Apr 2, 2019 Updated 19 hrs agoTo The Daily Sun,
New Hampshire is often assumed to be the beacon of local representation. And why not? New Hampshire is the Live Free or Die state. The first colonial state to separate from British rule with its own constitution, six months prior to the signing of the Declaration of Independence. It has the largest state legislature in the nation.
But the truth about local representation in the Granite State is very different. As a citizen of this state who has directly engaged with state legislators for the past four years, I can tell you that the state Legislature is beholden to party politics, not its citizens. In fact, I can tell you that New Hampshire is so dominated by party politics as to resemble the way corporations hi-jack our government and deny democracy to We the People.
Educating the people on local democracy is the work of the N.H. Community Rights Network (NHCRN). As a grassroots non-profit organization, NHCRN has been advocating for the N.H. Community Rights Amendment — a state constitutional amendment that would secure the right of local communities to protect their residents and natural environment against corporate activities that violate local rights. In a nutshell, the amendment recognizes that real people, communities, and natural environments have rights to health, safety, and welfare; the authority to prohibit corporate activities that violate those rights; and ensures that local laws adopted under this amendment’s authority can only strengthen and expand rights and protections — they “shall not” weaken or constrict existing rights and protections secured by other local, state, federal, or international laws.
In 2018, the N.H. Community Rights Amendment achieved a recommendation of ought-to-pass (OTP) from a Republican-controlled subcommittee. However, the chair of the full committee refused to allow the subcommittee to offer their report. The Republican-led N.H. House then denied advancing the N.H. Community Rights Amendment to the Senate. Even so, a roll call vote on the N.H. House floor revealed that one-third of the 2018 N.H. House did vote to support elevating the right of N.H. people to use their municipal governments to pass local laws protecting health, safety, and welfare of individuals, their communities, and natural environments against corporate activities that harm them. Of the one-third of the N.H. House that supported the people’s right to local community self-government, 73 percent were Democrats and 2 percent were Republicans.
After last year’s show of support from Democrats and with this year’s new Democratic majority in the House, one might have expected the N.H. Community Rights Amendment to receive an ought-to-pass (OTP) recommendation. That didn’t happen. The same Democratic Party that last year supported the right to self-govern collectively at the local level when the Republicans were in charge is the very Democratic Party that this year denied a people’s vote despite its control of the House. It turns out that neither party supports the right of New Hampshire citizens to protect themselves from plutocrats hiding behind corporations and profiting by harming our communities.
This result defines party politics, right down to the pressure to conform that made legislators buckle and abandon their constituents. Individual state representatives on both sides of the aisle expressed principled support for securing the right of local self-governance in the Live Free or Die state. But after the parties caucused prior to this year’s committee executive session and before the House vote on the N.H. Community Rights Amendment, some representatives who had taken a stand on the side of the people they represent changed their votes and aligned instead with the agenda of party leadership and their corporate handlers to vote against the amendment.
On the Republican side of the aisle, leadership went so far as to issue a gag order. Not only were the people’s elected representatives told how to vote on the amendment in caucus, but they were also told not to discuss it outside of the assigned committee. They were, in fact, forbidden by the political club in which they have membership from speaking or deliberating on behalf of the people. Granite State pride in a large “people’s” legislature means nothing if private political parties can control the votes and deliberations of the state representatives that we elect. Why do representatives comply? They don’t want to commit political suicide and risk losing leadership support for bills they propose. They don’t want to be politically punished for going against the party. But where does this leave the people? The answer: unrepresented in a supposedly representative republic.
I’ve had state representatives from both sides of the aisle apologize to me for voting against the amendment and against their own conscience. The sentiment is thoughtful, but truly, there is no room for apologies when state legislators are elected to protect and uphold the rights of New Hampshire citizens but instead uphold and protect the privileges given to corporations that let them buy elections and politicians. This is a catastrophe for democracy and has real-life consequences. State law now legally permits among a host of other evils, activities that have elevated New Hampshire to the highest rate of pediatric cancers in the nation and the second highest rate of breast cancers. Citizens don’t want to hear apologies, they want their state representatives to represent them and not the special interests that have purchased the political parties.
Michelle Sanborn, Alexandria