “dark money” out of our politics. One bill will increase accountability for organizations that skirt NH’s requirements for lobbyists and political organizations to reveal who is paying them. The other establishes penalties for illegal anonymous “in kind” contributions during the 90 days before any NH election, including those annoying “attack ad” mailers that stuff our mailboxes and phone messages days before election day.
A third issue that is important to me is workforce development and training. I have partnered with a Republican legislator to write a truly bipartisan bill to study ways to make industry-funded apprenticeships work better in NH. The idea is that students who can’t afford schooling after high school can get their apprenticeship, training and education paid for by an industry, who will give them a good job if they successfully complete the program. In some ways, it’s not too different from the way ROTC works, combining education, work experience and a paycheck.
I have also advanced a couple of bills for constituents, including streamlining the permitting process for new businesses and protecting loggers as well as landowners from unfair penalties and deceptive practices. David Karrick and I helped get the big communications industries to pay attention to folks’ demands for improved broadband access in parts of Danbury and Salisbury, and there’s finally an agreement in the works.
If you have ever thought “there ought to be a law…”, email or call me (email@example.com or 735-5756) and we can talk about it!
Introduction of HB1414
before the Resources, Recreation and Development Committee on Tuesday Feb 4 at 11am in LOB Room 302
Thank you Chairman Smith, Vice Chairman Maes 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 1414, with amendment 2020-0xxxh.
This intent of this bill is to reduce the likelihood of timber trespass or theft, and to make certain that the penalties for negligent or willful incursions onto another’s land are shared fairly among the all parties responsible.
I have given the committee copies of RSA 227-J:8 and J:8a, that specify the civil and criminal penalties for timber trespass or theft. The civil penalty is three to ten times the value of the stumpage cut, and the criminal penalties may include permanent loss of license (and consequent loss of livelihood) and even charges of a Class B felony. This seems to always levy the penalty most heavily on those who are least able to afford it, the loggers.
As the statute is written now, only the people actively working in the woods are held responsible, including the forester, the operator and members of the logging crew. If a landowner or landowner’s agent were to mislead the woodsmen about the location of boundaries, or provide a false map or survey, either willfully or negligently, there is no consequence to them under the statute. Such a person is not subject to the penalties under the statute, even if they are culpable. This strikes me as very unfair.
In the language of the bill as introduced, I first thought to remedy this through an affidavit on the Intent to Cut, and then was advised that it might be more appropriate to address it through the terms of the required contract between the landowner and logger. However, I believe this amendment to the language of the penalty section RSA 227-J:8 and J:8a, to include language such as “...or persons...who cause to be cut…” gives authority to the state forester to direct the penalties in the way most appropriate to the circumstances of a particular case.
This is a fairly simple change to the statute, and I hope I have explained it well. I’m very happy to take your questions.
Introduction of HB1186
before the Commerce and Consumer Affairs Committee on Wednesday Jan 22 at 10am in LOB Room 302
Thank you Chairman Butler, Vice Chairman Williams 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 1186 - to establish a committee to study the filing of certain organizational income reports with the Secretary of State.
There has been much talk in recent years of “dark money” in the halls of government, in campaign financing and other areas in which the public would like to place their trust. This bill proposes a committee to study the current system for reporting income and related compensation paid to for-profit and to non-profit lobbyist organizations.
The purpose of the proposed committee will be to review documents filed with the Secretary of State under RSA 15:6 to determine whether those documents are indeed accurate and complete, and to ensure that the information provided is consistent with the organization’s stated mission and actions, and consistent with other filings with the department of state/corporate division, and filings with the US Internal Revenue Service.
I have encountered some evidence of such irregularities in my legislative work, and think it extremely likely that others exist. However, I think it inappropriate and ineffective to make allegations today against singular organizations before this committee.
HB1186 calls for a bipartisan committee charged with illuminating instances and mechanisms by which our desire for disclosure and transparency are being foiled, and charged with making recommendations for remedies, would be a tremendous positive step toward strengthening NH’s democracy.
Based on their findings, the proposed committee will make reports and recommendations to SOS and AG. The aim is to improve disclosure, transparency and accountability in the filing of organization income.
So, why is this necessary? Why does NH even have these rules in RSA15:6? The RSA requires lobbyists to divulge who is compensating them for their activities on their behalf, and for spending their valuable time in our committees. (I mean, these meetings are scintillating, and who wouldn’t want to spend all their time here? But seriously, …)
Finally, the overarching aim of this bill is that the legislature needs to evaluate whether the protective measures of the RSA actually work to provide the transparency NH citizens should expect, and do deserve from their government. Accountability is the spine that supports disclosure and transparency.
Thank you Mr Chairman. I’d be happy to answer questions to the best of my ability.
[... answers to anticipated questions, providing more details...]
When I was a kid, I liked to go fishing with my grandfather in his little boat. He taught me that if you want to go fishing, you make as little noise as possible beforehand.
So I don’t really think it is proper at this moment for me to begin the task (or to describe in detail the methods) that the proposed committee is supposed to undertake. But watchdog organizations give NH a D rating for disclosure and transparency, mostly due, I think, to the defects in accountability.
According to an advocacy organization that I hope will be speaking to you shortly, a small number of lobbyists make the lion’s share of campaign contributions to candidates in NH, shielding both their employer and the candidate from the appearance of a potentially embarrassing, unethical or even illegal conflicts of interest.
