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Arnie Alpert: Will NH Privatize Youth Corrections?

Sununu Youth Services-Manchester (image by Prime Roofing Corp)

Sununu Youth Services-Manchester (image by Prime Roofing Corp)

Devil is in the Details of Budget Proposal

Another version of this was published in the Concord Monitor.

The budget proposal now under consideration in the House Finance Committee calls for a $7 million cut in the budget of the Sununu Youth Services Center, the state’s residential detention center for juvenile offenders. It also mandates “the option for the Department to enter into contracts to operate the facility.” The outsourcing provision would be included in HB 2, the budget “trailer bill.”

We’ve been around this block before.

In 2011, the budget trailer bill, HB 2, mandated creation of “a committee to develop a plan for privatizing the department of corrections,” and specified that “on or before September 1, 2011, the commissioner of administrative services shall issue a request for proposals by vendors for provision of correctional services or any other services provided by the department of corrections.”

That line, buried in what became Chaptered Law 0224 when it passed on June 22, 2011 and became law without the signature of Governor John Lynch eight days later, set in motion a costly two-year investigation into the possibility of outsourcing the state’s prisons to a for-profit firm.

First, staff at the Departments of Corrections and Administrative Services spent five months preparing three lengthy “Requests for Proposals” to solicit interest from private firms.

The responses from four companies, which arrived between late January and early March. There was so much paper in the bid documents — said to be so bulky they filled a room at the State House Annex – that the State needed an outside consultant. It took four more months, and an appropriation of $177,000, for the state to hire MGT of America to analyze the proposals.

It took nine months for MGT to compete its report. 

Among its findings were that the “annual compensation for security staff” in the bidders’ business plans “was one-half the current compensation currently paid to similar positions in the state.”

High Turnover, Low Safety

“The state should be concerned that this significantly lower wage may make it difficult to maintain a trained and experience staff,” MGT said. “This could result in high turnover and ultimately impact and safety and security of the correctional facilities.” In other words, the way to make a correctional facility profitable is to lower the wages and benefits paid to workers. That dooms the facilities to dependence on workers who hope to leave and find a better job, not the kind of people we want to manage adult or juvenile corrections.

Based on the consultant’s report, the State “determined that it was in the best interest of the State to cancel the solicitation process,” according to a report released in April 2013, nearly two years after the process started.

“The decision to cancel, after having invested so much time and consideration, was not made lightly,” the Departments of Corrections and Administration said.

With that in mind, we should not go lightly into a new privatization process, this time for youth corrections.

Evidence from around the country has shown that for-profit companies are ill equipped to handle the responsibility of incarceration, whether the prisoners are juveniles or adults. Their facilities tend to be under-staffed, less secure, and don’t even save money for taxpayers.

Riots and Abuse in Florida

Just last week a riot broke out at the Les Peters Academy, a juvenile correctional facility near Tampa, Florida. It’s the third time violence has broken out at one of G4S Corporation’s juvenile facilities, and that’s just in the Tampa area. The State of Florida is investigating “whether all policies and procedures were followed.”

Last summer Florida cancelled a contract with another for-profit operator of youth detention facilities, Youth Services International, after evidence of excessive or unnecessary use of force. The company is barred for a year from bidding on new contracts, but it still runs nine other Florida facilities.

A lengthy report by Chris Kirkham for Huffington Post says “those held at YSI facilities across the country have frequently faced beatings, neglect, sexual abuse and unsanitary food over the past two decades.” Not only that, according to Kirkham, Florida’s “sweeping privatization of its juvenile incarceration system has produced some of the worst re-offending rates in the nation.”

Caroline Isaacs of the American Friends Service Committee, who has documented abuses at for-profit facilities in Arizona and nationwide, says “the track record in juvenile facilities is even more horrifying than the usual for adult prisons.”

We’ve been around this block before. Let’s not go there again.

NH Senate Unanimously Calls for Constitutional Amendment to Overturn Citizens United

2015-03-26 Senate Passes SB136 3The New Hampshire Senate just passed a bill supporting the amendment of the US Constitution to overturn Citizens United. The voice vote was apparently unanimous. The bill, SB 136, establishes a study committee to review the various proposed constitutional amendments, and issue a report by November 1st regarding which approach should be supported by the New Hampshire congressional delegation.

