By Deborah Sumner Feb 27, 2019New Hampshire has an amazing constitution, but sometimes it needs changing to deal with new challenges. The House Municipal and County Government Committee will hear testimony on CACR 8 , intended to codify our historical right to local self-government, on March 6.
Our Revolutionary War ancestors didn’t fight for corporations to have constitutional rights; they fought for people to have individual rights and authority for collective decision making for the public good. Over the years, well-paid corporate lawyers and lobbyists have argued for corporate civil “rights” in courts and their interests in legislatures. Gradually, settled law gave way to them succeeding more often than ordinary people arguing for the same constitutionally-protected rights.
“We the Corporations” by Adam Winkler shows chronologically how governing authority shifted from “we the people” to corporations and their allies.
Now, we ordinary citizens face huge odds in convincing legislators to support this amendment and allow “the people” to vote on it.
“There are two things that are important in politics,” U.S. Sen. Mark Hanna said in 1898. “The first is money. I can’t remember what the second is.”
According to 2017 polling cited by New Hampshire’s Open Democracy, 80 percent of New Hampshire voters “believe special interests have more influence than voters in state politics.”
“We the Corporations” and well-paid lawyers have won the courts; special interests and well-paid lobbyists have won the Legislature; and big money has won the political process.
As of Jan. 30, there are 88 pages listing New Hampshire lobbyists; some advocate for the public interest. Most ordinary citizens can’t get to Concord to testify at public hearings, but they still show up at town meeting when there’s an issue they care deeply about. If we find later we made a mistake, we can correct it. But that’s almost impossible if the Legislature or court makes a mistake.
New Hampshire courts have recognized the “sovereign” authority of town meeting to direct the “prudential affairs” of the town, pass local laws and enforce penalties for violations dating back to colonial days.
A 1791 law said: … “And be it further enacted that the Inhabitants of every Town in this State qualified by Law to vote in Town affairs at any meeting duly warned and legally holden are hereby empowered to make and agree upon such necessary rules, orders and bylaws for the directing managing or lering the prudential affairs of such Town as they shall judge most conducive to the peace, welfare, interest and good order of the inhabitants of such towns and to annex penalties to such Laws … and to enure to such use as they shall therein direct … Provided such Laws be not repugnant to the Constitution and Laws of this State and provided also that such By-Laws be approved by the Court of General Sessions of the peace in the same County — And the penalty for any breach of such By-Laws shall be recovered before any Justice not interested therein” …
“Lering” means guiding through collective decision making locally to protect the common good. That’s what our New Hampshire and national founders intended. The social contract (our constitutions) depended on informed, engaged citizens with common sense and a fierce loyalty to protect the common good. Passage of CACR 8 reaffirms that inalienable right.
“We the people” bear the major responsibility of whether we survive as a democratic republic: “whether societies of men are really capable or not of establishing good government from reflection and choice, or whether they are forever destined to depend for their political constitutions on accident and force.” — Alexander Hamilton, Federalist Paper No. 1, 1787.3
Join us in standing for this constitutional codification of our historical right to protect real people, nature and the communities we love. Visit www.nhcommunityrights.org to find out more about this effort.
Deborah Sumner of Jaffrey is a member of the N.H. Community Rights Network. This was adapted from her testimony to be submitted to the House Municipal and County Government Committee regarding CACR 8