[...and lot more details…] I learned of an ACLU suit brought against a for-profit trade association. This out-of-state trade association used NH’s permissive registration system to disguise itself as a non-profit consumer advocacy group. This was a sham. The organization’s claim to represent a broad public membership was exposed, once they revealed that they in fact had only a dozen members, companies who paid tens of thousands each in annual membership dues. In spite of this revelation, the organization persists in presenting testimony as a consumer advocacy group. NH needs more accountability.
Above: On Jan 9, 2020, Ken Wells spoke in Representatives Hall about the need for strong climate action.
Ken Wells' Report from Concord
We in the United States have reached a “now or never” moment in dealing with the pollution caused by the generation of electricity, our transportation system and heating our buildings. The answer is not to do without the benefits of modern living, but to do it all differently. You may recall that at one point, the New England economy depended on whales for oil, ships powered by wind, and damming up every river and stream. We’ve moved beyond that. Throughout history, many of the most important moves have not been incremental, but bold, sudden shifts, especially in our choices for energy and transportation. How long was the transition between horses and automobiles? A decade or two? That’s not long, really. It is time for another such move.
A call to action
On both sides of the aisle, there is considerable reluctance among legislators to address the growing climate crisis, not just in NH, but in every state and among federal legislators as well. I find this puzzling: do the representatives really think we place a higher value on our money, than on our children’s future? Or are so many legislators unable to understand what scientists have been warning us about for years? Without the strong urging of their constituents, most representatives are unwilling to take what they perceive as a political risk.
Today, the majority of voters in every NH county favor regulation of carbon dioxide as a pollutant, according to a recent Yale climate survey. (Search “Yale climate survey” to see the reports yourself.) But many Reps don’t seem to understand what many of their constituents already know. They don’t see that the mood of the country has changed after years of record heat, floods and violent storms. Now we’re seeing California and Australia scorched by unprecedented droughts and fires.Our own NH moose have been driven north by the tick infestations caused by milder winters, and the lobsters are retreating northward as New England’s ocean waters warm at three times the global rate.
I felt I needed to speak before my colleagues because many long-serving representatives seem afraid to “rock the boat” and do something they haven’t ever needed to pay attention to in the past. As voters, you have an important job to do, right now. Don’t wait until November. Call, write or email your representatives at the state and US level, and urge them to have the political will and courage to step up and take action on the climate crisis. Tell them to do what you know needs to be done, and why. Sign a petition calling for action. If you’d like to talk to me, my number is 735-5756. I keep tabs on what the people who elected me think.
A busy day in the House
I’ve often heard people ask, “what are they doing down there in Concord?” Here’s what one busy day looks like:
At 10am on January 9, the full House of Representatives filed into Representatives Hall and the session began. As befitting the nation’s largest representative state body (nearly 400 members) - one that has occupied the same spectacularly beautiful chamber for over 200 years - there are traditions that are observed and upheld. The formalities began with a prayer from Rev. Kate Atkinson of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. She officiates frequently, since her church is literally across the street from the State House. Then a representative who has been selected for the honor was asked to lead the House in the Pledge of Allegiance. After that, the “Seacoast Men of Harmony” sang a stirring barbershop version of the Star Spangled Banner. (As a singer, I have an appreciation for a cappella music!)
After the Speaker’s remembrance and moment of silence for those former representative who are recently deceased (including Andover’s own Betty Bardsley), there was a recognition of guests. Usually there are groups of families and fourth grade visitors watching up in the gallery, and all the Reps give them a standing ovation. If you have never been inside Representatives Hall, you should come visit what Speaker Shurtleff calls “the people’s House”. Just walk in the big front door of the State House, bear to the right (past the gift shop) and walk up to the third floor. Follow the corridor all the way around the square floor plan, look at all the portraits of NH heroes and notables, and you will arrive at the gallery, which is open for viewing into Representatives Hall below.
After we observed all the introductory traditions, we began the day’s work. I was given the honor (and the chore) of presenting three speeches as the Science Technology and Energy committee’s spokesperson for three of the five energy bills deliberated and recommended by my committee. If you can imagine yourself in this position, you will understand there’s a pretty strong incentive to research, write, edit and practice your speech well in advance of the moment when the Speaker says to four hundred people, “...and now the gentleman from Andover will speak in favor of the bill...”. You pull a crisply folded paper from your pocket as you step up to the imposing lectern known as “the well”. I’ll admit that I carefully checked and double-checked that I didn’t pull the wrong speech out of my pocket! All three bills passed by at least seventy votes. (Since somebody will surely ask what the bills were about: One bill was about commercial net metering, another was about how energy efficiency funds should be spent, and the third was about setting new goals for renewable energy on the NH grid.)
I was certainly not the only speaker of the day. Twenty-three bills were discussed and voted on. Some passed quickly with just a voice vote, but most were roll call votes, a process that takes about ten minutes. In addition, every bill up for a roll call (when each member’s vote is recorded) usually has at least four representatives speak about it. Those opposed to the bill speak first, followed by a speech recommending passage of the bill. Then there are two “parliamentary inquiries” which are always asked in the following stuffy, formal way to ensure that any Representative not paying close attention is reminded what’s going on: “Mr. Speaker, If I know that Senate Bill 166 will correct a mistake in the language of the statute that has caused competitive electricity suppliers to refuse service to customer-generators, then would I not push the green button to vote “yes” on the passage of this bill?”
The session ran until almost five o’clock, but the House finished all the items on its calendar. After sitting for most of seven hours, I was glad to be going home to Andover, and not driving all the way back to Coös County, like some of my colleagues!
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 represents Andover, Danbury and Salisbury in the New Hampshire House of Representatives.