“Fair elections are the cornerstone of our democracy and the consequences of the Citizens United ruling on our elections must be addressed,” said Senator Martha Fuller Clark.​ “The issue of such large amounts of money influencing our elections is not a partisan one; it affects all of us. That’s why 67 of our municipalities have passed warrant articles calling for action on this very serious issue which threatens our democracy.”

“In 2014 alone, over $49 million was spent on NH Congressional races from outside groups, drowning out the voices of ordinary citizens,” she said. “I’m pleased that my Senate colleagues have finally agreed that it is time to do something about the corrupting influence of such large amounts of out-of-state money on our elections. I urge the House to agree as well.”

2015-03-26 Senate Passes SB136“The Senate’s action today is a huge step forward in the grassroots effort to make New Hampshire the 17th state to call for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United,” said Paul Brochu, the Stamp Stampede’s Lead Organizer in New Hampshire.

“We’re very hopeful that the House will also pass this bill.  The House called for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United in 2013 and 2014; and earlier this year the House passed a resolution seeking an Article V Constitutional Convention to overturn Citizens United,” he said. “I think we’re all tired of out-of-state special interests trying to buy our elections.  It’s time for some common-sense limits – and that common sense starts by telling the Supreme Court that no, corporations are not ‘people.’ ”

“Today, thanks to the bipartisan leadership of Senators Russell Prescott (R-23) and Martha Fuller Clark (D-21), the Senate at last voted to pass a version of SB 136 that includes language specifically calling for a constitutional amendment,” said Jonah Minkoff-Zern, Co-Director of Public Citizen’s Democracy Is For People Campaign.  “This reflects what the people of New Hampshire have been urging their elected officials to do in response to the surge of outside money being spent on state and federal elections.”

2015-03-26 Senate Passes SB136 2 (2)“The pressing question before the nation today is whether it is ‘we the people’ or ‘we the corporations and big money interests.’ This not a Democratic issue or a Republican issue. This is a deeply American issue. Whatever our political differences may be, we all share the common vision of government of, by, and for the people,” said John Bonifaz, President of Free Speech for People.

“This victory also demonstrates that a sustained people-powered movement can win,” he added. “New Hampshire citizens from throughout the state have repeatedly called on their legislators to take this action. They have rallied. They have marched. They have traveled to their state capitol to stand up and be heard. And, today, the people were heard. When the history of the 28th Amendment is written, it will include the story of New Hampshire citizens demanding their democracy back.”

“All across New Hampshire, people from both parties are saying they’ve had enough of Big Money in politics,” Brochu said.  “In town after town, Town Meeting after Town Meeting, Granite State voters have said ‘no more!’  It’s been amazing to watch all these people – many of whom have never been politically active before in their lives – suddenly step forward and lead their hometowns to take a stand and say the Constitution should be amended.”

“Many of the people who have stepped forward on this issue had never before called or written to or met with their elected officials.  They’re acting as ‘citizen lobbyists’ for the very first time, trying to take back their government from the special interests and Big Money donors,” Brochu added.  “This is what democracy is supposed to be about – and it is beautiful to see.”

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Stamp_StampedeThe Stamp Stampede is tens of thousands of Americans legally stamping messages on our nation’s currency to #GetMoneyOut of Politics. As more and more stamped money spreads, so will the movement to amend the Constitution and overturn Citizens United.

You can get your own stamp online at www.stampstampede.org. Or, if you’re a member of CWA, you can get a stamp from your LPAT coordinator. The average stamped bill is seen by 875 people – which makes stamping a highly-effective way to get the message out about how money in politics is corrupting our government.

It’s time to #GetMoneyOut of politics and take back our government.

Last Week Tonight With John Oliver Covers The NH Red Tail Hawk Story (Video)

If you live in New Hampshire then chances are you have heard about the shenanigans at the NH House revolving around a bill, submitted by a fourth grade class, to make the Red Tailed Hawk New Hampshire’s official state raptor.

The fourth grader made a special trip to the State House to see their government in action and watch their bill become law.  Of course we would not be talking about this bill if everything went according to plan.

Susan Bruce wrote an excellent post about what happened when this bill came to the floor.  Her initial post helped propel this story ultimately ending up on MSNBC, Huffington Post, and many other national news organizations.

