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 firstname.lastname@example.org
Ken Wells represents Andover, Danbury and Salisbury in the New Hampshire House of Representatives.