Tit for Tat, Closed Minds and the World Wide Web In Concord

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InDepthNH.org and Manchester Ink Link co-publish Garry Rayno’s Distant Dome

By GARRY RAYNO
Distant Dome

Today people are connected to unfathomable volumes of information through the world wide web.

They are also connected via the web to every terrorist organization, psychopath, radical on either side of the political spectrum, and just plain crazies.

Garry Rayno

While the Internet has opened up the world, it has closed the minds of those too lazy to think or do their civic duty to be informed participants.

Someone not open to listening to a different view or who wants to denigrate the opposition find like-minded folks and organizations and they can all live in their own little bubble.

Confirmation bias is the state of today’s political environment here in the Granite State and in our nation’s capital as partisanship and polarization rule.

The effects of the self-contained bubbles were seen in Concord this week at two public hearings.

The Internet musings of two representatives are the foundation for the House Legislative Administration Committee hearings for a two-term Republican and a first-term Democrat.

Rep. Robert Fisher

Rep. Robert Fisher, R-Laconia, founded the misogynist Red Pill blog and posted controversial statements about rape and women’s intelligence.

At a House session earlier this month, a resolution proposed to expel Fisher from the House, but instead the House approved holding hearings for Fisher and Rep. Sherry Frost, D-Dover, whose tweets about white, Christian terrorists and male House members telling

Rep. Sherry Frost

her to calm down making her homicidal created a stir. The GOP amendment to add Frost passed by two votes largely down party lines.

This week members of the House Legislative Administration Committee were told Fisher’s statements since he was elected to his second term were the only relevant to consider. Most of Fisher’s most controversial statements occurred before November.

At Fisher’s hearing, he denied under oath he is currently associated with the blog and said he does not hate women. However, most of the testimony at his hearing called for his expulsion from the House, something that has not happened since 1913.

Frost’s hearing turned into partisan bickering with the lack of decorum so often decried these days from lawmakers.

The committee will try to decide what to do — if anything — with the two representatives next week with the full House voting on the recommendations in June.

The controversy is reminiscent of past tweeting controversies including a bill that would have made it a crime for a woman to expose her breasts in public. House leadership has told members several times in the past few years to cool the on-line rhetoric that puts the House in such bad light.

Before the Internet, similar comments were made but the whole world was not watching like it is now.

But because the world is watching, does that somehow diminish the constitutional guarantee of free speech or enhance the limitation that you cannot scream fire in a crowded theater unless there is one?

That is what the committee will have to determine.

If the panel decides to go down the punish road, where does it end? Does someone have to monitor the social media postings of all the House members? That would be nearly impossible and who would review the postings and determine what is acceptable or not?

The committee could take a pass and refer the two cases to the Legislative Ethics Committee.

And nothing prevents someone from asking the Ethics Committee to review the actions of the two representatives.

The disparity between hyperbole and hatred probably means only Fisher may have to face the ethics panel.

Adding Frost to the resolution was a political “tit for tat” anyway that exemplifies how partisan New Hampshire politics have become.

However, none of this would be possible without access to the Internet giving global reach to the musings of New Hampshire representatives and senators, political leaders and officials.

Civility

Unfiltered thoughts are not the only problem the Internet has created for today’s political environment.

The civility of public discourse has degenerated into a sandbox version of the “Thriller in Manilla.”

The anonymity of Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms allows people to say terrible things to other people and if it involves politics it is doubly vicious.

Things are said that no one would dare say if he or she were standing face-to-face with the subject of the tirade.

New Hampshire Highway Hotel

The days of the New Hampshire Highway Hotel in Concord where lawmakers stayed and socialized over drinks and dinner are long gone.

More issues were resolved in the old hotel’s bar and dining room than in the State House and the gathering place contributed to a general congeniality among lawmakers that is absent today.

The hotel was torn down to make way for commercial development and with it went the friendships among lawmakers that led to compromise — something very rare today — and civility which has also declined.

In today’s political environment policy making is rigid when flexibility is needed and laws are created by ideologues instead of statesmen.

Decriminalization

After years and years of trying, the New Hampshire Legislature finally passed a bill that will remove the criminal penalties for possessing small amounts of marijuana.

The change signals that the state’s police chiefs’ argument against lowering penalties for marijuana is not making the same inroads it once did.

In the last half dozen years, the House has overwhelmingly passed bills to make simple possession the equivalent of a speeding ticket only to see the bill fail in the Senate.

U.S. Sen. Maggie Hassan

Until this year, passing the bill in the Senate was a moot point because the bill faced a sure veto from Democratic governors John Lynch and Maggie Hassan, although the now US Senator indicated last year she had softened a bit on the issue.

If you are a state Senator and the governor is going to veto the bill anyway, why put your neck on the line and vote for it while inciting local law enforcement to work against you in the next election.

Decriminalization backers always touted polling indicating broad support for not only decriminalization but also legalization among state residents, but that was not enough until this year when New Hampshire will join neighboring states in removing the penalties for possession of less than three-quarters of an ounce of cannabis.

bigislandnow.com

Marijuana plant and a joint.

In the past two sessions, the issue was caught up in the state’s opioid epidemic fight with opponents saying with opioid overdoses claiming a person a day in the Granite State lawmakers had no business making it easier to use marijuana.

But this year the argument became why spend time on pot when law enforcement really needs to concentrate on the opioid drugs.

Nancy West photo

Gov. Chris Sununu, R-NH

And more importantly new Gov. Chris Sununu signaled during the campaign he would be open to removing criminal penalties for simple possession.

After years of failure, proponents finally found success. Sununu said he will sign the bill when it reaches his desk.

— Garry Rayno can be reached at garry.rayno@yahoo.com


Garry Rayno’s Distant Dome runs exclusively on Manchester Ink Link and InDepthNH.org, where Rayno will explore a broader perspective on State House – and state – happenings. Over his three-decade career Rayno has closely covered the NH State House for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Foster’s Daily Democrat, and his coverage spanned the news spectrum, from local planning, school and select boards, to national issues such as electric industry deregulation and Presidential primaries. He is former editor of The Hillsboro Messenger and Assistant Editor of The Argus-Champion. Rayno graduated from the University of New Hampshire with a BA in English Literature and lives with his wife Carolyn in New London.

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