This weekend, the very funny John Oliver put his comedic spin on this story.  Even if you know all about this story, or have never heard anything about it till now, you should watch this short video.

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Video link

Rep Kurk’s Double Speak On The Gas Tax And Fixing Our Roads And Bridges

The State Legislature is quickly trying to wrap up the State’s Budget for the next two years.  Rep Neal Kurk is leading the House Finance Committee and has proposed massive cuts to a variety of state agencies and programs, down shifting costs to local cities and towns.

I just wanted to show people how hypocritical Rep Kurk is with his double speak, specifically on the budget and the gas tax.

Rep. Neal Kurk (R-Weare), Ranking Republican on House Finance (4-4-13)

“This budget is balanced on unrealistic revenue estimates that simply put off the eventual day of reckoning. It includes millions in increased taxes on working families and businesses that will hurt the economy and job creation. It spends 10.2% more money than the previous state budget. This budget also increases the state’s exposure to massive future liabilities as a result of expanding Medicaid. It suspends new school building aid imposes a moratorium on charter schools. It shifts costs of nursing home services to county property tax payers. It purposefully underfunds line items that can be paid for later, outside of the more transparent budget process. We have a real concern about where this budget will lead our State. It’s unaffordable and sets us up for failure both in the short and long terms.”

In the 2013-14 Legislature Rep David Campbell proposed a $.12 cent increase in the gas tax.  That was ultimately shaved down to $.04 cents by the Republican controlled Senate. The Republicans in New Hampshire campaigned on the gas tax increase screaming “Democrats only want to raise your taxes.”

This is what Rep Neal Kurk said about the Gas Tax Increase in 2014:

There’s little question more revenue is needed to meet today’s higher costs in maintaining and improving our highway infrastructure.  But the legislature must meet its responsibilities before it can ask citizens to pay higher taxes.

Kurk admits that we need to do something about fixing our failing roads and bridges but is just not willing to pay for any such work.

Now that Kurk is back in charge of the Finance Committee in the NH House, what is his answer to fix the state’s infrastructure problem?  Cut their funding of course.

Rep Kurk just pushed through a budget that would slash the NH Department of Transportation by $88 million dollars!  That is a 42% cut in the departments funding. The NH DOT are the people who fix the roads, build the bridges, and plow are streets.  The head of the NH DOT said these cuts would mean hundreds of jobs lost, and the possibility on losing millions in federal funds to repair our roads and bridges.

After a massive outcry from the public on cutting the DOT budget by $88 million dollars, Rep Kurk is now saying he will be adding an $.08 cent increase to the gas tax to offset the DOT cuts.

Kurk, R-Weare, said the state’s infrastructure will become severely weakened and have a rippling effect on business and everyday commuters in New Hampshire if lawmakers do not pass a 7- or 8-cent hike in the gas tax. His advocacy for the tax bump was sparked by what he described as a decade of reliance on one-time revenue sources and a decline in federal funding that has led to the state’s undesirable scenario.

An $.08 cent increase would bring in about $50-$60 million over the next two years.  That would still leave a $28 million dollar hole in the DOT budget, resulting in job losses, federal funds lost, and projects canceled.

New Hampshire has one of the worst infrastructures in the country. We have hundreds of red lists roads and bridges and Rep Kurk wants to cut $88 million or almost half of the entire DOT budget.

I am tired of the hypocrisy from politicians who say we need to fix our roads by cutting the funding needed to fix them.

(Check out this short video to see what our roads and bridges really look like)

NHDP THIS WEEK: NH House GOP Advances Draconian Cuts to Critical Economic Priorities, Senate GOP Pushes “Plan” to Exacerbate Damage

Elected Officials, Residents and Advocates from Nashua to Manchester and North Conway Decry House GOP’s Devastating Cuts 

Senate GOP “Plan” to Give More Tax Giveaways to Big Businesses Would Lead to Even Further Cuts

 
Concord, N.H. – This week, House Republicans moved forward with draconian cuts to critical economic priorities including higher education, combatting substance misuse, maintaining roads and bridges, and services for seniors and the state’s most vulnerable citizens.
 
Making matters worse, Senate Republicans voted to give more tax giveaways to big businesses, leading to further cuts that would hurt New Hampshire’s people, businesses, and economy. New Hampshire Fiscal Policy Institute Executive Director Jeff McLynch explained, “the proposed business tax cuts will not create jobs or foster economic growth, but will instead drain millions of dollars out of the budget each year.”   
 
“New Hampshire Republicans’ irresponsible actions have put their majorities in both chambers at risk as they voted to give more tax giveaways to big businesses while making middle class families and small businesses pay the price with devastating cuts to critical services,” said New Hampshire Democratic Party Chair Ray Buckley. “Granite Staters from Nashua to Manchester and North Conway have already made it clear that we won’t stand for these draconian cuts.”
 
In an op-ed in today’s Nashua Telegraph, Sandra B. Pelletier, president and CEO of Gateways Community Services in Nashua, outlined the devastating effects of House Republicans’ cuts: “The House Finance Committee’s proposed budget will essentially shut the door to our region’s most vulnerable children transitioning from school supports to community supports. It will dismantle family-support programs for people with developmental disabilities and cause hardship for those who do a lifetime of heavy lifting by caring for their loved ones.”
 
The outcry from Nashua follows reports from Manchester and North Conway of residents and officials decrying House Republicans’ irresponsible budget cuts.
 
Yesterday’s Union Leader reported that Manchester “officials are raising concerns about proposed cuts in the state budget that could impact efforts to combat drug abuse in the city,” and the Conway Daily Sun added, “Members of the New Hampshire House Finance Committee heard last week from a range of Carroll County constituents” who “[decried] cuts to disabled, senior program
s.”

Maureen Mann: Cuts To The Department Of Transportation

potholesBy Maureen Mann,
Former NH State Rep

Originally posted at http://bit.ly/1xmjt1S

In the past week, the Republican majority of the Finance Committee of the NH House voted to approve two major changes to the DOT. First, they have taken an innocuous bill about changing a name or address on a drivers license, and replaced the original content with removal of the DOT from the state budget. Second, members of the committee have approved a cut of $88 million from that budget. This is a projected 42 percent cut in funding which includes a $4.8 million cut in winter maintenance.

Cuts to the DOT budget mean a massive lose in federal funds coming to NH.  Most major DOT projects–Route 93, the Sarah Long Bridge in Portsmouth which carries nuclear waste from the Navy Yard, etc–are based on 80/20 funds [80% federal and 20% state]. This is money NH residents have paid in federal taxes which we get back in federal grants. Currently NH sees a return of about 77 cents on each dollar paid by NH residents. Without our part of the match we will see less return and there is a serious threat that projects in progress will stop.

Route 93 is a prime example. The federal and environmental permits for Route 93 expire in 2020. If the work is not completed by that date the project stops dead.  It will take years to acquire new permits and meanwhile our neighbors in VT, ME and MA have all budgeted for increased infrastructure spending.  When heavy duty contractors such as Pike and Continental leave NH we will not get them back until projects elsewhere are done. Meanwhile, residents, tourists and business drives will sit in construction for hours.

This is a state which claims to support business. Yet poor roads and construction on Route 93 are already creating a problem in attracting new business to NH. One of the first questions asked of those recruiting businesses to NH is when Route 93 will be completed. Studies show that what really attracts business is an educated workforce, dependable and adequate transportation infrastructure, and universal high speed internet access.

According to an article in the March 19 Union Leader, $68 million of the cuts is mostly in personnel; half of DOT regular employees will be laid off. What the article does not explain is that over 60 percent of DOT employees are private contractors.  The people who build and reconstruct our highways, plow our roads, clear our ditches and cut brush along highways will be unemployed.  Some are small independents and some are huge contractor. Is this how we treat those who have worked long hours to ensure public safety during the enormous and frequent storms of this winter?”

Downshifting to our towns is another affect of the cuts.  The 4.2 cent increase in the road toll last July, combined with the current DOT budget, insured not only the completion of Route 93 but included increased funding for the six state highway betterment districts and additional funding to cities and towns. Those local costs will be downshifted to our communities which will result in more pot holes and less repair and reconstruction. We will also see closure of welcome centers and rest areas, limits and reductions in paving, closing of red-lined bridges or offers to communities to take some over. Good thing the repeal of the road toll, sponsored by our local reps, failed by such an overwhelming vote.

This is just one example of the “cut spending” mantra not being the solution, but the problem.

(Consider supporting Maureen Mann for NH State Rep via Act Blue)

Fox Business News: http://www.foxbusiness.com/markets/2015/03/16/new-hampshire-transportation-officials-protest-41m-cut-proposed-by-house-budget/

Concord Monitor: http://mobile.concordmonitor.com/home/16134371-108/dot-warns-lawmakers-budget-cut-would-mean-loss-of-321-employees

WMUR: http://www.wmur.com/politics/dot-41-million-cut-would-make-roads-dangerous-result-in-layoffs/31836146?absolute=true&utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=twitter&utm_campaign=wmur9_politics

Concord Monitor: http://mobile.concordmonitor.com/home/16134371-108/dot-warns-lawmakers-budget-cut-would-mean-loss-of-321-employees

NH Labor News: http://nhlabornews.com/2015/03/nhdp-bill-obrien-budget-part-2-who-will-plow-our-roads/

Union Leader: http://www.unionleader.com/article/20150318/NEWS0621/150318983/1010/news06

NHDP: Bill O’Brien Budget Part 2: “Who Will Plow Our Roads?”

House GOP Also Puts Medicaid Expansion “On The Chopping Block,” Repealing Health Coverage for Over 36,000 Granite Staters and Counting

Concord, N.H. – Bill O’Brien’s devastating budget cuts are continuing in Concord, as House Republicans work to slash funding for the Department of Transportation and repeal health coverage from over 36,000 Granite Staters and counting.
 
“In the absence of a sensible budget plan, House Republicans are simply proposing to recycle Bill O’Brien’s devastating budget that hurt New Hampshire’s families, businesses and economy,” said New Hampshire Democratic Party Chair Ray Buckley. “These are real people’s lives we’re talking about, yet House Republicans are determined to repeal health coverage from 36,000 Granite Staters and leave our roads unplowed out of pure politics.”
 
See below for a coverage recap of House Republicans’ “plan” to slash funding for DOT, resulting in less plowing, fewer bridge inspections, and a halt to the expansion of I-93:
 
The Associated Press reported that Deputy Transportation Commissioner Patrick McKenna told the House Finance Committee, “Passing this bill is not passing a budget — it’s passing the buck.”
 
Adding that McKenna explained, “the cut would mean 50 to 70 percent reductions in engineering functions, halting progress on the Interstate 93 expansion and allowing for fewer bridge inspections. It would mean a 9 percent reduction for winter maintenance, forcing the closure of 16 highway maintenance facilities across the state. In total, 321 employees — out of a workforce of around 1,650 — would lose their jobs, and 84 vacant jobs would be eliminated, he said. Cutting state money could also jeopardize federal funds.”
 
The Concord Monitor also quoted Gary Stevens, a DOT worker who said, “Who will plow our roads in the winter? Do you want your wife, children, grandchildren… friends or constituents to drive on unsafe roads or bridges?”
 
WMUR also covered House Republicans’ so-called “plan” that would result in over 300 layoffs at DOT and make New Hampshire’s roads less safe.
 
See below for a coverage recap of House Republicans’ “plan” to repeal health coverage from over 36,000 Granite Staters and counting:
 
WMUR reported, “Medicaid expansion is on the chopping block,” adding that Democrats are also “decrying a number of proposed reductions in the HHS budget: Meals on Wheels, the Sununu Youth Services Center and homeless shelters.”
 
The Concord Monitor reported that enrollment through Medicaid expansion “ has surpassed the state’s expectations for the first year of the program.”
 
Adding that “While criticized by some lawmakers at the State House, the program has earned praise from the Business and Industry Association of New Hampshire and the New Hampshire Hospital Association. A recent report from the hospital association found that the state’s hospitals saw a 17 percent reduction in uninsured patients’ visits to emergency rooms between 2013 and 2014, as well as a 15 percent reduction in the number of uninsured inpatient admissio
ns.”

Bill O’Brien is Back in Charge: House Budget Writers Plot Return to Devastating O’Brien Budget Cuts

House GOP “Leadership Decided to Turn Toward O’Brien’s Supporters,” Working to End Medicaid Expansion and Making Drastic Cuts to Mental Health and Substance Misuse Services 

Budget Writers Also Cut Funding for Higher Education, Making Massive Cuts at DOT that Would Hurt Efforts to Keep Roads Safe and Clear

Concord, N.H. – New details have emerged about House Republicans’ plot to return to the devastating cuts of the Bill O’Brien era by ending Medicaid expansion, making drastic cuts to mental health and substance misuse services, cutting funds for higher education, and hurting DOT’s ability to keep New Hampshire’s roads clear and safe.

“Bill O’Brien is back at the reins of the New Hampshire state budget and he’s determined to undo the bipartisan progress of the last two years that has moved our economy forward,” said New Hampshire Democratic Party Chair Ray Buckley. “The people of New Hampshire already rejected Bill O’Brien’s devastating cuts in 2012, and we will not let O’Brien hurt our small businesses, middle class family and economy again.” 

“As our economy continues to strengthen, it is no longer necessary to govern as though we are responding to an economic crisis, but Republicans on the House Finance Committee continue to do just that, making draconian cuts to health and human services, transportation, education, and aid to local communities,” said Governor Maggie Hassan. Not only would these reductions downshift responsibility to local governments, but they have a significant impact on our people, businesses and economic future, affecting areas that are critical to the health and well-being of our people, the safety of our roads and priorities that help spur economic development. Moving forward in this budget process, I continue to urge legislators from both parties to work together to support the shared priorities that are critical to the success of our people, businesses and economy.”

 

 

In the Union Leader, Garry Rayno reported that House Republican “leadership decided to turn toward O’Brien’s supporters,” developing a budget that would end Medicaid expansion for 36,000 Granite Staters and counting, and would also make devastating cuts to mental health and substance misuse services.

DHHS Commissioner Nick Toumpas explained, “There is no way to make some of these changes without cost-shifting down to other levels of government.”

Rayno added that the House Republican budget also eliminates “$20 million in winter maintenance for highways (maybe not the best choice after this winter) and [reduces] the university system funding below the current fiscal year appropriation.”

In the Concord Monitor, Allie Morris reported that Republicans on the House Finance Committee abandoned a plan to increase vehicle registration fees in order to maintain the solvency of the Highway Fund because it faced “pushback from members of the party, especially those in [O’Brien’s] House Republican Alliance.”

Instead, House Republicans opted for a $20.5 million cut that would translate to 300 layoffs at the Department of Transportation, hurting its ability to keep our roads clear, open and safe.

Statement of Rep. Jackie Cilley on the vote on HB 684 (Minimum Wage) 

(Barrington, NH ) While I am disappointed by the votes in the House and Senate today, I see reasons for optimism going forward. At the beginning of this session, everyone predicted that legislation as far-reaching didn’t have a chance and that any serious effort to permanently fix New Hampshire’s minimum wage wouldn’t win over everyone. Today’s result demonstrates that, with a well-researched and bipartisan approach, people in Concord will listen and judge a proposal on its merits.  Next time, we’ll get the 27 more votes necessary to give our hardest working neighbors a long-overdue raise.  

But make no mistake; this represents a missed opportunity and more fall-out from the disastrous reign of Speaker O’Brien. We had a chance to return control of our minimum wage from Washington DC to our citizens legislature in Concord and we didn’t. We had a chance to insert more money into our recovering economy and increase its momentum and we didn’t. And most importantly, we had a chance to stabilize the finances of thousands of our neighbors while allowing them to move off of food stamps and other forms of public support and we didn’t. 

I have learned a good deal in this, my first term back after a six-year absence, that I will take with me when I introduce this again. And I promise both my supporters and my critics, I will reintroduce legislation to raise our minimum wage to a livable level and get it signed into law. 

About Jackie CilleyBorn in Berlin, New Hampshire, Jackie Cilley was raised with four siblings in a third-floor walk-up tenement before graduating from Berlin High School. She earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from UNH and has served as an adjunct professor at the Whittemore School of Business and Economics since matriculating from there in 1985. In 2004 she ran for a seat in the New Hampshire House of Representatives and won, serving one term in the House before being elected twice to the  New Hampshire Senate, representing the 6th District from 2006 – 2010. In 2012, she ran an unsuccessful campaign for the Democratic nomination for Governor, losing to Gov. Hassan. She was re-elected to the New Hampshire House in 2014 where she serves on the Committee on Executive Departments and Administration. Rep. Cilley was recently named by veteran NH political reporter John DiStaso as one of the “‘Most wanted’ NH Democrats for the 2016 presidential campaign.

Is The NH Legislature Listening To Voters’ Anger When It Comes To Money In Politics?

Several hundred people attended the January 29, 2015 rally at the State House in Concord, in honor of Granny D.           Image By Liz Iacobucci

Several hundred people attended the January 29, 2015 rally at the State House in Concord, in honor of Granny D. Image By Liz Iacobucci

By Paul Brochu and  Liz Iacobucci

“It’s almost impossible to exaggerate how angry, frustrated and even disgusted people are with the flood of money” into political campaigns.

That’s what Joe Magruder told the state Legislature last week, during hearings about Citizens United. Joe spent more than three decades covering New Hampshire for the Associated Press. He worked as an impartial observer through eight presidential primaries. He’s seen it all. And he thinks this year’s anger level is so far off the scales that “it’s almost impossible to exaggerate” just how bad it is.

Last week’s House hearing was packed to overflowing. So many people came to testify that there wasn’t enough time for everyone to speak, before the Senate hearing started across the street. (See our live-tweets from the hearings at @NHStampede)

We’ll find out whether the Legislature was listening this afternoon, when the first of the bills is expected to be reported out of committee.

Both the House and Senate bills are pretty mild, compared to the emotion outside the hearing rooms. The bills would allow the Legislature to study the issue of money in politics through a statewide series of public hearings. Then New Hampshire’s Legislature could decide whether to join 16 other states – including New Mexico, Montana and West Virginia – calling for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United.

That’s all the bills would do: create a series of opportunities so people around the state can tell the Legislature what they think about the flood of Big Money into political campaigns. Give the people a chance to have their voices heard.

The Stamp Stampede's new mobile billboard circled the State House in support, during the Committee hearings.   Image provided by Stamp Stampede NH

The Stamp Stampede’s new mobile billboard circled the State House in support, during the Committee hearings. Image provided by Stamp Stampede NH

It’s ironic that the Legislature needs to create a hearing process in order to hear the voices of ordinary citizens over the voices of special interest lobbyists.

But right now, the system is set up to hear lobbyists, not ordinary citizens. The first thing everyone noticed, when they came to testify on the bills last week, was that the House hearing room had only eight seats.

Two weeks ago, hundreds of people walked across the state to draw attention to the issue of Big Money in politics. The NH Rebellion organized 300 miles of marches – from the four corners of New Hampshire all the way to the State House – in honor of Granny D.

We walked with the group between Nashua and Concord. We talked with people, as we walked along, and Joe Magruder is right: everyone is angry, frustrated and disgusted.

Angry enough to take time off work, walk through snowstorms, cross icy bridges, sleep in strangers’ homes.

Frustrated enough to keep going, mile after mile, even after reporters asked whether walking across the state could possibly make any difference.

Disgusted enough that it didn’t matter what party you belong to, what generation you belong to. Republicans and Democrats, Free Staters and progressives, middle school students and great-grandparents: everyone walked together.

That’s how badly people want their government back. “It’s almost impossible to exaggerate.”

Days after our State House rally, two businessmen announced plans to “invest” almost $1 billion in the 2016 presidential campaign. That’s more than both parties spent – combined – in the 2012 campaign.

How do Granite State voters feel about the fact that presidential candidates are being selected by high-dollar donors in invitation-only “conferences” – more than a year before the “First in the Nation” primary?

How are ordinary citizens supposed to have their voices heard, over all that money?

At StampStampede.org, we’ve created a petition on steroids to give voice to that frustration. We’re working with thousands of Granite State voters to rubber stamp $3.8 million dollars with messages like “Stamp Money Out of Politics.” Every stamped dollar bill is seen an estimated 875 times; together, the message will be seen over 3 billion times. Enough to ensure that our representatives cannot ignore us.

Poll after poll reports that people believe their elected officials care more about special interests than constituents. Here in New Hampshire, according to a 2013 Granite State poll, almost four out of five people agree that special interests get more attention than citizens. That’s bipartisan agreement, in its purest form.

Last week, an overflow crowd turned out to explain to the Legislature the depths of their disgust. “It’s almost impossible to exaggerate.”

Could the Legislature hear them?

We’ll know, later today.

 

Paul Brochu is the Lead Organizer-NH and Liz Iacobucci is the Press Secretary-NH for StampStampede.org.

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